The question of pain and suffering has been on my mind lately. It is a hard question. One that seems to push any worldview and philosophy beyond its boundaries. Anywhere we look to find a satisfactory answer, we find that the issue in question looms larger than our own powers of comprehension. Sure, some may have purely intellectual ways of answering the question, but they aren’t answers that satisfy the longing of the soul. They are answers “from the view of the balcony” and are not likely to satisfy the questions of the weary travelers on the road.
In reality we need both. The answers to the tough questions must make sense. And yet, they must also “fit” the longing and the experience of the soul. They must resonate. It makes no sense to say that there is a God who made all things, set this mighty world into motion, and yet has no power over evil things; that that he is doing his best, but doesn’t really know what will be in the end. At the end of the day, this “God” is no bigger than we are.
Neither is it sufficient to say that this universe is a mere product of chance and chaos. Its all just spinning endlessly and we are caught up in the middle of it as biological byproducts of the magnificent accident. Pain, we are told, is meaningless. In fact it doesn’t actually exist. Our hatred of suffering is a mere evolutionary mechanism by which the fittest fight to move forward. The actual human soul finds this answer revulsive. If everything I hold dear in life is a mere biological mirage, then to hell with it all. …Oh, but that too is an illusion.
No one actually lives this way.
Do I have an answer that will tie it all together nice and neat? No I do not.
And yet I have been struck by the anomaly of the christian answer.
The Bible presents a God who is an actual God; it presents the only kind of God that can be God – one that is supreme, perfect, independent, sovereign, loving and merciful. It presents a God who is absolute in all possible senses. Yet there is a major curveball. Christianity presents a God who, although he is above all things, chooses to come into this world and take the full weight of evil and suffering upon himself. Instead of merely erasing or preventing suffering he chooses to personally defeat it, and to therefore provide to us a path out of it, one that is marked by his own blood, sweat and tears.
The christian worldview flips this challenging question around. Instead of asking, “Why would a perfect God allow us all to suffer so much?”, it asks, “Why would God create a world in which he himself suffers so much? Suffers at all?”. If there is a God, then he did not have to create, much less create a universe that causes him so much pain, did he? And yet he does, thus revealing an essential picture of who he really is.
When God writes a story, he doesn’t write a perfect, neat and tidy one. It is a story of the terrible struggle in which we find ourselves. It is the story in which he seeks and saves the lost, at his own ultimate expense. It is a story in which he “eternally gives himself to others”¹. A story in which he pays the price for the rebellion of those who live as though he does not exist. It is a story in which he bleeds in order to make us perfect.
- A phrase used by Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology, ch. 12, p. 199.