Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Guest Post: Why am I a Christian when there is so much suffering in the world?

Bleak Beach image provided by Shutterstock
Today I am really happy to share this guest post with you, written by my friend Liz who is a kind and generous soul.

You may have seen the tragic and heartrending picture going round the newspapers and social media of the 3 year old boy from Syria, whose body was washed up on a beach in Greece. The picture is trending under the #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik ("humanity washed ashore") hashtag on Twitter. The little boy came from a group of Syrians fleeing the Islamic State group. His name was Aylan.

Why, if there is a God, would God allow this suffering? Why did Aylan, his brother and his mummy, and countless thousands of others have to die in this terrible tragedy of our times?

I am a Christian. I firmly and passionately believe that there is a God, and that God is good. You may ask me why I am convinced of this, when evidence appears to point so much to the contrary. The first thing that I would say is that there are times I ask this as well, ask God why, but time after time I become assured once again of God's overarching love for every human being.

I believe that God wept over Aylan.
Let me tell you something about myself. I'm a fortysomething mum, and I have lived with a degenerative lung disease all of my life. Basically, my lungs are worsening over time, parts of them collapsing in on themselves, parts are widened where they shouldn't be and covered in scars. This leads to countless chest infections, recurring pneumonia and pleurisy, which in turn lead to a life that can be very narrow, lived within four walls for weeks at a time while my body struggles to cope with the strain of the disease. I also live with pretty much constant pain, sometimes terrifying, agonising pain, times where I sit and cry with it, not knowing what else to do. I have better times as well, but one day I may not have any 'good' days left. So where is God in this, for me?

I believe that our world is broken 
The bible says that people are in rebellion against God, and also says that creation is groaning and crying out for restoration. Creation is broken. Disease and death are realities because we have all gone against God's perfect ways. Why do I even think there is a God, in the midst of this chaos? One reason is that I look at all this evil and suffering, and know implicitly that it is wrong. You do, too. How do we know evil is wrong? How do we know good is good? Why are there such moral absolutes, if there is not a good God at the heart of it all? If we sprang from utter nothingness, where did our sense of good and evil come from? Evolution on its own doesn't quite cut it for that one (I'm not against evolution as a theory. Just believe that it doesn't give a full explanation.) If we truly were going for survival of the fittest, why at heart do we all believe in protecting the weak? Why do we see a picture of little Aylan and shudder at the inhumanity and waste?

Human freedom means choice
If God created a world without suffering, God would have had to create a world of pre-programmed robot like human beings. People who went God's way without being able to make their own choice about doing so. Would a loving God create such people? People who weren't free to make a choice for or against God? We all make free choices every day; some for the good, some for the bad. I make bad choices a lot. Choices to be grumpy with my kids, to eat too much chocolate, sometimes to be selfish and unkind. But I can make good choices too, because I am a person of free will.  I can choose to reach out to those less fortunate than myself, to help in every way I can, to be kind, to be graceful, to reflect what I see as God's love to the world. With the free choice I believe God created me with, comes responsibility. And sadly, that responsibility is abused by so many who make choices for evil rather than good. But that is their choice, not God's choice. Little Aylan died because of the choice of some evil people.

What about suffering caused by natural disaster, not by people's choices? 
This is a good question, and I often ask it. It's so hard to get my head round. As a Christian, I am certainly not claiming to have all the answers. My own disease is the result of something natural rather than of someone's choice - I haven't done this to my own body. It goes back to what I said about there being a sense of creation waiting to be put right. Something happened to creation when people made a choice against God. It was skewed. It was broken, and we suffer the consequences of the brokenness every day. Of course, some natural disasters seem to happen because the earth just works that way; movement of tectonic plates meaning earthquakes and tsunamis. The people caught up in these suffer terribly and horribly. If God is love, would he prevent these things from happening? Or do we as humans have responsibility to do as much as we can to ease this suffering and prevent it in the first place (such as greedy governments not building shoddy dwellings on known earthquake zones?)

My faith in God is based firmly in experience
All of what I've just said is all very well, but it's meaningless unless God is experiential and personal. For me, my faith is more than anything about my experience of a loving God who is intimately involved in all areas of my life. Without this, all the theory in the world about God's existence and love wouldn't make sense to me. For me, God isn't removed from it all. Not just looking down and saying 'oh well, they'll just have to cope with suffering.' God has done the hugest thing ever by sending Jesus. Jesus lived and died in suffering, his death being the most painful and hideous death you can imagine. He did that so we could be reconciled to God. (I haven't got time to go into all the whys and wherefores of this, perhaps another post another time!!) But God loved us so very much that he sent Jesus. So God knows suffering. Personally. God knows what it is like to be human, with all the highs and lows, all the joy and pain. When we as Christians say we believe God is with us, it's more than a removed sense of something being there, it's a knowledge that Jesus really has been here, and knows. Jesus wept with friends when his friend died. He had compassion on people, healed people, upheld and defended the weakest and most despised in society. He completely turned round the view of people that women were lesser. He taught us the very best ways we can be as humans, the way of God and love. And then he was killed for it anyway, because there is evil in the world and evil hates good.

For me, this is what makes all the difference in my faith. That Jesus knows. He's been there. Bought the T-Shirt. Not looking down from above frowning over our behaviour, but weeping with us in our darkest nights, filled with the greatest compassion imaginable. In my darkest pain, I've sometimes known this in very real and profound ways, experienced God as closer than I can describe in those times. Not taking the pain away always (sometimes, though.) But there in it. In the midst.

When my daughter was little, she suffered from recurrent ear infections. She was in so much pain. The doctor gave us antibiotic ear drops, and you honestly would have thought we were murdering the child. She bucked, she screamed, she ran away, she beat us with her little fists. We had to hold her down and force these things in her ears. She didn't understand. Her eyes would film with a look of confusion, a look of betrayal. Why was her mummy and daddy doing this to her? Maybe they didn't love her, after all. She didn't understand that we were doing it because we loved her. And while we were holding her down, we would whisper in her ear 'we love you, sweetheart. We love you.' She was in pain and didn't understand, but we were with her in the mess.

To me, that's what God is like. I don't always understand, but he is with me in the hurt, whispering in my ear, saying 'I love you, sweetheart. I love you.' 

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Thank you so much Liz, what an insightful post and I suspect you have gt lots of peopel thinking now!

'Liz is a mum of two, married to a vicar and suffers from an incurable, progressive lung disease. She co-leads a church and is an aspiring writer, having just completed her first novel which she's exploring publication for. She blogs at Great Adventure and can be found on twitter @LizCarter4
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