Does God care?

The problem of pain

[Hand holding embryo]

The film "Shadowlands" is not a bad view. If you get the video out, it's one of those films best seen alone. You can have a good cry and not feel embarrassed.

The story-line is simple enough. An aged English professor falls in love with a young American writer. They are married, but she contracts cancer and inevitably dies. Cancer might only be a word, but in the end it does remain a condition. The story is actually a true story. C.S. Lewis was the professor, and as it turned out, the good professor had written a substantial thesis on the problem of pain. How can a loving God allow his creation to be subject to pain and suffering? His paper on the subject was widely received, so much so that he would often be asked to speak on the issue. So here was this man who thought he understood the mind of God on the subject of suffering, actually suffering. His later book "Grief Observed", as you would expect, is a far less smarty-pants work.

How often has someone said to you, "I know how you feel?" Our first reaction is to think "no you don't". Suffering is so personal, no one could know the pain. Yet the truth is, we all suffer. We will all experience pain, that deep dark loss that leaves us breathless, curled up in bed, never wanting to get out again. When we watch our child or our partner wither before our eyes, twisted in pain, it's then we know suffering, and it's then we curse God. Where is he when we really need him? Is he a sadist who gains pleasure in our writhing, or would it be better to just write him out of the equation?

The problem of evil is only a problem for those who believe there is a God. If there is no God there is no problem. Evil is just a lack of balance or a product of poor social engineering, or nothing but the natural condition. Get the balance right, change the parameters of society, accept the natural process, and happiness is the result. The trouble is even our bones sense the presence of the Divine, and so our faith is constantly shaken as we touch the chaos, the darkness of this shadowland. How can a loving and just God ignore our suffering? What is the point of it all?

Young people will often say "life sucks", while the clergy proclaim "life wasn't meant to be easy." So yes, at time "life sucks." What can you say? Sometimes it does, but why? What do we say in the face of suffering?

The classic answer lies with human freedom. God creates humankind with god-like freedom. We are not programmed to just follow blind instinct. We are created with the capacity to reason, to think, decide, to moralise.... to choose to know our Creator. The trouble is we use our freedom to further our own ends and ignore the one who is the very ground of our being, without whom we have no life. And so the rot sets in and the creation begins to crumble, and we with it. Yet our loving Creator does not just leave us to the mercy of our own foolishness, he reaches out to us in Jesus and offers life eternal for all who seek it. And so in the midst of death we can find life. God will not leave his creation in this state of decay for ever. The day will come when Jesus will return and set things right, fix up the problem of evil, if you like. Pity help us if we are found against him in that day, if we are found to be part of the problem.

This is a reasonable answer, it's very true, but just a bit trite. C.S. Lewis liked to see good in suffering, that there was some divine purpose in it. How true it is that glory so often comes through suffering and pain. Jesus knows well the path of glory through pain and suffering. There is no way we can say that God does not know our pain, that he has not suffered as we have. Does suffering somehow shape the divine within us, developing qualities fit for eternity, preparing us for glory? Mind you, after the journey of suffering, C.S. Lewis was less able to find anything worthy in the pit of pain. That God is God, that good will prevail, that our experiences through life, both good and bad, shape us, yes, but to know the reason, that's another matter.

A woman recently wrote explaining that God had taken her husband with cancer so that she might regain her faith. The problem is, if that's the way God actually functions we would all be better off without Him. It is true that "all things work for good to those who love the Lord". We know well that what we might intend for evil, He can use for good. Evil men take and crucify Jesus. They intend it for evil, but from it God brings good. God is God. Our stupidity and corruption does not interfere with God's ultimate intention to gather a people to himself. In Jesus, all who seek will find eternity, but yes, the suffering remains.

So what do we say? The pathway of life is narrow and rock-strewn, we know not why. Often the way is clear and bright, but at times we stumble and fall and all about us seems lost. There is reason to it, but of that reason we know not. In the distance we see the light of eternity, and beside me us sense the hand of a gentle man of sorrows, laughing when we laugh, weeping when we cry. Is this enough?