As a Christian writer, each of my books includes a struggle to understand one aspect of God and His love. I am not preachy or over the top (I’ve had some strong critics verify this), but it’s my way of exploring and working through my own understanding of God alongside the characters. In the romantic suspense novel I’m currently working on, I tackle the question of “How can God’s love and suffering coexists in the world? How can I trust a God who allows this suffering to happen?”
Man, I did not know what I was getting myself into.
For the first draft, I did a little research and pushed through the question. When I got the responses back from my Beta readers, one said this: “You need to flush out your theology. You stopped short of giving us a sound answer.” Ouch. She was absolutely right.
So, I went back to the drawing board and found these three articles from the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), BeThinking, and Huffington Post (listed in order of personal helpfulness). They’ve widened my perspective on the issue, and helped me get a better grasp on my nebulous thoughts.
The CARM article lists 11 possible reasons for suffering abounding in the world, including arguments for free will, a look at “the greater plan,” and a proposition that God could be making a point or using suffering as a means to draw us closer. I’d touched on several of these points in my novel and it opened up several that I hadn’t thought of, but the article ultimately came to the same conclusion I did. We don’t and can’t know.
I was perfectly willing to stop there first time, but now I have to push beyond that.
The BeThinking article brought an entirely new perspective to my thinking. It states that the trouble with the coexistence of suffering and a loving God is a Western issue. It proposes that since we live in such a comfortable society, we expect that comfort from our God. When things go wrong in our lives and suffering occurs, we basically complain to God, “How could you let this happen?”
Christians in far more persecuted parts of the world don’t if God is loving even when those around them are tortured and martyred for their beliefs. In fact, the apostles and disciples of the Bible had no such qualms about whether God’s love and suffering could coexist, and their deaths read like a litany of the worse possible executions of the day.
Apostles were repeatedly stoned and beaten. They were beheaded and hung on crosses. And yet, they never wavered in their faith. What does this say about us? Why do we struggle with the question so much when, comparatively, we face so little suffering?
Author of the BeThinking article, Michael Ramsden, proposes that it may be because we’re not as close to God as we think.
When life is going well, how much do we really lean on Him? When all is a-okay, it’s easy to let the devotion relax–because if things are going fine, we don’t really need God for anything. So when the suffering comes, and we turn to lean on Him, only then do we realize we’ve walked farther away from Him than we realize. We blame Him for the distance when He’s been in the same place all along.
Jeffrey Small, author of the HuffPost article concludes with this:
“Thus, the problem of evil is ultimately one of perspective: from a micro view we may see the sufferings that happen in the world, but from a macro view we can understand that this suffering is part of the very fabric of the nature of existence itself — an existence that on balance is good.”
Does any of this give me a solid, irrefutable answer to the question of how God’s love and suffering can coexist? No. I firmly believe that only God has that answer. It’s likely so complex, I’ll never understand. Or maybe it’s simple.
Either way, I’ll keep learning and sharing. Along the way, I hope to strengthen my faith and just maybe, God willing, my journey can help someone else.
How do you reconcile the question of whether God’s love and suffering can coexist? Where do you turn for answers when you’re facing a broad theological question? Are you struggling with any other questions about God’s existence or nature? If so, please share. I clearly don’t have all the answers, but I’m more than willing to research the question and join you on your journey.