(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).
How does a Christ follower reconcile his or her belief in a good and powerful God with the reality of suffering and evil? Honestly, there is no easy answer. This is, in my opinion, the achilles heel of Christianity. This is the toughest issue to resolve because, at the end of the day, it is ultimately a irreducible problem. It can never be removed by argument. And really...who among us is going to "feel better" about horrific tragedy if we have a crisp and clear answer to this issue? None of our philosophizing about this issue will get God "off the hook." Yet ironically, philospher Peter Kreeft comments that, "the Christian God came to earth to deliberately put himself ON the hook of human suffering."
Keller points out that, while Christianity "does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair." Keller makes the following observations and claims:
- Jesus did not face his death with the fearlessness that one would expect of a "Braveheart"-type hero. He was deeply disturbed and shook up by his impending death (Mark 14:33-34), tried to avoid his death (“If it be your will…take this cup from me”—Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42), and when he was on the Cross, cried out that God had forsaken him (Matthew 27:46).
- Why this reaction? He was more overwhelmed by his death because it involved something he had never known: As God incarnate, Jesus had never been separated from God the father until now.
- "We cannot fathom...what it would be like to lose not just spousal love or parental love that has lasted several years, but the infinite love of the Father that Jesus had from all eternity. Jesus’s sufferings would have been eternally unbearable. Christian theology has always recognized that Jesus bore, as the substitute in our place, the endless exclusion from God that the human race has merited.
- "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.
- "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.
What does the idea of a suffering God have on your understanding of the problem of reconciling belief in God with the reality of evil and suffering?