Someone very close to me lost his faith in Jesus a number of years ago. He puts it down to a series of unhappy events and setbacks in his life: a good Christian man he knew died suddenly at a young age; his wife and first love left him for another man; his business failed; a close friend was involved in a road accident which left him brain damaged. Now this person angrily refuses to hear any talk about God.
I used to love watching David Attenborough’s television series on nature: as an ardent evolutionist, he unwittingly helped me to reject the notion of evolution. I saw David being interviewed in a short video, and speaking about why he had decided for himself that there is no God. Instead of laying out the “evidence” for evolution, he related how he had seen someone in India suffering with a worm which had burrowed into her brain and which made her blind. This, said David, was enough to tell him that there is no God.
These views reflect common reasons given for rejecting the existence of God: some complain that a loving God would not have allowed them to suffer personally, and others complain that a loving God would not allow the suffering they see in the world around them.
However, this view has a serious flaw, and it’s this: the God of the Bible never said that we would not suffer. On the contrary, he gave numerous warnings that mankind is to expect suffering of all kinds in this world. Examples:
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life”…”by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food., until you return to the ground…” (God to Adam, Genesis 3:17-19);
“In this world you will have trouble…” (Jesus Christ, John 16:33).
In a series of posts I wrote on suffering I discussed its main causes – the causes we are warned of in the Bible, the same Bible which tells us of the very God who people say has failed in his duties. They are:
The Curse. All of nature is decaying, not onward and upward as in the theory of evolution (Romans 8:20-21);
The consequences of our own intentional sin or poor decisions: actions which affect us personally, such as sexual sin, drug or alcohol abuse, or actions or decisions which lead to accidents;
The consequences of intentional human sin: the actions of others, like hatred, theft, conspiracy, violence;
Deception, coercion, attacks from angels who have sided against God and his followers;
The consequences of rejecting God’s ways, which are designed for our wellbeing and happiness, as individuals or as a society;
Negligence , including failure to love, or give, or care, or share;
Irresponsibility or bad judgment, for example, dangerous driving;
Being tested by God;
Being Disciplined by God;
Being punished by God;
Humbling by God.
THE REAL PROBLEM
So where does the notion that God has failed come from?
The answer is that mankind creates or imagines his own view of what God should be like. Man dethrones God and sets himself up as the conceiver, the creator, and the judge of God, when in fact it’s the other way around. Man ignores the message of God-the Bible- totally, and then has the nerve to reject that Biblical God entirely on the grounds that He has failed miserably in his duties. Man remakes God in his image. “If there really were a God, we say to ourselves, he would fix all our problems, he would stop all bad things from happening, except perhaps to people like Adolph Hitler, and he would do everything in his power to make sure that I-the great and mighty I-can go about my own business and live a happy, trouble free and fulfilling life.
Not excusing myself-indeed including myself in the ranks of the guilty, I can see that our view is simplistic, narcissistic, selfish, self-righteous and arrogant. It’s the same attitude that got us into this mess in the first place, as summarized in Genesis chapter 3-the attitude that says “God is wrong, he’s holding something back from us, he lied to us, he’s not a loving God at all, he doesn’t want us to enjoy ourselves, he’s failed us”.
THE ALTERNATIVE TO GOD
What amuses me is that many people who think that God obviously cannot exist because he has failed them, are angry with him. How can you be angry with someone who doesn’t exist? If there is no God, there’s no-one to get angry with. There’s no such thing as “evil” (but only an “illusion”, to borrow a popular contemporary term among evolutionists). There is no such thing as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, except what we see or decide individually or as a society in our own subjective, relativistic notions of such things. In this case these terms evolve with us: they are not fixed.
If we evolved out of nothing, the “good” in life’s existence is competition, survival, death, extinction. It’s the strong overcoming the weak, the rich overcoming the poor, the achievers overcoming the failures, the healthy overcoming the sick, the slick overcoming the slow. Life is all about the survival of the fittest. Suffering is a natural part of the evolution of life. It’s for our own good: we should applaud it –worship it. Suffering is only “bad” because it feels unpleasant when it happens to us personally. Emotion over suffering is just a useless feeling, a weakness caused by chemical reactions which we should hurry up and evolve away.
However, if there is a God, a God who has created us with a sense of right and wrong, and who has fixed standards, and who has instilled within us concepts of love, happiness and perfection, then we will naturally be reviled by suffering, evil and injustice.
Our world is deep in trouble. Human nature is “desperately wicked” by God’s standards, and totally at variance with Him. All of nature is under a curse because of that human nature. But there’s an answer, a remedy. While God is not planning to run around patching this world up piece by piece, while mankind continues in open rebellion against him and his ways, he has given the promise of a new world, and has provided a way for us all to go there. This is God’s answer to suffering:
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes on him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Those of us who claim to have faith need to steel ourselves. Many Christians over the centuries have kept or even exponentially grown their faith through suffering We need to prepare for what could come in our lifetime. If we are serious about our faith, we should build it up, and learn to lean on our God, no matter what. We need to so familiarize ourselves with what He has really said that we are not like rocky ground which received the seed, but which did not last when trouble arose (Matthew 13:20-21).