Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where is God when it hurts? Why does God allow suffering?

Why does God allow suffering is an important question. It is important because people's belief in God and trust in the fundamental beliefs of Christianity can be based around the answer to the question. The inability to grasp an answer to this following a painful ordeal in life, we know, has seen some turn away from faith in Christ. The question is a prudent one, one that is worthy of exploration. The following extensive quote is written by John Hick, in Philosophy of Religion (1963) and is cited in Philip Yancey's Where is God when it Hurts (1990). The language is somewhat philosophical, but hopefully is helpful to some readers:

"Suppose, contrary to fact, that this world were a paradise from which all possibility of pain and suffering were excluded. The consequences would be far-reaching. For example, no one could ever injure anyone else: the murderer's knife would turn to paper or the bullets to thin air; the bank safe, robbed of a million dollars, would miraculously become filled with another million dollars (without this device on however large a scale, proving inflationary); fraud, deceit, conspiracy, and treason would somehow always leave the fabric of society undamaged. Again, no one would ever be injured by accident: the mountain climber, steeplejack, or a playing child falling from a height would float unharmed to the ground; the reckless driver would never meet with disaster. There would be no need to work; there would be no call to be concerned for others in time of need or danger, for in such a world there could be no real needs or dangers.

To make possible this continual series of individual adjustments, nature would have to work, "special providences" instead of running according to general laws which men must learn to respect on penalty of pain and death. The laws of nature would have to be extremely flexible: sometimes an object would be hard and solid, sometimes soft...

One can at least imagine such a world. It is evident that our present ethical concepts could have no meaning in it. If, for example, the notion of harming someone is an essential element in the concept of wrong action, in our hedonistic paradise there could be no wrong actions--nor any right actions in distinction from wrong. Courage and fortitude would have no point in an environment in which there is, by definition, no danger or difficulty. Generosity, kindness the agape aspect of love, prudence, unselfishness, and all other ethical notions which presuppose life in a stable environment, could not even be formed. Consequently, such a world, however well it might promote pleasure, would be very ill adapted for the development of the moral qualities of human personality. In relation to this purpose it would be the worst of all possible worlds.

It would seem, then, that an environment intended to make possible the growth in free beings of the finest characteristics of personal life, must have a good deal in common with our present world. It must operate according to general and dependable laws; and it must involve real dangers, difficulties, problems, obstacles, and possibilities of pain, failure, sorrow, frustration, and defeat. If it did not contain the particular trials and perils which--subtracting man's own very considerable contribution--our world contains it would have to contain others instead... "

Thanks John Hick for those words back in 1963. Thanks to Philip Yancey's Where is God when it hurts (1990) which, like any of Philip Yancey's books, is worth a read.

Why does God allow suffering? Where is God when it hurts? These are questions worth asking, debating, discovering, exploring, so that we have a greater understanding and revelation of who God really is, and why the world is what it is, and why life is full of so many ups and downs.

1 comment:

  1. Jesus said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33 NIV)
    I believe God gives us strength to carry on in spite of trouble. And sometimes I believe God may allow certain trials to make us stronger, for example, if I write a book and no-one seems interested, do I carry on publishing it, or do I give up? God sees the bigger picture, and I might not know why I am going through certain downhill patches, but maybe there is a reason, and if there is none, I must still put my trust in God to see me through.


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