Christianity & Suffering (1 of 4)

12. Christianity & Suffering (#1 Landscape)THE JOURNEY: Encountering Suffering

At only 9 years of age my life was thrown into chaos. Growing up in the West you’re inculcated with a sense of immortality. We eschew pain and pursue pleasure at all costs. That is, until, this naïve perspective is devastated by a painful collision with reality. Here’s a thumbnail of one scene from my story.

Whilst returning from a holiday my dad was driving our family van through thick fog in NSW’s Blue Mountains. When a truck pulled in front of him on a single lane road, dad was faced with the impossible decision to either steer towards the truck or towards oncoming traffic. He chose the truck. Misjudging the force, the corner of the truck crumbled the passenger side of the van, colliding with my mum’s head and pinning her legs under the wreckage. As time seemingly stopped, the image seared into my memory is of my invincible hero (mum) slumped over in her chair, her face smashed and bloody, and her body eerily still. Sparing the details, my mother has never fully recovered from the physical and emotional trauma of that accident. In this life she never will. I spent my childhood and teenage years watching her battle for a regained sense of identity, purpose, and value. She has scars, and by loving extension, all the people around her have scars. So what do we do with them? How do we make sense of her suffering?

QUESTIONING GOD: The Mind and the Heart

Making sense of suffering is never just an intellectual exercise. It certainly wasn’t for me. For those with scars it pulls at the heartstrings and existential side of life in the most profound and painful of ways. At 9 my simple belief in a God who loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life shattered into a million pieces. With every subsequent experience of tragedy, death, and suffering, my mind and heart asked one question that I increasingly could not escape… Why?

Suffering is enigmatic in its dual capacity to draw some towards God and repel others away. It raises a logical conundrum: How could an all-powerful and loving God allow so much suffering in the world? It also raises a deeply personal question. How could I ever trust a God who lets me suffer?

PERSPECTIVE: Framing a Response

Suffering is by far the most enduring challenge to the Christian faith. The next three blog posts are a series for both sceptics and sufferers. As I speak to suffering through the lens of my own journey you’re predestined to be disappointed. There is no way I could hope to exhaust the deep wells that Christians have dug over the centuries in responding to this question theologically, philosophically, and pastorally. Some of you, though, are thirsty—you have questions of the heart and of the mind—and my hope is to draw out just a taste of these wells such that you might be helped on your  journey. My plan is to speak to suffering from three different angles or stages we go through as a wounded traveller trying to make sense of our experiences and expectations.

1)   How Do Different Worldviews Make Sense of Suffering?
2)   Does Suffering Disprove God’s Existence?
3)   Can a Wounded Traveller Have Faith in a Loving God?

Stay tuned.

Dan Paterson is director of operations at Traverse, and a Pastor at Ashgrove Baptist Church.