I am currently reading a book called “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” by Timothy Keller. One that I was strongly recommended to read by several people over the course of the last 12 months, but avoided like the plague until the last couple of weeks. Not because I had anything against the book, or the author, but because it confronts a lot of my own struggles with the Lord in a very raw, personal way that I was just not ready for. Funny how that never seems to work out the way you would like it to. I thought that maybe if I just waited it out a little bit, the blow wouldn’t be nearly as hard or personal. False. Apparently the “waiting it out” only amplified my doubts and struggles to a point that reading the book is even more of a challenge now than it was 6 months ago. Awesome.
I opened the book back up tonight for the first time in several months to a chapter entitled - “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?”. My initial reaction was a sarcastic laugh as a slammed the book shut and thought “are you kidding me?”
Lets just forget the past year for a minute - this exact question is one that I have struggled with for a very long time. Lets take human-trafficking for example. Ten, eleven, twelve year old girls and boys enslaved to a life of sexual abuse and torture for what? And in the case that they happen to be freed of that, the physical and emotional consequences that they will live with because of someone else’s sin is not even fathomable for those of us that have never walked through it. The concept of an all knowing, all powerful God that allows that kind of pain and suffering without reason that we can comprehend just doesn’t make sense to me.
Keller writes: “A woman in my church once confronted me about sermon illustrations in which evil events turned out for the good. She had lost a husband in an act of violence during a robbery. She also had several children with severe mental and emotional problems. She insisted that for every one story in which evil turns out for good there are one hundred in which there is no conceivable silver lining”...... “So what if suffering and evil doesn’t logically disprove God?” such a person might say. “I’m still angry. All this philosophizing does not get the Christian God ‘off the hook’ for the world’s evil and suffering!” In response the philosopher Peter Kreeft points out that the Christian God came to earth to deliberately put himself on the hook of human suffering. In Jesus Christ, God experienced the greatest depths of pain. Therefore, though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair.
Don’t get me wrong, I am acutely aware of the fact that I’m an idiot. I can not see the full picture and will not ever completely understand the purpose of all pain and suffering. My question, my doubt, my lack of understanding is only indicative of how little I know about the Lord - how little I am capable of knowing. The last part of the text hit me pretty hard. Am I looking for the Lord to provide reason for suffering, or am I looking to the Lord to provide strength and courage for suffering? Keller immediately thereafter examines the suffering of Christ - something I rarely spend much time thinking about. Let’s be honest - how many times do we walk through something hard, and our first response is - “oh this is nothing compared to what Christ suffered”?.... Never. If your initial thought was - “i always respond to suffering that way” - either you are Job and I want to meet you, or you are a liar and you are just as crappy at suffering well as I am (I’m going to assume the latter of the two). I go back to Job and his response to suffering - absolute worship. Not anger, not frustration, not questioning the Lord’s sovereignty - instead he falls on his face and worships the Lord. (Note to Job: Thanks for ensuring that all of us will suffer poorly in comparison - nothing like setting the standard high!)
“ The death of Jesus was qualitatively different from any other death. The physical pain was nothing compared to the spiritual experience of cosmic abandonment. Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment. On the cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours. In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and god-forsaken.....If we again ask the question: “Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?” and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However we now know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.”
I believe that Job wasn’t looking for his faith to give him reason for circumstance, but looked at his circumstance as even more reason for faith. I can attest to the fact that pain and suffering has only drawn me closer to the heart of God. My very finite understanding of what suffering is only breaks my heart more for the burden that Christ carried on the cross - for me! This only gives me more reason to rejoice in suffering, in pain, and in my lack of understanding. I will rejoice, because He is good.