I’ve been writing a lot about myself lately. I feel quite awkward about it really. It’s not that I have suddenly become fixated with myself, it’s just that, through my recent experiences, I have realized that there are some questions that are worth asking. These questions are not easy ones to ask because they have to do with pain, suffering and why God allows these thing to happen.
This issue of who God is, and why He allows suffering is not as simple as it may first appear. There are good questions that arise out of suffering. Chief among them is the question of God’s very nature. If God is loving, then He must not want anybody to suffer. If He is omnipotent, then He has the power to end suffering. However, if He doesn’t want anyone to suffer (being a loving God) and has the power to end it (being an omnipotent God) then we must ask ourselves why there is suffering? Why doesn’t He just end it? These questions, when put together in a cohesive apology, are called theodicy. There have been many proposed answers to this problem, but the most common are:
1. God is not loving- He is evil (The Malevolent God).
2. God is not omnipotent- He may be loving but doesn’t have the power to end suffering. In other words, He wants to end our suffering but cannot. (The powerless God).
3. Our understanding of God’s love is wrong. He has a greater purpose in our suffering which will ultimately work out to our benefit. He allows us to suffer because He loves us.
4. Our understanding of God’s omnipotence is wrong. He is still omnipotent but has chosen to limit His omnipotence for the sake of human freedom (Open theism/ Panentheism)
5. God does not exist. Suffering is a natural part of evolution (Atheism/ Naturalism).
6. God is perfect and has created the best possible world that could exist. It is not perfect because only God is perfect. (Leibniz/ Leibnizian Optimism)
I don’t think that any of these responses adequately satisfy the the one who is suffering. In fact, I think the problem is not with a lack of an adequate response, but with the very nature of the question itself. Theodicy is doomed from the beginning because we simply cannot know the mind of God and He has not obliged Himself to simply give us the answer. The scriptures do not directly address this issue. Try as we may, we will never know why God does the things He does.
Instead, what is needed is an existential response to the problem. We argue these four points back and forth until the end of time and we will never come to a satisfactory conclusion. What matters is not that we understand why God allows this, but how we respond to God and relate to Him and our suffering on an existential level.
This is why I am so attracted to the works of Moltmann. He does not attempt to justify God, as if God needs defending or explaining. Instead, Moltmann leads us to discover the God who suffers along side of us. Moltmann understands that our obligation is not to understand God, but to worship Him because he does not merely observe our suffering from afar, He came down to us and suffered along with us. I realize that an existential approach to the problem does very little to satisfy the intellect, but the satisfaction that it gives to the soul far surpasses any joy that could be obtained through intellectual exercises. For even if we did receive the answer to why God allows suffering it would not end our suffering. We are still left here in our anguish and are still left to reconcile ourselves existentially to the problem.
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