Thursday, 23 September 2021

God is not silent to innocent suffering

WITH so much suffering in the world, surely there cannot be a God.

This is the profound response of many who have been surprised that suffering comes to innocent people and who feel this makes believing in a good God nonsensical.

We see TV stories about childhood cancer and weep — why them, why now?

The problem is an ancient one — the psalms of the Old Testament contain the haunting phrase “why do you hide your face?”, addressing a seemingly silent God.

The issue is both intellectual and emotional.

We are naturally devastated when something tragic happens to someone we love.

We have unspoken scales of protest, however. Childhood tragedy: very bad. A sad loss of a very elderly person: less bad? Trauma that hits a person thought to be “good” — that is unacceptable. But a terrible thing befalling someone thought to be “bad” and we are tempted to say they had it coming.

This is how our moral reasoning goes and often we are probably not too wrong.

But the issue of God and suffering is a very complex one. It is sometimes pointed out that the “problem of suffering” is more acute in largely prosperous Western post-Enlightenment society because we grow up expecting a high level of health and happiness. In fact, happiness is our main aim in life.

With successful medical intervention and a bit of luck, we in the West can expect to live to a ripe old age and when something interrupts this we are surprised and shocked.

By contrast, average life expectancy in Chad is 49 years. I can’t help feeling that were God to be accused of doing nothing to alleviate the problem of suffering in Chad, God might well respond with the same accusation to us.

The ancient Jewish people had a mature response to the apparent silence of God — they railed at him: “How long, O Lord? Why are you so silent and so far from me?”

This is different from convincing yourself that God doesn’t exist. For example, if you’re fed up with your partner, you might shout at them but you don’t pretend they don’t exist (well, you could try but it won’t be the truth).

As the Church continues to explore the resurrection of Christ this Eastertide, we have a blueprint for addressing the problem of innocent suffering right before our eyes.

The daring truth of Christianity is that we have a suffering God who, in the cross of Christ, took all the pain of the world into his body and transformed it into something new.

Far from being unfeelingly removed, this vision casts God as supremely personal and places Father, Son and Holy Spirit fully on the inside of the problem of pain.

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