Perhaps the most frequent question about suffering is the one I haven’t addressed yet in this #godingrimtimes blog. It’s fascinating to know what I think is the origin of evil and suffering, and yes, perhaps it does make sense that suffering is only a problem for orthodox Christians. But when life kicks me in the teeth actually none of that matters too much. The agonised question which springs to my lips is far more urgent and poignant: why doesn’t God do something? Who cares about the origins of suffering when the pain of it is gnawing at me: I just want to know why on earth God allows it to go on. That’s the real question, perhaps the only one at all worth asking. Why doesn’t God do something?
I want to suggest first of all that far from being inactive and unconcerned God is most deeply and passionately hurting with those who hurt. I can remember being impacted many years ago by a picture which Graham Kendrick described of seeing the face of Jesus, and focussing in until he could see that Jesus’ eyeballs were in fact spinning worlds, which were being washed by his tears as he wept for the world he created, sustains and loves. His heart breaks for his suffering children: the gospels are full of that. The Greek word which we rather lamely call ‘compassion’ actually describes real gut-wrenching agony. But of course that only makes us want to ask the question again; then why doesn’t he just make it go away? Why doesn’t he do something?
I want to say three things towards in answer to this: No. 1: God has done something. Rather than leaving us to get on with it, like some great but uninvolved architect of the universe, he stepped into our world in Jesus, and went around among the sick and suffering curing pain and alleviating hurt. That of itself doesn’t do that much to help me now, but it does give the lie to accusations that God simply doesn’t care about our fate.
Secondly, God is doing something. I wouldn’t want to say that only Christians do positive things in our world, but the fact is that the Christian church down the centuries has been responsible for the betterment of life and the alleviation of suffering worldwide. Health care, education, care for animals, horticulture, abolition of slavery – too many projects to mention have been and continue to be inspired by the involvement of Christianity’s founder in his world. Countless of his servants have gone to extreme lengths, even to their death, in the attempt to help the world’s lost and suffering people. Remove the Christian faith and its effects from our world, and we would live in a radically different and worse place.
But thirdly, God will do something. The promise of Christianity is that the sufferings of this present age are worth nothing to be compared to the glory which awaits Jesus’ followers. For now we live in a world where appallingly bad things happen to us, and if that were the end of the story it would be tragic indeed. But one day we’ll wake up as if from a bad dream into a reality where all our agonised questioning will seem irrelevant.
Why does God allow suffering? Presumably because he thinks it’s good for us. Why doesn’t he stop it? No idea, but that’s how it is, so we’d better get used to it. But we simply can’t say he does nothing about it. It’s what he’s all about.
Coming next week – a new series: What is church for?