Suffering and Sovereignty
This side of eternity we see through a glass darkly, and we must just cling to God in faith. And as I and others have often said, it is not so much a case of my great faith in God, but my (often weak and failing) faith in a great God. We can only trust him, believing that he is with us in these dark times. And we can do that with confidence, since he promises he will “never leave us nor forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5).
The biblical Christian knows at least two basic truths: suffering is a universal condition which none of us are exempt from, and God is sovereign over this world and what happens in it. Other core truths can also affirmed, such as the fact that we are all responsible and accountable for the choices that we make.
Sometimes these things appear to conflict. But often they seem rather clear cut. For example, if you smoke three packs of cigarettes a day and end up getting lung cancer, the immediate cause and fault of this was your own bad choices. A non-theist will also recognise that reality.
But besides various moral evils involving human choices, there are also natural evils. If an earthquake strikes a place resulting in much death and destruction, it is not really due to human culpability (although some might argue that the way we treat planet earth accounts for much of this). So we look for bigger causes, and in times gone by insurance companies would speak of these things as being an “act of God”.
Of course whole libraries are filled with the volumes that discuss all this. Here I want to narrow things down quite a bit, and also make things a bit more practical. For as long as I have been a Christian, I have been interested in the issue of suffering and evil, and how Christianity accounts for it.
The term ‘theodicy’ has to do with justifying the ways of God in the face of great evils and so much suffering. So there is a theological and philosophical level in which all this can be teased out. But when suffering hits home, then it really becomes real, and you want theory to match reality.
With my wife’s battle with terminal cancer my thoughts about all this have simply increased greatly. I still ask the big questions, but I of course also pray like mad, as would anyone else who goes through such things. And I continue to meditate on these matters and read heaps, be it books or articles. I also watch various videos and so on.
And I have shared our story fairly often and fairly far and wide. But I find this interesting: I know of other couples who are going through quite similar things, but I do not hear much from them on this – at least on public forums. As I wrote last night:
We are all different. Some folks in our situation seem to say nothing on the social media about what they are going through. But I have said quite a bit. Neither is right or wrong. All I can say is, I am weak and I need help, and I am happy to admit it. The more prayers I can get for our situation, the better. So that is why I talk a lot about it. But others might have good reasons not to.
When it seems like your whole world is in upheaval, all you can do at times is cry out to God. As I have said before, sometimes I can only pray: “Help, help, help.” And I for one so very much greatly value the prayers of others. I sure do need them.