Friday, 6 May 2016

The problem of pain/ suffering - versus a child-like faith in God our loving Father

The existence of human suffering is used, in modern culture, as a refutation of the Christian belief that God loves us - indeed it tends to be used as an argument against the existence of God, with the assumption that God is loving built-in.

"Yeah, but how can you explain Hitler, and cancer and stuff? God wouldn't allow that"

Like most modern arguments, this is used in such a context and with such an expectation that the Christian is supposed to rebut it in a sentence or maybe two...

The logic goes something like: If God was real, he would have made a better world than this - therefore God is not real.

(Interestingly, the alternative that God is real but not primarily loving - a view affirmed by considerably more than a billion people, doesn't seem to be considered - because mainstream modern Western culture is specifically anti-Christian; so the 'USP' of Christianity {that God is love} is simply taken for granted as characteristic of any God.)

How would I answer such a challenge - if given the luxury of somebody's attention for a few sentences? I would need to state how I regard God, and also the purpose of human life - when both of these are known (but not until then) there is a possibility of explaining the problem of pain.

1. God is the creator, and our loving Father. We can often understand things by this real-metaphor. In other words, we are children, immature but growing, trying to understand why our parents behave the way they do.

2. The purpose of life on earth is 'educational' - we each are growing towards greater divinity (to be more like God) in an environment that is meant to provide maturing, deepening, challenging experience.

3. Every person's specific situation and needs are unique - so there are no general answers to 'why?' something happens to some people - but only explanations of this happening to this person in such a time and place.

4. Therefore, we may be able to understand the reason for our own personal suffering - if we sufficiently understand God, ourselves and our own specific needs and those of people around us. But, given the incredible complexity of things, and the multitude of possibilities, the only imaginable way we could understand even this limited question is from a divine perspective - i.e. if God grants us a personal revelation to explain to us our situation, to explain why X happened to me.

5. And clearly - given the reality of human uniqueness - we can never know this detailed information for most of the seven billion people on the planet, and the billions more who lived in the past.

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Also - in general - we need to take a step-back and recognize the nature of what is being asked when a Christian - and I mean a sincere Christian, not merely some person such as a bishop who is claiming to be a Christian - argues that suffering refutes the lovingness of God.

Such a Christian is in the position of a child saying that because bad stuff happens this means 'therefore' his parents do not love him. There is an equation being made between 'my happiness' and my parents love for me - specifically the assertion that if I am suffering, it is because my parents do not love me.

This, I think, is a sufficiently accurate summary of 'the problem of pain' argument in many situations. It is usually a childish and selfish argument - that is, an argument motivated by selfishness and childish in its refusal to acknowledge self-ignorance and immaturity in a context which involves an already-existing lack of belief in the goodness (or reality) of God.

Consider: A child may be, often is, in situations where his parents seem (from the perspective of that child) to be inflicting suffering for no reason - this is one of the great sadnesses of parenting.

For example, taking a child for a painful medical procedure. A Father may be holding the child still while the doctor does something which from the child's perspective is a form of torture. From the child's perspective, Daddy brought me to this horrible place and Daddy is holding me tight so that this nasty man can hurt me.

But, in a good family, this does not destroy, does not even challenge, the child's confidence (faith) in the absolute love of his parents.

The reality is that the Father is doing all this from love of his child - although there is no way that a young child can comprehend the situation.

In practice a child is very likely to be hurt and confused by the situation; but also in practice the little boy clings even more tightly to his Father - because that child knows that whatever happens (or seems to be happening), his Father loves him and wants the best for him.

So the answer to the problem of pain is very simple - simple enough for a young child to understand; and indeed simple Christians of past generations understood this without having to be told. The context is that we know that God is our loving Father, and therefore the more we suffer here and now, the more we want and need him; the more we ought to cling tight onto him.