Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

Many people don’t want to believe in the Christian faith until they understand everything about it.  This is very understandable – after all you don’t want to buy into something and later find things that shock you or you just can’t believe.  However, the problem with this is that, as humans, we will never be able to understand everything about the Christian faith. As finite beings we will never be able to understand an infinite God and His infinite ways.  It will never be possible.

 

In some respects that is the key.  When you understand that you will never be able to understand something, in some senses, you can stop trying. You can focus your energy on the things you can understand. If you speak to Christians you will find that Christianity hold no bad surprises.  You don’t suddenly discover that behind a front of goodness and love God is really an evil dictator – but because you’ve believed in Him for so long you just continue to believe in some sort of brain washed state.  God is who He says He is right from the start and the only surprising thing that you discover is that He never changes.  If you speak to Christians you will also discover that Christianity doesn’t give you all the answers to life’s questions. It does answer some of them and it puts even more into some sort of context but there will still be questions that we will never have answered. For centuries people, Christians and non-Christians alike, have grappled with the issues of suffering, evil, existence, conscience, love, death, the afterlife and so on. No satisfactory answers have been found and we will all continue to grapple with them. Christianity won’t give you neat, conclusive, simple answers to all of life’s big questions. However, it will give you context.  What I mean by this is that, for example, if you believe in a creator God who loves and wants the best for His creation it helps you to see things in a correct context.  In some respects it may appear to make things more difficult. If God loves His creation why does He allow it to suffer? Again there are no easy answers but we have a context within which to explore.  Is all suffering always bad? Is suffering caused by the freewill of others? Is God causing the suffering or just allowing it? If we see this world as the entirety of our existence does that change our view on suffering? What if we believe that this life is but a minute part of eternity?  If we see suffering as part of a much greater plan does that aid our understanding? If we truly believe that God is GOOD and He truly LOVES His creation how does that affect our view of suffering and God’s part in it? These are questions that Christians still have to work through but in the right context it brings far more meaning and understanding even if nice simple satisfying answers are never achieved. We constantly need to remember that the finite cannot understand the infinite.

It would be really nice to be able to put Christianity in a box, evaluate it, understand it and then decide whether to believe or not to believe. If only life were so simple. However, I do believe that the Christian faith is intellectually viable. To have faith in it is not blind faith. It is a faith worked out using our intellect and our experiences. We don’t have to understand everything about it to believe. Just as you don’t have to know how the engine of a car works in order to drive it. You need to know enough, you need to know what all (or at least most) of the buttons do, which pedal will make you go and which will make you stop.  You need to know what fuel to put in the tank and the fact that a service no and then with help prevent breakdown. However, you don’t need to know how the engine works or how the engine drives the wheels or how the fuel powers the engine in order to bring movement. Yes, the more you know the better it is, especially when things go wrong. If you can strip and engine down and rebuild it – great – but it is not essential to your everyday driving. The same is true with Christianity. You need to know enough but you certainly don’t need to know everything. You can learn more, if you choose to, along the way. That’s why we have churches and vicars and theologians to make up for what we don’t know.

 

However intelligent we are (or would like to believe we are) we will never understand the complexities of God – however hard we try. We can’t put God in a box and study Him. Trying to understand Him fully is a futile exercise which will only lead to frustration and ultimately dissatisfaction. We need to understand enough and ultimately understand that God is infinite and will never be fully understood. When we can understand that it is then that we can get into the car and drive away!

What About Suffering?

Posted: May 4, 2011 by Nathan in What About...
Tags: , , , , ,

People ask about suffering all the time. How can a God of love, a God who cares allow people to suffer? Either God doesn’t care and therefore allows suffering or God is not all powerful and therefore can’t do anything about it. I believe there is a third way!! Now, before we get too far into this let’s remember that people have been struggling with this question for thousands of years. So, let’s face it, no answer that I come up with is going to satisfy you. You’re not suddenly going to discover the complete answer and tick the box having dealt with the problem of suffering. However, hopefully I can give you a few things to think about.

