The Problem with Suffering, Part 2
IN HIS BOOK, THE REASON FOR GOD, Tim Keller tells the following story. “In December 2004, a massive tsunami killed more than 250,000 people around the rim of the Indian Ocean. Over the following weeks, newspapers and magazines were full of letters and articles asking, “Where was God?” One reporter wrote, ‘If God is God, he’s not good. If God is good, he’s not God. You can’t have it both ways, especially after the Indian Ocean catastrophe.”
Understandably, this is a common response to the pain that often comes with suffering. But when we analyze this logic, it falls apart, because it assumes that if we in our finite understanding can’t see a good reason for suffering, then it must not exist. Keller describes this faulty way of thinking by saying, “If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a high order.”
And yet, it is rather common for people to give testimony to how hard times, failure and even times of suffering have strengthened their character and made them stronger. This is not to downplay the tragedy of suffering in any way. Rather, it is to counter the argument that suffering naturally leads to the conclusion that God is not a good and all powerful God. Life is filled with examples of how good has come from suffering.
At the same time, the presence of suffering in this world is evidence that this world is broken. The Christian worldview has an answer for why this world is broken and given over to this “bondage of decay” and why the “whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:22) This fallen world lives under the curse of sin. God said to Adam in Genesis 3:17, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”
Consequently, when we are faced with suffering, there is something within us that causes us to cry, “This isn’t the way things were meant to be!” This cry can only be made if there is an ultimate good in the universe. Furthermore, the longing for such a good speaks to the reality that it does exist.
Consider these words by C. S. Lewis. “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well there is such a thing as water... If I find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
When we face suffering and we find ourselves longing for a world where there is no more suffering; these feelings point us to the fact that such a world exists. In fact, these feelings have no room to exist if there is no God. So to put it another way, suffering points us to the truth that God does indeed exist and that he is good.
As Keller reflects on the hope of heaven, he concludes, “This is the ultimate defeat of evil and suffering. It will not only be ended, but so radically vanquished that what has happened will only serve to make our future life and joy infinitely greater.” This is the victory that is ours through the suffering Jesus experienced on the cross and through his resurrection from the dead.
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