One question I am often asked is, Why does God allow suffering? Let’s be clear – I’m not raising this question this month with respect to England taking a penalty shoot-out in the World Cup (as heart breaking as that may be) – I’m raising this question because people genuinely often ask it. In fact I’ve just been asked the same question this morning – by my car mechanic!
Back track 11 years. I am a young maths teacher, less than a year married to Rachel and now considering giving up my promising new career as a maths teacher. (Maths teachers are after all v much in demand). I am in the old Chester Retreat House attending a Provincial Selection Panel, after which the Church In Wales will decide whether to recommend me for ordination training or not.
One of the interviews I attended was a ‘Pastoral Interview’. The Church wanted to determine whether I would be much good at pastoral care. (I agree, I still have much more to learn). The former Archdeacon of Wrexham took this interview. He asked me some difficult questions – one of which was…
“Adam, why does God allow suffering?”
The world to me at that time, as a young and newly married 25 year old, excited about all the world has in store for him, and as someone who saw things very black and white, with a simple and fresh faith, I thrived on questions like these…
“Humankind (Adam and Eve) sinned and so death came into the world – it was us who brought suffering into the world not God!”, I answered.
“But, why does God, who is all-powerful, allow suffering?”
I’m now thinking…haven’t you read your Bible? I answer philosophically this time… “Well, without suffering, we would not know what good is.” He didn’t accept that answer either.
“Adam, why does God allow suffering?” Attempt three… “Well without free will we’d be robots… if there wasn’t suffering then we couldn’t have free will!” The Archdeacon didn’t look too impressed.
“Adam, imagine you are on a train talking to a mother who has lost her child, are you going to answer her question like that?”
I was stuck. There was a long pause. A very long pause and I felt like I was failing an exam. “I don’t know why God allows suffering”, I answered.
There was now a long pause between us both.
“Well done”, the Archdeacon replied and I think he even smiled.
That was eleven years ago. Eleven years later, I still give the same answer to this question, “I don’t know” and I’m still convinced that it’s the best answer.
Yes we can reason and debate in the classroom why an all-powerful God allows suffering. But the real world isn’t the classroom. Academic, theological and philosophical answers don’t always make a lot of sense in the real world and to real life.
I wonder if the most helpful way to answer the suffering question, is not so much to answer the question, than to learn to live with the question.
I say this too because when I read the Bible I’m not even sure that Jesus attempted to answer this question – but He certainly learned to live with it.
In the Gospels, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, suffered. In fact He is our Lord and Saviour because He suffered! Part of what makes Jesus so special is that He suffered for us – so that we can know our sins forgiven, but also so that we can know His help through our suffering too. For us as Christians, Jesus as one who suffered and who even died makes Him the best person to bring us hope, comfort and peace for through life; not least when we grieve or find life difficult. Equally, as one who rose from the dead, Jesus shows us too that there really is such a thing as life after death! Risen, alive and ascended into heaven today, He shows us that life really is worth living after death too!
Here is the hope of Jesus: When life is difficult, when we suffer, God may not answer the question, “Why is your life difficult?” as we may like Him to, but I believe that He does say, “I am with you and will help you when your life is difficult.”
In Christ, Adam
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Rev Adam Pawley