When you stop for a moment and think of the millions upon millions of people who have endured unspeakable suffering due to famine, war and disaster, it simply staggers the imagination. Where is God in that? As Arthur Custance writes,
"At such times, thoughtful men do not become atheists because they find it irrational to believe in a spiritual world which is above and beyond demonstration by ordinary means; rather, because of emotional insult, the feeling that if God is really such a Being as we His children claim Him to be, He could not possibly remain silent. He would have to act manifestly, mercifully, savingly, publicly."
How could an all-powerful and loving God allow such suffering? This question is often posed in the form of an argument for or against God's existence. On the one side are believers who attempt to justify God's actions (some pointing to explanations of freewill, others appealing to some higher plan). On the other side are unbelievers who see this as proof that there is no God. The problem with both of these approaches however is that they attempt to address this from a safe theoretical distance. But these are not abstract concepts, they are issues that touch us at the core of our being. Disappointment, doubt and suffering are common to us all. We all need to know how to deal with the reality of suffering in our world so we are not crushed by it: How can we continue to have hope in a broken world? How do you believe in love in a world filled with so much hurt? These are questions we all need to wrestle with.
As long as the discussion remains on a detached intellectual level, both the religious and atheistic responses are inadequate. This is not an intellectual puzzle to be solved, it is a cry of pain, "I cry to you God but you do not answer. I stand before you, and you don't even bother to look!" screams Job in desperation. The answers we seek in our pain are not so much ones of explanation, but of relief. When we cry "Why, God?" what we really mean is "Make it stop!"
C.S. Lewis once commented that we live in a universe which contains much that is bad and apparently meaningless, but at the same time contains creatures like ourselves who somehow know that it is bad and meaningless. God has created us as creatures that recognize the injustice and emptiness and long for something more. God did not have to make us this way. God could have made us like fish -- just swimming around and not noticing much of anything -- but he didn't. Why is that?
Lewis suggests that the outrage we naturally feel at injustice, that cry that wells up inside us, has been put there by God. The only reason we recognize injustice at all is that we have been created with a God-inherited need for justice, just as we have an inborn need for love and meaning. In other words, these are primarily God's questions inside of us. God has placed these questions in our hearts because God wants us to ask them.
That means that doubt is not opposed to faith; rather, doubt is an expression of a healthy faith. Questioning is not an immature phase to get out of our system, it is the hallmark of a mature faith. When we attempt to explain away these questions we shut off that part of us that cries out for compassion and justice, and when we do that we shut off a big part of what it means to be human.
We cannot ever stop asking these questions on this side of eternity. As soon as we stop asking why, as soon as we stop yearning for justice, yearning for God to step in and heal and restore, as soon as we accept the darkness, as soon as we justify suffering and Hell, there will be something very wrong with us.
Instead, we need to learn how to live with these questions -- how to live in the tension of being in a fallen world, full of pain and injustice, but having hope and trust in a good God. So let's have the courage to be honest together about our struggles and pain. Let's make room for questions and doubt as a healthy part of our faith, and in so doing, work toward ending suffering rather than just explaining it. Let's learn to have a questioning faith.