Heavy Hearts: A Christian Response to Suffering – Part 2

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”[1] The beginning of any academic or even detailed discussion on the problem of evil has to begin with God’s original intention for mankind.  A beautiful garden, perfect relationships between people and with their creator, and no death. Obviously this is a very different portrait from the reality we exist in today. It forces the question, “What went wrong?” The answer is grossly unlikable, but overwhelmingly simple: we did. Humanity, while created holy, was also created with the ability to choose. Another way of saying this is that we were given free will. Unfortunately, a very poor choice was made in that ancient garden. It was a choice resulting in moral failure. Adam and Eve chose to reject God’s way, his intention for the world, and to do things according to their own thinking and desire. Of course there’s another unpopular synonym for this – sin. Accordingly, it would be easy to either point and glare at this original pair, accepting that their actions now affect us all, or to shake our heads in denial believing it’s unfair to be punished for something we didn’t do. But let’s be honest. This choice of self-exaltation, is a chord woven into every life song played out in the history of humanity. At some point, someone would have been the first to sin. Regardless of who that first someone was, or would have been, God holds each of us accountable for own choices.[2] If we sincerely examine our own thoughts, words and actions, we’d all admit our share of bad choices. Since we are not divine, we are not perfect, and since we are not perfect, failure is now a part of life. And here is where the conversation shifts from God’s intention for the world to now living in a corrupted or broken world where pain, suffering and evil exist.

Many may easily agree to the statement that our world is broken, but what does that corruption look like? What happens when we draw that truth to its ultimate implication? Firstly, human hearts are no longer holy and inclined toward God. Instead they are selfishly directed inward. Think about it, children don’t need to be taught how to be selfish. It comes naturally. Instead, they have to be taught to share and cooperate.[3] Why is this? Because the human heart is corrupted and seeks its own corrupted will. During childhood we might be tempted to gently shake our heads and consider telling a lie or taking a friend’s toy to be natural inclination. It’s human nature after all- right? Perhaps to some extent. Training children is part of a natural life process, but the very need for that training belies the truth that something is untrained, or perhaps corrupted, at the very core of who we are.[4] Once we begin with the truth that humanity is born broken into more brokenness, we can then see the implications of corrupted choices that have grown up and left the playground. Obviously, this is not to say that having a right perspective makes these tragedy inducing choices any easier to see or experience. It merely provides a framework for trying to cope with the why of it all. Unfortunately, a broken world isn’t a safe world, and it’s a frightening and horrific thought that no one is beyond the risk of someone else’s choice. This is why news programs are often so full of the sad stories they share. Stories of someone choosing something evil, like stepping onto a campus or into a place of entertainment and shooting everyone in their path. Even stories of lesser poor choices that can still change innocent people’s lives, like someone choosing to drive drunk, or even seemingly harmless choices of texting while behind the wheel. These are all choices that not only affect the individual making them, but that can yield unintended yet still deadly results. Perhaps too commonly accepted to make the news are other choices of selfish hearts that hurt people we promised to love and cherish and families that bear the impact of broken relationship. The choices born of brokenness are all around us and rooted very deeply in us.

At this point it might be expected for one to ask why God would give us the free will enabling bad choices, knowing all the pain it could lead to.  While there is much that could be added here, perhaps the most plain and poignant answer is that without choice there can be nothing meaningful. Beauty, love, expression, value, everything that has meaning in our world requires or depends on one’s ability to evaluate and respond according to individual perspective. For a longer discourse in the subject you can read my previous blog here. 

Before moving on, it’s also important to be clear on a specific point. Understanding that sin entering the world has caused a fundamental change to the original blueprint, is very different than saying an individual’s suffering is a result of their personal sin. Sometimes in religious circles it seems there are companions of one suffering who feel, and believe they should share their thesis, that some hidden sin or lack of faith has caused the illness of their suffering friend. These sorts of individuals are like the companions of Job[5], and are to also be corrected.[6] While there may be situations where our own choices do result in painful outcomes for ourselves, this is certainly not a universal answer. Anyone attempting to handle this subject matter fairly would recognize that a life-long smoker who gets cancer and a child who is attacked by such a disease are very different situations. Obviously both are sad, emotional and difficult for the individual and families involved, but they are also very clearly different scenarios. So, keeping this distinction in mind, let’s continue. 

We’ve discussed the aspect of choice, or free will, in the effect of suffering, but humanity wasn’t the only thing broken in the fall.[7] It is worth mentioning that the earth itself is affected by this corruption.[8] Natural disasters, diseases, and famines are a result of sin entering the physical world. There’s obviously some speculation here since we don’t know exactly what a pre-cursed earth looked like. However, it’s not a huge leap to make when we deduce that a fallen earth doesn’t work as properly as a perfect earth. Another component to this part of the discussion is the idea of natural evil. To understand this idea of natural evil further, we should consider the work of philosopher Alvin Plantinga who said, “Satan, so the traditional doctrine goes, is a mighty nonhuman spirit who, along with many other angels, was created long before God created man. Unlike most of his colleagues, Satan rebelled against God and has since been wreaking whatever havoc he can. The result is natural evil.”[9] To some this idea may seem not only unfamiliar, but a little odd. If that is the case, you may want to look at the websites listed below.[10]

Malfunctioning hearts, a messy earth and a mayhem-making enemy – where does this leave us? God’s intention and original creation may have been good, but something went very wrong, and it seems we’ve been left holding the check. Where is God in all of this chaos? If God is both loving and powerful why doesn’t he just fix the problem? Don’t despair just yet, that’s exactly what we’ll discuss in the next post. So for now, please keep reading…

[1] Genesis 1:31
[2] Romans 2:5-6, 14:12
[3] I believe this analogy is used by either (or all) JP Moreland, Frank Turek or Clay Jones, but I couldn’t not find the written reference. It is not, however, my original thought.
[4] Psalm 51:5
[5] Job chapters 4-25
[6] Job 42:7-9
[7] “The Fall” is the Christian term used to describe the choice Adam and Eve made to sin and the fact that it affected all humanity. The curse is the term used to denote the consequences to earth and everything in it. Genesis 3 records these events.
[9] Alvin Plantinga as quoted in John Fienberg’s The Many Faces of Evil, on page 87. Fienberg is quoting Plantinga’s God, Freedom and Evil.
[10] http://www.reasons.org/articles/natural-evil-or-moral-evil and http://coldcasechristianity.com/2013/why-would-a-good-god-allow-natural-evil/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riq5t4ha1Qw

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *