On God and Suffering

The thing that I love most about Brown [University] is the university’s emphasis on personal experience. Both inside and outside of the classroom, we are allowed to craft an undergraduate experience that is as unique as the background we each come from. Stories of how people within the Brown community have overcome insurmountable obstacles constantly inspire us to live up to our reputation as the “social good” Ivy. We pour out our efforts into academic study and political activism in order to combat the inequality that we witness in the world. However, the focus on our individual prowess to fight injustice in the world implies that God has been and will continue to be absent in this process.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that we condemn any person, system, or institution that stands in the way of the pursuit of our utopian ideal. Therefore, we often use God, Christianity, and religion as scapegoats for our inability to overcome personal pain and hurt in the world. We group all suffering under this abstract idea that exists out there in the world. This is because it is easier to pose this general “bad” in the world in opposition to God than to engage with Him personally.

We argue that we could never believe in, let alone worship, a God who would allow suffering. Deep down, we elect disbelief because we have racked up a résumé of painful experiences that God must justify. Only by softening our hearts and boldly confessing that we don’t have a philosophical problem with God, but instead, a personal problem with God, will we finally be able to move forward beyond a seemingly unsolvable paradox.

By not addressing the paradox itself, we do nothing to adequately prove the non-existence of God, but merely criticize our perception of God’s character. Our main issue is, “If I were God, I would have done it better.” We abandon faith because we are tired of waiting, or we no longer trust God to actually show up. It’s an angry declaration that says, “People shouldn’t have to hurt like this!” or, often times, “I shouldn’t have to hurt like this!” Ultimately, we work to eradicate the pain in our lives, and alienate God from the process. The real question we should be asking is, “How would a good God allow me to go through such pain and suffering?”

We see natural disasters, mass murders, disease, mental illness, and hatred, but God can still be trusted. And God is faithful. As we entrust ourselves to Him in our pain and in our compassion for others, He reveals His true goodness and justice in the midst of chaos. Perhaps by God’s design, a suffering heart, if softened, can more easily be enlarged and filled with love. God is eager to share the strangeness of His joy with everyone. But we have to enter the pain. When you and I are deeply hurt, what we really need is not a justification from God, but a revelation of God.

Tim Keller states in one of his books: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” We need to see the greatness of God and recover perspective on life. Things become distorted when we are suffering, and it takes an understanding of something bigger than ourselves to realign life’s dimensions again.


Photo credit: chelle from morguefile.com.

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