Last week (I'll spare details) I was able to have a very honest, open conversation with a complete stranger about God, religion, first causes, etc. My new friend said he was pretty content with the theory that God created the world but then allowed it run on its own. He wanted to know how I could reconcile my belief in a personal, good God with an event like 9/11. We hear the stories about the people who avoided death on that day. But we also know that there are countless stories of people who did go to work, who got on that flight, who 'happened' to be in the area, and who never came back.
I don't know if a Christian reading this post will think less of me, but I admit I don't know the answer to "why does a good God allow suffering." (Suffering is a result of sin, yes, but that begs another question.) I simply know that God will fulfill his purpose and I submit to that. But I'm going to honestly say that that is really hard to explain to others. I tried. And then I recommended Tim Keller's The Reason for God. There is a chapter I remember reading titled "How could a good God allow suffering."
So I went back and read that chapter last night. I'm still glad I recommended it; but first I have a quick disclaimer. The chapter ends this way:
Just after the climax of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he thought) but alive. He cries, "I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue?"
The answer of Christianity is -
Keller elaborates, and the chapter ends with two other joyful quotes from Dostoevsky and C.S. Lewis. I love it when Keller references Tolkien. (I heard him do it once in a sermon and it definitely makes me want to quit eating/sleeping/lesson planning to read LOTR. Ok maybe not eating...) Anyway although I'm pumped about Tolkien references, I think the statement "everything sad is going to come untrue" is a little glib and perhaps even incomplete in the light of eternal wrath...
That disclaimer aside, I want to share this other quote because it is Biblical. In fact it is the gospel. Keller takes a few pages to describe Christ's non-physical suffering and his explanation is, I feel, worth getting the book. After describing the 'inferno of abandonment' Christ experienced, Keller says this:
Let's see where this has brought us. If we ask the question: "Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?" and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we now know what the answer isn't. It can't be that he doesn't love us. (emphasis mine) It can't be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.