Tuesday, October 25, 2011

If God is good, why so much suffering?

I spoke on suffering at Bristol University today. I began with Marcus Brigstocke's quest for god triggered by the death of his best friend James... considered the denial of suffering suggested by the western physical-only and eastern non-physical worldviews that are woefully inadequate... contemplated the horrifying karma approach before turning to the god we see in the face of Jesus, a god like no other god we've ever heard of...   This is the subject I've been asked to speak on most often and its not going away yet - so your feedback and thoughts are very welcome.

mp3: If God is good, why so much suffering? (33mins, inc Q&A)

My Notes 

In the Q&A the following questions arose. I don't think I gave the best answers to them when I was in the room, so here's some "after the event" responses that I wish I'd articulated....

1. Wouldn't an omnipotent god end suffering?
I don't believe in the omnipotent god. I believe in the god revealed by Jesus in person. And this god is powerful and he uses his power against all the suffering, evil and sin in the world not by wielding it but by yielding it. He takes on all that's bad in the world by Jesus dying to put the world to rights. Jesus weakness at the cross is the answer to suffering. Today we don't see the world fully put to rights but his resurrection is the evidence that one day newness is coming.

2. Why create suffering in the first place?
The world was good when it was created, and it's hard to think of suffering as a creatable thing - it's more a decreation, a corruption of things. Why allow that? Because to bring us into the life of god isn't just about us being creatures who associate with god, but means passing through death, seeing all sin and suffering put to death, so that we can be given a new flesh, a new life in god. Death is invented because Jesus had to die.

3. If Jesus suffered for us, shouldn't life now be free from suffering?
This relates to the first question. What's required has been achieved, we just await the fulfillment of it. Why wait? To give people from all over the world the opportunity to come into the life of God. When everything is set right that isn't automatically good news for the human race, because some of us push Jesus away - these days of suffering are days of patience in which we can come into God, and that's a huge price to pay - but a worthwhile price.

This morning I asked some tweeters to help warm me up for the Q&A. They asked me:
However you package it, your God is still responsible for suffering. Why should I believe in the God of cancer, tsunamis & aids? Does God just sit back and watch? Do God actively ordain/will personal suffering for each person? If yes, does this make God evil? A question from Text A Toastie in Bristol last night: If God exists why did he create cancer yet give us the power to cure it? Does God suffer?
Is God sovereign in our suffering? Does that mean it is His will for us to suffer?  I  read re Noah & was inspired thinking re the alternative to how God does it now - what would you prefer, forgiveness or flood?
I wont answer them here now, but I think having thought about them slipped into the talk at various points. So thanks team - you helped me and shaped the talk!