The weight of knowledge  

Posted by Denis Haack in ,

I wrote recently (in Critique #4-2008), “If I were not convinced that God is good, I would despair.” Over the years I have had numerous conversations with believers who say that if they stopped believing in the Christian gospel they would become something else—if memory serves, Buddhism and hedonism received the most votes.

 

I’ve never understood that. If redemption is rejected, how could mere enlightenment or worse, personal pleasure possibly hold any attraction? After such a cosmic, transforming hope, both alternatives pale into utter insignificance, tricks of consciousness in a meaningless universe.

 

Another thing I can’t comprehend are Christians who claim to find believing in God’s goodness to be an easy thing. I wonder what planet they live on; how someone can be so blind to reality.

 

Right now, besides the news of horrors around the world, friends—good people all—suffer in ways that I can only begin to guess at their pain. One, highly gifted, is without work, about to come to the end of his severance package with no prospects in sight. Another has been shoved aside in a ministry while busy Board members dither because of too busy schedules. Someone I love dearly is slowly losing her memory. Another has gone through six months of pain from fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, and now the side effects from the drugs prescribed by her physicians have added to her suffering. A creative friend is criticized for not settling into a career, the harassment eating away at her self-confidence, as if a career path is a Christian measure of success. A mother is widowed, and the family discovers that contrary to expectations the father has left no assets for her old age. Family relationships that should be full of affirmation and support are instead characterized by criticism, legalism, and disapproval.

 

I realize that this is not the sum total of reality. Life also includes moments of such beauty that breathing is difficult. Good things happen. Still, the brokenness runs through all of life, and the balance sheet is out of whack.

 

Fending off despair in a broken, cynical, skeptical world is no small thing. It's called walking by faith, and those who think it easy have never tried it.

 

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4 comments

Thanks for this, Denis.

December 16, 2008 at 7:29 AM
Anonymous  

Thanks for your post Denis. I am one of those who finds believing on God's goodness to be "easy". I suppose what need to define what "easy" means. In terms of intellectual assent, then it is "easy" because I believe the Bible, which clearly teaches that God is good. It is not "easy" to live in this belief, in the midst of suffering, especially for those we love. By way of example, when a close family member committed suicide, I never lost my belief that God is good. Still it was hard to deal with it, as the sense of loss is almost unbearable. Is that what you mean? That belief in God's goodness does not blunt the pain?

December 16, 2008 at 4:27 PM

I appreciate your question. Yes, it can be hard when, as you put it so well, "the sense of loss is almost unbearable." Believing God is good when those we love hurt so badly, knowing God could have prevented the pain they must endure, can be very hard. After all, the God who claims to be good also claims to be all powerful.

There is also a deeper level to the problem. I too believe the Bible, but my belief in the Bible is based on the conviction that it is true, true to life and reality, not true in some esoteric, mystical sense but TRUE. So, I expect the Bible's teaching to line up with reality, to be true in practice. And it can be hard to believe God is good when reality and life are so filled with suffering that seems so utterly pointless, plagued with such horror that appears to never result in good. Like the thousands of women in Africa being brutally assaulted in the ongoing warfare in the Congo, the numberless babies cruelly slaughtered by being thrown in the air and caught on bayonets.

I know the intellectual answer to that: the fact I can't think of a reason for such suffering doesn't mean there is no reason. And that I should trust that a good God has a good reason.

The trouble is I must face the suffering, see it, be horrified by it. I force myself to face it, in fact, because I refuse to live a life of faith that is sheltered from reality as it truly is. And in the face of the horror, I continue to believe God is good, but find that continuing to believe is not easy. It requires a commitment to faith that must be chosen.

December 16, 2008 at 5:59 PM

good thoughts all around. i too struggle with God's goodness in the midst of brutality and suffering. i too believe in the bible and therefore believe that God truly is good as well as all powerful.

denis said, "my belief in the Bible is based on the conviction that it is true, true to life and reality, not true in some esoteric, mystical sense but TRUE. So, I expect the Bible's teaching to line up with reality, to be true in practice." i really think this is the key to having peace in regards to this subject. when i realize that the bible not only says God is good, but says it in full awareness and candid discussion of the brutality and suffering in the world; then i see that the trust in God's goodness which the bible calls me too isn't some "pie-in-the-sky" thing.

God's people are called to trust in and rely on his goodness and simultaneously called to persevere through trials and suffering and to mourn with those who mourn. this doesn't alleviate the tension being described but it clearly shows that God is fully aware that we experience a tension. i would struggle much more if the bible depicted a God who seemed oblivious or aloof to the pain and suffering in his world. does that make sense?

not to sermonize here but the ultimate answer to this is that not only is God not oblivious to the pain and suffering of his world but he actually entered into it, confronted it, and took it upon himself. while Christ is now risen and victorious we must never forget that his description as a "man of sorrows, and aquainted with grief" is still pertinent for those of us who dwell in between the already and the not yet. i don't mean all this to minimize the tension described in the above comments, simply to say that evangelicals in particular would do well to develop a theology of suffering. there is one in the bible which i believe God has given to help his people cope with the harsh realities of teh fallen world we've created. for example, a large percentage of the psalms are laments and yet we hardly (if ever) sing them as a regular part of our worship.

okay, i'll stop ranting now.

December 17, 2008 at 11:38 AM

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