If God Is Great, Where Is He in World of Suffering?
A cross of loss can be gathered up into God's redemptive plan.
Of all the reasons for rejecting the claims of Christianity, the one most frequently offered comes in the form of a question: "If God is so great and good, then where is he in a world filled with so much agony?" As prominent atheist Victor Stenger puts it: "How [can] an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient God allow so much unnecessary suffering?"
I have asked that question: when my uncle was murdered by bank robbers, leaving behind a shattered wife and five young kids; when my cousin was beaten to death at age 24; when my sister's long-awaited daughter turned out to be terminally deformed; when my brother's lovely, brilliant fiancée was left disfigured and brain-damaged in a car accident; when traveling through the developing world, seeing the hollow eye sockets of people dying of disease and malnutrition, living on dust and garbage; when viewing a mountain made of empty shoes once filled by bright-eyed kids who ended up herded through gas chambers and then piled into ovens; when hearing the cry of Jesus from the Cross. I have found it hard not to respect the atheist's question. How about you?
I wish I could answer it neatly for you today, eliminating all doubt, dismay, or discomfort. As the great historian George F. Kennan once wrote, however, "The truth is sometimes a poor competitor in the marketplace of ideas." It is "complicated, unsatisfying, full of dilemmas, always vulnerable to misinterpretation and abuse." But this does not stop the truth from being true. Whether we are atheists, agnostics, or devotees of God, we have to face the reality of suffering. How we do that depends a lot on what we believe about the reasons for suffering or about the course of its redemption.
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Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church of Oak Brook in Oak Brook, Illinois.