One Thought on God and Suffering

For some reason my entry “5where-is-god-suffering Phrases I Think Christians Shouldn’t Say” is getting a lot of traffic again.

And I’m getting a lot of push back because of my thoughts on suffering and “God’s plan.”

So, in an attempt to clarify it all, let me say this:

I will not endorse the notion that it is God’s plan that people get cancer.  I will not endorse the notion that it is part of God’s plan, specific or otherwise, that children die by gunfire.  I will not endorse that Hiroshima was part of God’s big plan.

I cannot do any of these things because I have sat by too many bedsides and buried too many children, even in my short pastorate.

Now, have I seen beauty in death?  Absolutely.  But have I seen senselessness?  Senselessness that goes far beyond any sort of platitude like “God’s wisdom is foolishness” or any other attempt to bend the words of Scripture to make meaning out of the meaningless?

Damn right.

And that’s the thing.  Such theologies that try to put God at the helm of these tragedies or, even worse, try to say that God is a passive bystander, are attempts to make concrete meaning out of meaninglessness.

We all make meaning out of life.  We all do; there’s no escaping it.  I have heard and known people calling their disabilities beautiful tools they use to learn about life.  I have heard people say that the death of their child was instructive for them.

I do not deny that these things are true.

What I deny is that a particular truth was intended to be drawn from them.  What I deny is that a particular truth was in the Divine mind as those tragic events happened.

What I deny is that God is in the dirty pain business.

Now, I think that God has caused me pain; causes me pain. I experience the pain of being wrong all the time (perhaps in this instance, too?).  I experience the pain of having my ego subverted, my best-laid intentions crumbled, my pride blown away, my intellect shattered by a God who speaks a word of grace to me when my greatest desire is for retribution.

But I do not think that God has caused my car accident so that I learn to drive better.  I may thank God for an accident that taught me a life lesson, but I don’t think God was passively watching it.

I think God was in the pit of fear and hell that I was in while going through it.

And that is a theology of the cross that, I think, truly speaks to the crucifixion story and the Good News of God.

The crucifixion story is one that speaks of Jesus’ suffering not as something apart from humanity, but a part of humanity.  I am not one to believe that God caused the crucifixion for some atonement.  I think that when you act and talk like Jesus, you die for it because our power systems (even the power systems that try to make sense out of the senseless) don’t like it.

So, do I think that it is all part of God’s plan that your foot was amputated?  That your brother or sister died in the Iraq war?  That your father has prostate cancer?

No.  I don’t. And we can quibble about philosophical categories for God, and whether God knows all, can do all, is everywhere…all of that.  We can quibble until the end of time, and I don’t think we’ll be any closer to the truth than if we just allowed God to say, “I’m not going to make sense out of senselessness…I’m going to make resurrection.”

Then maybe we can learn to die to our need to make sense of it all, and be resurrected as people who can hold tension well…a tension taught to us by a life that includes suffering, joy, and all in between.

19 thoughts on “One Thought on God and Suffering

  1. Very well said. I especially love your sentence, “I’m not going to make sense out of senselessness…I’m going to make resurrection.”

  2. Thank you! I’ve said this for years. It makes me crazy when someone dies doing something stupid, and then somehow “it was his time.” No, he made poor choices. I understand that making god a scapegoat is easier than accepting personal responsibility, but that doesn’t make it true.

  3. Oh, this is so good, so beautiful, so free. I have tears in my eyes over the truth I have just read. “I am not one to believe that God caused the crucifixion for some atonement.” Jesus lived a human life, died a senseless human death, and, yes, made resurrection. Thank you for sharing from your heart.

  4. Amen Brother! As a mom who has stood by helplessly while my daughter has suffered with brain cancer and the disabilities cause by that brain cancer for 13 years (from age 2 til now), I cannot believe that this is God’s plan for her. I still to this day do not understand what God is thinking and why he doesn’t stop people from going through such torture!

  5. My thoughts exactly! Believing God comes to us in our suffering and pulls us out, sometimes with new insights about life and meaning, is very different than believing God causes our suffering in order to teach us something. A great book around the subject is “The Suffering of God” by Terence Fretheim. What if God is so close to us and loves us so much that God is with us in our suffering, and actually suffers with us? That’s what I see when I look at the pictures at the top of your post.

  6. There are problems with the “Omnipotent-all-knowing-god” theory. If God knows all and controls all, then all that happens results from He/She/It willing it to be or allowing it to be. Perhaps “god” is not a personal being but simply “consciousness” or “intelligence” or “love” and that force can be used for good or evil?

  7. I have had two losses back to back, late miscarriages. People said so many it is Gods will and God had a plan and things to make me wonder if God caused it. This article sums up my heart perfectly ❤

  8. I loved your “5 phrases…” post. And I love this one even more.
    I am a catholic, and we’ve also been told about “God’s plan” since childhood… and when for the first time life presented real suffering to me, the idea of God as a cold hearted puppet master almost killed my faith.
    I’m not going to say that it has solved this issue for me, but at least it has shed some light. Thank you.

  9. If you were A Christian or believer in God-Jesus Christ you would know that God cannot be good, just, nor righteous and at the same time cause senseless pain. I mean “most of the time,” human beings-man cannot even blame it on the other side (darkness, evil, devil), no the blame goes to man. All for the usual reasons greed, the want of power, etc., man always wants to blame God for his corruptness, I’m not even getting into free will, no, its not God causing societal ills. It comes down to the reason being, all the hurt and pain in the world is a result of man refusing to hear GOD!

  10. I am weary of hearing that my daughter’s death was “a part of God’s greater plan” or such horrible platitudes like “God needed another angel” or “heaven needed her more than you.” I was even given a terrible poem that in synopsis said heaven is so full of adults, and God loves children so much, that sometimes he needs to take children up to heaven early for the variety. (?!). How do people think these things are helpful to say?! I don’t get it.

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