Ben Lattimore (2nd year) reflects on his time at a Gymea LIFE Group.
On Wednesday night Lachlan, Richard and I enjoyed the warm hospitality of one of the Gymea Anglican’s ‘Life Groups’. As we enjoyed the fellowship with beautiful people and the particularly beautiful food – those Mexican flat-burrito-sandwich-things, the name of which currently escapes me, – we were conscious of how good we have it. One of many questions we get asked as Christians, and ask our selves, is why a good and loving God would allow suffering. It was to this, and other difficult questions we were to set our minds.
We began with a discussion on what are some good aims for an apologetic discussion – things like ‘winning the person not the argument’ and ‘being able to have a subsequent conversation’ were suggested. Then we moved on to workshop a three-fold framework for answering tough questions: Human connection; Biblical World-view, Christological connection
Human Connection you say? Yes. By this we mean an attempt to get along side the questioner. What can you relate to in the person’s experience? What right concern or good desire can be affirmed?
The Biblical World-view. One of the hardest things to do do in a conversation like this is to give a response that doesn’t come across as trite, cliché or simplistic. Yes we know that suffering produces perseverance (Rom 5) but that isn’t the most soothing balm for one staring into the face of depression or grief. Surely there’s more to say! Well, like a model Moore College Student, I’m convinced that the bible speaks not only in pithy one-liners, but in an unfolding narrative which reveals the mind of God and his unfolding plans to bring about both blessing and justice. In the age of the sound-bite (and the five hundred word blog post!) this is notoriously difficult to convey, but at the very least we can seek to attempt a response that is informed by the scriptures as a whole. At best we can say to someone ‘sit with me for a while and let’s see if we can understand the world the way God sees it.’
Finally The Christological connection. How can we speak of the gospel in terms of this question? How does Christ and his work challenge and comfort the questioner?
That’s the framework. Let’s jump to the Biblical World-view. My learned friend Lachlan provided a helpful mnemonic for scanning the biblical witness on a given topic: GASKEP WAGER. It’s nonsense of course, but it seems to stick. Garden; Abraham; Kings; Exile; Prophets; Writings; Acts; Gospels; Epistles; Revelation. So we discussed with our brothers and sisters from GAC what might be found in each of these stages of revelation that would be relevant to a discussion on suffering. Here’s a glimpse of what we found.
The Garden is so foundational for understanding the world we live in. After Adam and Eve defy their loving master, the world is changed forever. Instead of lush abundance there are weeds. Work is frustrating and futile. Motherhood is be difficult and painful. There is shame and animosity between people. Already we are starting to see why there is suffering around us. Human rebellion against God has brought ‘natural’, physical and relational brokenness into the world. This brokenness is the just penalty for our rebellion. Or is it?
If we read Genesis 1 closely we see that the just penalty ought to have been death. This is something we cannot lose sight of if we want to understand the bible’s answer to suffering. Any life, blessing and joy we experience this side of the fall is only the result of God’s ongoing mercy and kindness.
But far from just allowing us to live with the brokenness of sin God continues to reach out to his precious creatures through Covenant (Abraham), Law (Sinai), Prophets calling them back to himself that they may again know and true life, blessing and abundance. Much more could be said of the OT witness – God’s patience with the Judges and Kings of Israel, the simultaneous praise and lament of the writings, the apparent forsakenness of the Exile.
But the phenomenal truth that needs to remain at the centre of our search for answers is that God himself entered this world and experienced first hand the gravest of suffering. Christ was tempted in every way. He was abandoned by the authorities, his closest friends and, finally, God the Father Himself. There is no one who has experienced more intense suffering than Jesus. This ought to give anyone pause for thought. What make God want to endure this? In the end the answer must be that he is so determined to bring about the end of suffering for those he has chosen that he endures even the torment of hell to secure it.
So while we await His final return and the restoration of this world, our suffering is far from meaningless. Every pang and groan is real and purposeful. It keeps us from forgetting the true status of our world and our souls: broken, on borrowed time, yet precious and promised so much. In fact I think the bible urges us to go further and say that, in a strange way, suffering is a gift. How? Because there would be nothing more horrible than to be so blindly comfortable on death row that we forgot our sentence and missed the one chance of acquittal and paradise.