When I consider suffering I look at it in three ways…

1. Suffering isn’t all bad.

OK it’s easy for me, who is not in pain, to say that. However, I believe it’s true in two areas. Firstly suffering can bring out the best in people, you refine who you are through suffering, it brings you to a better understanding of the human experience, it helps you understand others better, it is a major learning process and on a spiritual level it helps us to identify with the sufferings of Christ (not that I claim to really understand that – answers on a postcard please!).

Secondly, some areas of suffering are preserving and informing. When I lay my hand on the fully on hotplate and I experience suffering it informs me to remove my hand. When I fall and break something it is the suffering that tells me to go and get it treated. So, suffering plays a part in preserving our lives by informing us of potential dangers. The sufferings of others, for example hunger or war, informs us that all is not right with our world. It reminds us of our greed and our anger and our selfishness.

2. Would we allow it?

If you are, or were, a parent would you allow your child to play football? I’m assuming the vast majority of people would say yes. Does that make you a bad parent ? I imagine the vast majority of parents would answer resolutely NO! So as a parent you are happy for, if not encouraging, your child to participate in an activity that may cause him fairly serious injury? A sport where broken bones are not unheard of. Where dead legs, bruised arms, pulled muscles, strains, cuts and concussion are commonplace. An activity where not only they may get hurt they may also cause serious hurt to others. Yet with all that considered we would still say that as parents we are happy for our children to participate in it and hundreds of similar, if not more dangerous, activities. We even allow our children to partake in things that could result in major injury or death. For we know that with enjoyment comes risk and with some risk comes enjoyment. We can’t let our children live a full life without exposing them to some suffering. We would of course prefer them not to suffer but we understand the risk. We can’t smother our kids in cotton wool, after all they may choke on it!!

3. What causes suffering?

Well, in short, our wrongdoing!! Suffering is a result of men and women doing wrong things, making wrong choices or making mistakes. Our wrongdoings cause suffering to ourselves and others. Some of this is plain to see. If my anger overspills and I punch you the result of my wrongdoing is your blooded nose. However, that is just one side to it, the seen result of my wrongdoing. What is not seen usually has more far reaching consequences. The bloody nose that we can see may hide a broken bone or other internal injuries. You may have suffered a twist in your neck. In hitting you I may have strained a muscle or broken my hand. There is the fear I may have instilled in you or others that hear about my actions. There is the guilt that I may feel and your bitterness, hatred or a struggle with forgiveness. There’s the breakdown in relationship between us and so it goes on. The bloody nose is the observable, immediate consequence but the unseen ripples, perhaps, cause more suffering. So it is with much of people’s wrongdoing. The consequences of our actions ripple underneath the surface in the created seen world and the spiritual realm. We don’t know how it works but we understand that our wrongdoings cause suffering, directly and indirectly. The ripple from our actions continue to grow and have effects on those throughout this world. When Adam and Eve committed the very first act of wrongdoing something in the natural world broke as well. Man’s wrongdoing had a huge effect on the created world and our continuing sin now also has a huge effect.

Much of the suffering we see in the world today is a direct consequence of the wrongdoing of others. The hunger we see in the world is due to greed and selfishness of those that have plenty. There is more than enough food to go around, but billions of us choose to have far more of our fair share. God, in giving us freewill, in not creating us as robots, allows this. It doesn’t mean He likes the wrong doings that we do but just as we allow our children to make their own decisions so does God allow us to make our own choices and inevitably our own mistakes.

So, when we ask of God why he allows suffering we can also ask ourselves the very same question. In fact we not only allow suffering we are the cause of suffering. In some ways we need to take more responsibility for our actions. It is easy to point the finger at God when in reality it us us as individuals, communities, counties and indeed as a world who cause suffering and have the power to stop so much of it. Wars, famine, floods, deforestation, loneliness, alienation, racism, abuse, pollution, murder, rape, fear and the list goes on, are all man-made sufferings that we have the power to stop.

So, as you can see it’s nowhere near a complete answer but hopefully it may help us see that there is a third way. I believe in a God that does care and is all-powerful. However, I also believe in a God who allows in His wisdom that which he could prevent by His power.