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Why love and suffering?

September 9, 2017

I’ve been hearing so much about disaster and pain. There were terror attacks and more recently I’ve been watching the terrible effects across the globe of earthquake, wind and flood. I read, and I wonder what this has to say about a God of love, indeed of the God who “is love” (See John 4.16 NIV). I see the suffering and I hear in my mind the critics of faith, shouting, “Where is the God of love in this? How can a loving God do this? How can he stand aside and let it happen?”

At first these questions seem so hard to answer. In fact they are really traps that cannot be answered. They are a bit like the question, “Answer, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’: Have you stopped beating your wife?” Whatever you say is wrong, not because God is not loving, or in the case of that last question, not because I have ever beaten my wife!

If you answer, “God didn’t do this” – then the reply is, “So he doesn’t exist then.” If you say, “God did do this”, then the reply is, “He’s not very loving then!”

The problem, goes far deeper than simple answers. The problem relates to an understanding of God that I don’t agree with. I’ll explain what I mean. This will mean leaving those questions parked for a minute but I will come back to them.

I’ll start at my beginning with God. I came to know God through seeing him at work in some very loving and caring people. Then, as I began to experience the presence of God for myself, I found this God to be a loving and caring God. I read about this God being a God of love and this made sense of what I was experiencing. I experienced loving, divine strength in good times and in bad. I discovered a God who was loving in an unloving world. I discovered a God who made me and all of his children more loving, despite the hate and indifference of the world around. I was never promised a bed of roses, or a life of limitless pleasure. I was promised a life lived with meaning and purpose; a life saturated with love. I was promised the strength and wisdom to be able to live life to the full, no matter what life would bring. I was promised that the joyful Jesus at the Wedding at Cana would be there celebrating when I celebrated. I was promised that the suffering Jesus of the Cross would be there weeping with me and holding me when life felt too painful for me to cope.

This is the love of God that I know to be true. This is the God that I not only believe in, but know to be real. Knowing this God, I don’t see a disaster and ask, “Where is God in this”. I see a disaster and feel God weeping with those that weep. I feel a tiny bit of the pain felt by God at the pain of this world. I feel that pain and I’m spurred on to do more to make this world a better place. For example, when it comes to natural disasters like hurricanes, it pushes me to do all I can to reduce the climate change that is making these so much worse and more frequent.

I also know God as the loving creator of all things. To understand what that means I turn to the Bible. There in the first chapters of Genesis, I find that the world was made good, without pain, suffering or death. I also find that the ‘God of love’ loves his creatures so much that he does not want them to be just puppets. God wants to share the live and creativity of his love. I also read in the Bible that the downside to this great gift of freedom is that freedom can be abused. I read that the whole of creation has been corrupted and that we are not blameless in this.

I read that God’s sorting out of human beings and his sorting out of creation are so linked together that they are one and the same thing (see Romans 8.22-24). So ‘natural’ disasters and ‘human’ atrocities are both symptoms of the same disease: The corruption or ‘fall’ of a creation. I don’t know all the reasons why God does not step in and sort it all out. But from spending time with God and reading my Bible I know that it is out of love for us and out of love for the world. God does not want to wipe it all out because he sees hope in it all still. That is why Jesus came. Jesus is God in this would of love and hate, joy and suffering.

Jesus came not to provide me with all the answers to every situation to satisfy my intellectual pride. No, Jesus came to give me the love sufficient to live every situation.

So back to those nagging questions, “Where is the God of love in this? How can a loving God do this? How can he stand aside and let it happen?”

My longer more complete answer is set out above. Even that is barely skimming the surface. But even that is probably too long for most people. I have found that most people do not want ‘real’ answers because real answers take time. People want quick answers. The quick answer that I’m tempted to give would be, “that to ask these questions you know neither the nature of God nor the nature of this world.”

But really the only real answer is to show the love of God in action in my life, good times and bad. As Paul put it, I need to say to myself, “Let love be your only debt! If you love others, you have done all that the Law demands. In the Law there are many commands, such as, “Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not want what belongs to others.” But all of these are summed up in the command that says, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” No one who loves others will harm them. So love is all that the Law demands.” (Romans 13.8-10).

My answer is to “let love be (my) only debt”, to show the love of God by living it, and encouraging everyone that I meet to do the same!

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