Conversation #5: Suffering and the Hiddenness of God

Is there a bigger problem that human beings have to deal with than suffering? I’m not sure there is. All people, young and old, rich and poor, healthy and unhealthy will eventually ask one question: Why? Its the great question of life? The question that a child can use fell a philosopher. Why? Why this? Why now? Why me? Why did THIS have to happen?

Here’s the rub. Who, or what, are we asking?

Note: If you or someone you know is actually going through suffering, this is not the place to bring them. Those moments are not for philosophizing, they are for quiet, for understanding, and listening. In those moments, saying nothing is the best thing you can say, and just being there is the best thing you can do.

This past Wednesday, we took a look at the problem of evil and suffering through the eyes of faith. I would argue this is THE question Christians must deal with in regards to objections to faith. However, my own journey, and that of many others, has been one in which the road to faith was paved with suffering. The discussion thus centered around my own emotional and intellectual struggle with “why?” when my stepfather was killed in an accident with a drunk driver. The PowerPoint is available for download here:

Suffering and the Hiddenness of God

I recommend you download it to get the full force of the argument. Here are a few additional thoughts:

1. There is SO much we don’t know.

When dealing with suffering, we often fail to realize the limitations of our own perspective. Of course, that’s if you have faith in a good God. If not, you have to deal with what you have in front of you. Philosopher Jeff Cook makes the argument in his wonderful new book “Everything New” that if God is real, then there is no reason not to assume, at the very least, the possibility that suffering leads to something redemptive. Cook even cites the “problem of evil and suffering” as the thing that made him want to believe in a God at all. If the God of the Bible is, in fact, who we are told He is, then it has to be assumed that He has knowledge or understanding we don’t.

Isaiah 55:9
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Does that make it easier? No. But the alternative is little more than despair in the face of a random, impersonal, chaotic universe.

Here is a very helpful and informative video of Tim Keller, a pastor in New York, broaching the subject at Columbia University:

 

 

2. Of the most prominent worldviews, Christianity remains the most compelling to me.

In my own journey, the other worldviews left me feeling worse than the alternative of Christianity. Karma seemed to be impersonal and cold, as did evolution. Yet, adherents to both confer almost God-like status on them. For me, I was left with Islam and Christianity. And only Christianity has a God who was willing to come down and suffer with me. The very thing that repels some people from faith was what drew me to it: the cross of Jesus. Then again, suffering heroes are compelling to us all: Batman, Harry Potter, Spiderman, and even Katniss are just a few that have crossed the modern mind in the past few years.

3. Suffering, while horrible, can help people see.

There’s a scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that I think speaks powerfully to this. Harry sees Luna Lovegood, a strange and eccentric girl, petting a creature that he thinks only he can see, but Luna let’s him in on why she can as well:

 

 

“They can only be seen by people who have seen death.”

Granted, many have given up their faith because of suffering, but my own experience and the experience of others like Elie Wiesel, is that suffering helps frame the question. Perhaps there is something about looking honestly into the face of death that helps one to see life. As a general rule, my faith has grown most not in times of ease, but of pain and questioning. The result is that I cherish my faith more than I did before, I value it because I had to fight for it. In the end, for me, the Christian faith helped me see something in my suffering and suffering of the world that I may not have seen as clearly before: hope. This gift helps me to look into the heart of the storm and find hope, and even beauty. To look at the cross, by all accounts a horrible, grisly, and unjust thing from a purely historical standpoint and see meaning and purpose. To be able see the ugliest that people have to offer and see beauty, not in what they have to offer, or their potential, but in them just as they are. Marred by Sin, but still made in the image of God. These are the eyes of faith. I’m not certain I wouldn’t take it all back if I had the option not to go through it again, but what I can say without reservation is this: I’m not sure I could see like this if I hadn’t been forced to look very hard. In the end, I have to trust that there is something beneath the surface of all this, something…hidden.

There’s an interesting couple of verses in Colossians that Biblical interpreters avoid like the plague because its so mysterious, but what if that’s the point?

Colossians 3:3-4

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is yourlife, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Did you catch it? YOUR life and mine are HIDDEN with Christ in God. Who knows what this means completely, but maybe we can say this: There is something about the true meaning of our lives that is hidden from us. There is a mystery to why we are where we are, experience what we experience, and live how we live. That would include our suffering. The real meaning behind it is…hidden. Maybe that’s why human beings have yet to come up with a cogent and satisfactory answer. We can’t. But one day we’ll know when Jesus Christ, the one called Truth, appears. Until then, the answers remain hidden and we are left with the question of “Why?” But maybe the real question is this: “Who are we asking?”


Grace and Peace,

 

Adam Daniels

Campus Minister

Georgia Christian Student Center

931-808-6804

 

For further reading, check out:

 

 

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