Monday, 16 June 2008

Why Does God Permit Suffering?

I've just finished reading a fantastic article from the First Things on the square blog, on human suffering.

In the article Fr Neuhaus talks about one of First Things critics 'James Woods' and his struggle to believe. He continues:

When Wood was a teenager, he took a legal pad and listed in one column all the reasons for believing in God and, in the other column, the reasons against. He decided he didn’t believe in God, and the clinching reason was theodicy. It’s the familiar conundrum: In view of all the evil in the world, if God is good, he is not omnipotent; and, if God is omnipotent, he is not good. QED. People have been going around this track since the ancient Greeks and the Book of Job. Wood allows that the arguments that God endowed man with free will and that, in Christ, he suffers with his creatures are impressive, but they are finally not persuasive.

It's a familiar account of the everyday persons experience or intellectual grapple with trying to think about a 'good God', yet Neuhaus sums it up well when he calls it the Narrow escape syndrome which comes from an adolescent 'image' of God and way of thinking. The position that we give God a 'job description' and none of the human qualities we come up wh fit the bill...

As Neuhaus says:

I would suggest that the critical turn is in seeing the implications of the Christian name for God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is, Ultimate Reality is, Being is relational. Indeed, it is relationality, if I may be permitted the term, all the way down. Which is another way of saying what the First Letter of John says more succinctly: God is love. And love entails suffering.

Neuhaus then goes on to quote David Bentley Hart's Book The Doors of the Sea; Where was God in the Tsunami... Here is a little bit of the quote:

God has fashioned creatures in his image so that they might be joined in a perfect union with him in the rational freedom of love. For that very reason, what God permits, rather than violate the autonomy of the created world, may be in itself contrary to what he wills. But there is no contradiction in saying that, in his omniscience, omnipotence, and transcendence of time, God can both allow created freedom its scope and yet so constitute the world that nothing can prevent him from bringing about the beatitude of his Kingdom.

“Indeed we must say this: as God did not will the fall, and yet always wills all things toward himself, the entire history of sin and death is in an ultimate sense a pure contingency, one that is not as such desired by God, but that is nevertheless constrained by providence to serve his transcendent purpose. God does not will evil in the sinner. Neither does he will that the sinner should perish (2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 33:11). He does not place evil in the heart. He does not desire the convulsive reign of death in nature. But neither will he suffer defeat in these things.

“Every free act—even the act of hating God—arises from and is sustained by a more original love of God. It is impossible to desire anything without implicitly desiring the infinite source of all things; even the desire of the suicide for the peace of oblivion is born of a love of self—however tragically distorted it has become—that is itself born of a deeper love for the God from whom the self comes and to whom the self is called. . . .

Until that final glory, however, the world remains divided between two kingdoms, where light and darkness, life and death, grow up together and await the harvest. In such a world, our portion is charity, and our sustenance is faith, and so it will be until the end of days. As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of his enemy. Such faith might never seem credible to someone like Ivan Karamazov, or still the disquiet of his conscience, or give him peace in place of rebellion, but neither is it a faith that his arguments can defeat: for it is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead.

I think it's important to reflect deeply on this issue, because it's what many people struggle with and it's what many people when loosing a child, when their husband dies in a car crash, when a young mother is taken from her family through illness, or when there seems so much evil in the world in the form of terrorism, and when the ways of human beings seem short of what we believe to be 'good'... Those are the issues that affect man and that bother people in their every day life. It's not about providing an answer, but it is about helping people understand and to see God's love through you and me.

The Quote from Hart ends:

“Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes – and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away and he that sits upon the throne will say, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’

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