Summary: Part 2 in a series about responding to tough questions. Part 1 examined other religions. This sermon responds to the question, How could God allow Suffering?
What about Suffering?
In 2005 some friends of mine were pregnant with their first child. They happened to be studying at college at the time, with the intention of going into Asia to preach the gospel after they had given birth. About 6 months into their pregnancy they found out that there were complications. In January 2006, at 10pm they gave birth to a beautiful girl. By 11pm, she had died. The funeral was extraordinarily tragic. The eulogy from her parents was full of such grief and despair. And though the people in church that day were largely Christian, just about everyone was thinking the same thing. Why would God do this to two of his faithful servants just before they were about to spend the rest of their lives preaching the gospel in a foreign country? Why would God do this to them? Why would God do this at all?!? There were many tears that day and I doubt that I was not the only person who wanted to shout It is NOT fair God! It is not fair.
I have been asked today to speak about Suffering and I wanted to start by telling you that in the great scheme of things, God has blessed me with a pretty comfortable life. I have not, as yet, suffered very much at all. So it is with incredible humility that I approach this topic. Normally, in fact, I begin most talks with a bit of a joke or a funny story, but today is different. This is a serious topic and it demands a serious response. And even at the end of it, you still may not have the answers that you are looking for. Answers to questions that we are sometimes even too afraid to voice ourselves: Why me God? Where are you?, or even the terrible Why have you forsaken ME?
Before we get onto what the Bible says, I want to follow on from what James Rogers was talking about last week – what about other religions? How do they deal with the question of suffering..
1. The Alternative Perspective
I want to note however, that as we examine the alternative views I am not seeking to disprove or even critique them, nor do I claim to have an indepth understanding of any of them. I merely wish to unpack them so as to illustrate the differences. So to begin, Hinduism has a clear and comprehensive answer to the question of Suffering. All events are sincerely regarded as a result of karma. For example, a Hindu family that has lost a baby sincerely believes that they are reaping the consequence of actions either of this life or a previous one as a result of karma. Similarly, if you pass a beggar on the street, you shouldn’t feel compassion but you should see someone who is reaping the consequence of his or her karma. Suffering, therefore is not seen as an inversion of the Creator’s purpose, but a divine kind of balance.
Buddhism, on the other hand, rose out directly from this question of Suffering. Buddhism originally was a quest for how to solve the problem of suffering, and the answer was rigorous meditation. From that meditation, comes the realisation that suffering is an illusion and that Suffering arises from desire. For example, when a child’s father dies, the pain is not loss for the father, but because of the child’s desire for a father’s affection. The suffering of a beggar is not about poverty, but the beggar’s desire for a better life. If a child can remove their desire for the father’s life, the suffering will be reduced. Therefore, to extinguish suffering, one must completely removal desire. The whole of Buddhism is about this problem.
The Muslim world view states that suffering is not bad or evil – all events are thought of as determined by the will of God, the finger of Allah, the cause of all causes. Every time a baby dies, a car crashes, someone is murdered, It is the finger of Allah. They teach that God moves all things, but is himself moved by nothing. If you were to ask why, why does Allah do that? The answer comes straight back…He is Unknowable and Unquestionable – it is a blasphemy to even ask that question. For in Islam, you are resigning yourself to the will of God. The very word Islam, in Arabic, means Submission, to the will of Allah; and the very act of questioning God is quite clearly a refusal to submit your will.
For the great religion of the Western world, Atheism, suffering is a result of the sheer natural forces of the world. There’s no purpose or grand unfolding of history, it is just natural! Richard Dawkins is perhaps the best exponent. “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect. There is no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music." Try telling that to a family who has just lost their child or a Holocaust survivor.