Suffering and a God of Love

Dear friends

We are all too conscious of the images of human suffering beamed into our living rooms on a daily basis. How we understand the existence of suffering in the context of a God of Love has always been a question that regularly arises on the Alpha course.

As horrific as the attack on the streets of Woolwich was, it is easier to understand suffering when it has arisen as a result of human choice. The freedom to choose how we want to behave is part of our human dignity. Free will is a gift given to us by God which He hopes will result in people choosing to love and live in Christ. Yet it equally leaves us free to choose to reject the way of love and opt for the way of pride, selfishness and greed with actions that might result in the suffering of others.

But suffering as a result of natural disasters such as a tsunami or the recent tornado in Oklahoma or the suffering cause by disease or biological imbalance are much more difficult to understand. 

· Why doesn’t God do something?

· Is He in charge or isn’t He?

· Is His power therefore limited?

· If He could have prevented the path of this tornado across a primary school why didn’t He? 

Whenever we encounter natural disasters that have claimed the lives of the innocent we come back to trying to make sense of the experience of suffering whilst holding to a belief in a God of love.

When I read the Bible, I see that there are examples of natural disasters used by God as a means of judgement and punishment, such as the plagues in Egypt. But I also see God protecting his people during times of drought and famine.      

How do we make sense of it all?

Well if I’m honest I don’t think we will ever fully understand the mysteries of God and his dealings with the world, but there are some things we can hold on to:

· That God created the world perfect without suffering, tears or pain.

           ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ Genesis 1:31

· The Fall of mankind (Genesis 3) has affected not only the individuals concerned or just the human race but the whole of the created order.‘The creation was subjected to frustration… the whole of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time’ (Romans 8: 20, 22).

 Our experience of suffering resulting from natural disasters is not how God had intended the world to be. Creation in its entirety has been corrupted by the virus called ‘Sin’.

For example: We have recently been given some help dealing with a very nasty computer virus that has wormed its way (quite literally) on to a laptop causing corruption to files and affecting the way the computer was intended to operate. It has taken radical counter measures to get rid of this virus and re-install the operating software. In a similar way the effect of sin entering the world has not just affected the human race but the entire creation – everything is corrupted, distorted, like a blurred image through a camera lens. Whether it is global weather patterns causing extreme flooding or drought, tornadoes or the shifting tectonic plates and underwater earthquakes causing tsunamis, the whole created order is impacted. Each time a disaster happens it reminds us we live in an imperfect fallen world.

But where is God in all of this? Does he simply look on dispassionately?

I don’t think so. The Cross of Jesus shows us a God who enters into our suffering. Through the cross he knows what pain, hardship and suffering are like and in this way God enters into our experience. Out of his love for us he doesn’t abandon us but shares the pain until such a time when Jesus returns, the existing order will be wrapped up and all things made new. Until then we live with the consequences of a fallen world and work to bring in His Kingdom – the righteous reign and rule of God – pushing back the tides of darkness and letting His light come.

May we continue to work and pray with urgency: ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ Amen.

With every blessing in Christ                             Stephen