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SUFFERING AND THE SILENCE OF GOD
How can a good God be all-powerful and allow suffering?
How do we deal with unanswered prayer? Where is God when we hurt?
Silence, disappointment, doubt, and suffering are not things that are foreign to Christians - they are common to us all. When we are at our end, desperate, alone, surrounded by darkness, and it seems like God is not there, that he is hiding his face; the feeling of abandonment can be devastating. It can feel worse than the trouble itself to feel alone in our pain. When we set our hopes on something, our trust, our heart, and it shatters at our feet, this can hurt more than to have never hoped at all. They say it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, but the pain and loss are very real. Silence hurts.
In The Doorway Papers, now published on-line, Arthur Custance writes,
At such times thoughtful men do not become atheists because they find it irrational to believe in a spiritual world which is above and beyond demonstration by ordinary means, but because of emotional insult, the feeling that if God is really such a Being as we His children claim Him to be, He could not possibly remain silent, He would have to act manifestly, mercifully savingly, publicly.
Theodicy, the issue of how a loving God can allow suffering, is a perennial atheist question, and a legitimate and honest one. But I think it is first and foremost a question for believers. It is of vital importance to us, precisely because we do believe in a good and sovereign God, that we resolve this issue with ourselves and with God. It is crucial to our development and a healthy growing trust with God that we face these questions and our pain head on. That is what this paper is about.
But first I would like to talk about what this paper will not be about.
I find it profoundly lame when Christians search to justify injustice as if it was a good thing: "it's freewill", "it's cause of Adam".
In a misguided attempt to defend God they take a biblical concept that could offer profound insight into our situation and trivialize it into a trite intellectual justification for suffering. I find it equally naïve and dumb when atheists coolly condemn God as cruel and impotent as if they could objectively sit above it all, detached, untouched, as if these issues didn't effect them just as much as they do every other human being on Earth.
"The real question is, what does God want to tell us by making us ask?"
This is not an abstract concept, these are issues that touch us at the core of our being. We can justify suffering or say that God is unjust, but either way we pull the rug out from under our feet when we do. It is symptomatic of both sides to search for a detached intellectual answer rather than to really face the problem and ourselves. We need to all stop kidding ourselves. We are not above the problem so that we can push it off on God, in a denial of our human need, or say "well praise the Lord" and stick our head in the sand.
Theodicy is not a cold theological question. It is one of passion. "I cry to you God but you do not answer. I stand before you, and you don't even bother to look" screams Job in desperation. Clever intellectual answers won't cut it here. The answer we seek in our pain is not so much one of explanation but of relief. When we cry "Why!" what we mean is "Make it stop."
Before we can really approach an answer to the problem we need to stop for a moment and realize just how close this question is intertwined with our very being. We cannot approach this from a distance. This is not neutral for us. It deals with our lives in the most intimate and central way imaginable. So long as we, or our theories, stay on an intellectual level and do not touch us where we live, they will remain merely academic. We will have to approach these questions from a different angle, a personal angle, if we want an answer that will touch us and heal us rather than a superficial and theoretical explanation. Whether atheist or believer, these are our questions and no amount of mental gymnastics will make the questions, or our need go away.
CS Lewis said we live in a universe that contains much that is bad and apparently meaningless, but at the same time containing creatures like ourselves who somehow know that it is bad and meaningless. God has created us as creatures that cry, as creatures that recognize the injustice and emptiness and long for something more. He didn't have to. He could have made us like fish just swimming around and not noticing much of anything. But he didn't. This outrage at injustice, this cry for reconciliation, this need for love that sits at the fundament of who we are, has been put there by God.
The only reason you recognize injustice at all, is that you have been made with an God-inherited need for justice, just like God has given all of us an inborn need for love and meaning. These are primarily God's questions inside of you. You have these questions because God has placed them in your heart. God wants you to ask. When you stop asking you stop being truly human.
Ultimately, until "every tear is wiped away" we will carry these questions in our hearts. As soon as we stop asking why, as soon as we stop yearning for justice, yearning for God to step in and heal and restore, as soon as we accept the darkness, as soon as we justify suffering and Hell, there will be something very wrong with us. We cannot ever stop asking these questions on this side of eternity. It is fundamental to who we are and how God has made us. What we need to know is how to live healthily with these questions. How to live in the tension of being in a fallen world, full of pain and injustice, but having hope and trust in a good God. These questions - because they are so deeply ingrained in our being, so crucial to us - have the potential to pull us into despair and away from God, or, if we have the guts to face them, can tell us a great deal about ourselves, about what life is about, and who God is. The real question is, what does God want to tell us by making us ask?
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PART TWO: THE FACE OF GOD
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