apologetics, atheism, Theodicy, theology

The Suffering God: Christianity, Evil, and God

Christianity is confronted with many questions in this era.

What is it that makes Christianity different?

Aren’t all religions the same?

Are not all the gods people worship really just the same god?

I (and many before me) suggest, however, that there is an answer to all of these questions. One of my professors, the Reverend Dr. Richard J. Shuta, told a story in our class. He was on the way back home, waiting for a cab. A man was waiting with him. Rev. Dr. Shuta is a theologian, and the man, who would be travelling in the cab with him, was a professor of philosophy. The man cut to the chaise and said, “I have just one question. If I stand on a street corner and I see a church, a mosque, a hindu temple, a buddhist temple, etc… why should I enter the church instead of any other?”

Dr. Shuta’s answer was simple, but profound. “Suffering.”

It is remarkable, in my opinion, that suffering, which is often used as a weapon against theism (see my post on this topic), can be such a remarkable explanatory tool for Christianity. For it is suffering itself which sets Christianity apart.

If a list of all the things that united all humanity were compiled, I am sure that suffering would be near the top of the list. Suffering is something each and every individual experiences on some level. It is how we make sense of this suffering that is different.

The God of Christianity understands this universal concept. The God Christianity worships is symbolized by a Cross, the image of suffering. Other religions demand that humanity approaches god. They demand that humanity make oneself better, purify oneself, become nothing, etc. Christianity has God do it for us. God came to us, God suffered, God took the burden on Himself so we may live in eternity.

The Suffering God is the God of Christianity. The Loving God is the God of Christianity. What is it that makes Christianity different? The God of Christianity knows pain, and understands it, and experienced it.

Again, it is the Cross that defines Christianity. What do Christians believe? Christ crucified for all.

Ravi Zacharias states, in Can Man Live Without God? “It is the cross that invites us to die to self that the life of Christ may live in us fully. Without the cross there is no glory in man. The difference between man-made utopias and a God-made heaven is the cross (178).” [Emphasis his]. It is the cross. It is this symbol of suffering Christ. The symbol of our Suffering God. Suffering unites humanity, and God knows this suffering intimately.

Modern theism, according to N.T. Wright, seems to tend towards Enlightenment Deism. I’d tend to agree. Even Christians tend to think of God as some far away being that “loves us” but doesn’t really interact with us. It’s a concept that must be abolished from Christianity, for our God is the God who is Here. Our God is Immanuel, literally “God with us.” This God of Christianity is the one which we have too often abandoned and modified with our philosophical meanderings, allowing worldly concepts to permeate a personal, truly loving God.

The Cross is suffering. The symbol with which we refer to Christ is a symbol of suffering. It is this idea that is vastly important when thinking of Christianity. Christianity acknowledges suffering. Its symbol is one of suffering. Christianity explains suffering in human terms, rather than reducing it to naturalistic accounts, trying to explain it away, and the like. Christianity realizes there is real suffering in the world, and worships the God who suffered Himself that we be reconciled to Him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that great German pastor, martyred for his faith by Hitler, wrote in Ethics, “It is with the Christ who is persecuted and who suffers in His Church that justice, truth, humanity, and freedom now seek refuge; it is with the Christ who found no shelter in the world, the Christ who was cast out from the world, the Christ of the crib and of the cross, under whose protection they now seek sanctuary… (61).”

Christ’s suffering is our shelter.

I’d like to conclude that there is therefore a kind of argument because of evil, not a problem or argument of evil that can be presented in defense for Christianity, rather than as an offense against it. I haven’t fully developed this argument, so I don’t have a formal layout yet. Instead, I’ll present it in informal fashion:

There is a universal suffering which leads to a universal need for comfort. This universal need seems to imply that there is comfort to be had. There is, in fact, some comfort to be had. If there is comfort to be had, it further seems that this comfort must be, possibly, universal. Comfort can only be transferred on a personal, rather than an impersonal level. Thus, the universal comfort must interact on a personal level. A universal comforter that is personal tends to point towards theism rather than any other worldview.

This is only the bare-bones of an argument I’ve only recently started to develop, and I’d be happy to receive feedback, positive or negative.

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.

Discussion

One thought on “The Suffering God: Christianity, Evil, and God

  1. Hi, JW. The problem of suffering is one that receives so many different answers from the different religions and non-religions. (You asked earlier in your post are all religions the same? I thought so many years ago. I found after years of exploring that, no, they aren’t. Not at all.) You might be interested to read an encyclical by John Paul II, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering:

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2SALVI.HTM

    The current Pope deals with it also in Saved by Hope:

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/ENCYC/B16spesalvi.HTM

    Bottom line, this is a subject I’ve been pondering a lot too. Chronic illness will do that to a person, but so will seeing all the suffering in the world around one. There is comfort to be had. But mostly there is comfort to give. A cross to be embraced. A path to be trod. An example to follow. Suffering cannot be avoided. It can be accepted lovingly, willingly and offered in union with Christ’s own suffering, as St Paul so beautifully writes in his epistle to the Romans:

    “For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

    And that seems to be the purpose of suffering and the way to handle it: to unite it to Christ’s for the salvation of ourselves and others. Otherwise, suffering has no meaning whatsoever and is merely a state or condition we share with others but that has no purpose. I’m still learning to remember to offer my suffering up to the Lord. I don’t want to waste it. There are so many souls in need of salvation, including my own.

    Peace be with you, JW. I very much enjoy reading your blog. 🙂

    Posted by Disciple | September 22, 2009, 2:18 AM

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