Suffering & God


How can u believe in a God when there’s suffering in the world?

I’m asked that question at every camp. I normally give an hour to it – it’s not a topic you can answer in a sound-bite. But here’s a sketch of my thoughts on the topic.

hunger14What YOU would say if some1 questioned u about ur faith? saying “how can u belive that a God exists? look at the world the way that everything is dammaged, if there is a God why is there suffering, why is there death, sickness, war when if there was a God he could stop it all. the answer is clear now that there can obviously be no God cause otherwise none of these things would happen. so how can u belive in a God?”
wat simple, quick answer can u give them?
something short that any1 can relate to and understand?
something that doesnt take long to say and grabs there attention?
because if there so busy arguing that it cant be rite, wat WILL they listen 2? i thought u might b able to help.

Agree: the world has a lot of bad in it. We all wonder why God would allow it.

Caution: The existence of the bad, does not necessarily rule out the existence of God. God could exist, and allow suffering and badness. And maybe even for good reason.

Suggest: Maybe only god-as-Santa-Claus does not exist. Maybe God doesn’t do things like we expect or want. As uncomfortable as that may be, we have to deal with reality as it IS, not how we wish it was. Maybe God does exist, AND allows badness & suffering.

Where we go next depends on the real question behind the question.
Is it,
“How do we know if God exists?”
or is it,
“Why could God allow suffering?”

How do we know God exists?

mygodThere’s lots of phenomena to look at: In my seminar, “How do we know if there’s a God,” I look at: Physics (relativity & entropy), Higher math, History, Research on Spiritual experiences, Emotions, Relationships, Action (pragmatism), life stages. There’s also universal morality, sociology, archeology, and mental health.

But the resurrection of Jesus is the shortest way to approach the question of God’s existence in general (and simultaneously point in the direction of the Christian version of reality in particular). Just research the historical data supporting this very public miracle. There’s more than enough evidence to explain all objections (like, he just fainted and resuscitated, the disciples stole the body and made up the story). If Jesus did rise from the dead, how did he do that unless he was divine! And it makes sense of current experiences of his Spirit active and alive today in faithful people.

One short answer might be:
I don’t pretend to know why God allows bad stuff, but I do know God exists, even if He doesn’t do things the way I’d like it.

Why could God allow suffering?

This is more complex. I don’t profess to have the definitive answer – in fact I suspect that’s because God’s frame of reference about this is so much bigger than ours that we just don’t have the tools to understand it.

For example, if (as higher math suggests) there are more dimensions out there than the 4 we clearly experience (Time + Space’s 3D), then maybe God inhabits all dimensions (however many there are) – dimensions that we just can’t conceive of. And perhaps the definitive answer makes sense only if we could comprehend those other dimensions. Or perhaps suffering is sort of ‘quarantined’ within our 4 dimensions, so we can experience the responsibility & result of collective badness, without stuffing up all the other dimensions. (I’m speculating, but that could be what the “Out-of-Eden” story is about.)

Whose fault is it?

Whose fault is it?

More conventional speculations are that God allows suffering so that we can truly experience predictability (of the law of cause and effect), and also keep our freedom (the law of responsibility). I mean, we couldn’t live with the mental chaos of the laws of physics being completely random. We’d literally go mad. We need to know that if we get hit, we will bruise. As painful as that is, it is predictable due to cause and effect. But we also want the freedom to do as we choose. So freedom plus predictability must allow suffering. It’s the predictable outcome of our free choices to inflict pain.

Another short answer might be:
Predictability plus Freedom must allow suffering.

It’d be a strange sort of ‘love’ that would make life impossibly random.
It’d be a strange love that would take away our freedom.
In these dimensions we know, our suffering would cause a loving God immense pain.
(Which is exactly what’s recorded.)

From Rules to Relationship

Teens typically look for “how does life work. Make sense of it, what are the rules of life.” And they often get a view of God that is like Santa Clause: “if I’m a good boy/girl, he’ll bring me presents, keep me safe, etc.”

But eventually you realize those rules don’t actually apply in real life. God isn’t Santa (despite common rhetoric to the contrary by the church sometimes.) That can be quite chaotic & upsetting to realize. What does it mean? There’s no God?
No – you’re just losing your religion.

But on the other side of the chaos you can discover a more real, more robust realization. That God IS there,  whether I like/understand it or not.
– The universe isn’t random, it’s just messy and broken. And
– God isn’t heartless, He does care – deeply.
– So deeply that he enters our broken world of predictable pain & free responsibility. CrossSepiaHe comes to us in our limited flesh, and exposes badness, & suffers as we do, in every way. He does this to let us know that we’re not alone! God’s here, he cares, deeply, though it causes him great pain.
– And his resurrection shows there’s more to life than just space & time, these 4 dimensions. More to life than pain, and evil.
– And His continuing spiritual presence with us still nudges us in the right direction, here, now, today. If we open our spirits to him.

And for those who suffer and die, abandoned by us, who we don’t help… I see that God’s love cradles them away to those dimensions of freedom from pain, which we call Heaven. He’s on their side.

It’s in the reliable records about all this.

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