When not writing or surfing the net, my favorite pastime is hiking in the Australian bush, creeping up to shy emus, kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, etc. (while trying to side-step snakes). I’d like to say I’m single, good looking and rich, but only one of the three is true!Back
If there really were a God of love, the
innocent wouldn’t suffer
Brilliant minds have reached this conclusion. It’s a time-bomb set to explode in Christians’ faces the moment they encounter personal tragedy.
To confront those who believe in a loving God we should first understand them. Let’s reduce their assertions to a few words.
Incredibly, Christians claim that only one innocent ever suffered! Few of us can face reality, they assert, unless Jesus cleanses our deeply suppressed but dirty conscience. They argue that only after that spiritual miracle dare we relax our frantic attempts to conceal and excuse and push from our minds the extent of our depravity. They say it is a devastating experience to have one’s supposed goodness exposed by God’s blinding purity. With every shred of pride within them shrieking in protest, Christians feel driven to a crushing conclusion: the moral gap between them and a serial killer is invisible, compared to the terrifying expanse separating even their best efforts from the infallible holiness of God. They even argue that there is a sense in which babies are morally corrupt! (See Are babies innocent?)
No clever argument, however, and no supposed spiritual experience can hide one unavoidable fact: a holy God would yearn to wipe out every cause of pain. And if he eradicated everyone who has ever caused pain by selfishness, cheating, lying, gossiping or hurtful remarks, who would be left?
‘Suffering is God’s fault!’ we sneer, conveniently forgetting times our anger, greed and lies hurt others. Naturally, there is a degree of hurt we deem excusable, and for some suspicious reason the hurt we have inflicted happens to fall within the standard we arbitrarily set. It is like failing an exam and then moving the pass mark to make our score look good. A holy God could not be partner to such hypocrisy. To wipe out some people who cause suffering and spare you and me would make God guilty of gross injustice. We have each added to humanity’s shame. If there is a God of love, the people he loves and longs to place in a pain-free world are the very ones who cause humanity’s suffering.
We will soon move on, but this question of innocence is central to the question of suffering. We are so far from being innocent that we owe our very existence to sin. If, for example, we traced our family tree far enough, we would probably each find an ancestor born as a result of sin – rape, unlawful incest, a despised pregnancy, and the like.
Then, having consigned everyone to the sin bin, believers back flip, seizing the pretentious assertions of a man renowned for humility. Christ claimed an existence independent of human ancestry. (John 8:56-59; 17:5) If true, and if he subsequently lived a perfect life, he alone could be innocent in every conceivable sense. And we know this man suffered.
He appeared as the uniquely perfect human who preached impossibly high standards, claimed they were God’s requirements and actually lived them. Turning the cheek, loving his enemies, just as he had preached, he yielded to abuse and torture, somehow absorbing within his mangled body the horrific consequences of all humanity’s sin.
Humanity can boast one perfect Person. (See Appendix) We killed him. Yet our only Innocent gladly suffered the injustice to free the guilty from suffering eternal justice. In this cataclysmic exchange, the Innocent and the guilty traded places, making it spiritually legal for his suffering to end your suffering. As incredible as it seems, this has ushered us to the brink of a new world where the longing deep within us will be met – deceit, abuse, and hurtful actions will be swallowed by goodness; misery will dissolve in endless joy.
But temporary earthly pain continues for a wonderful reason. A paradise of harmony, trust, openness and love would quickly spoil if just one of its citizens acted remotely like we presently behave. To enter a perfect world without shattering its perfection, would require a personality transformation more radical than ever seen on earth. Through Jesus’ intervention, God can perform this miracle and make us fit for such a world, but he won’t abuse us by forcing a personality change upon us against our will. We must be willing to let God take our pet sins from us and, in his unlimited wisdom and love, rule every part of our lives.
Humanity quivers on the brink of extinction, mesmerized by sin like serpent’s prey. Each moment that God suppresses his explosive urge to extinguish evil, is a moment in which billions of us have yet another chance to come to our senses and let Jesus deliver us from our infatuation with sin. But the end of this period of grace is hurtling toward us. Soon all suffering will cease. All wrongdoing will be destroyed, along with everyone still caught in its deadly embrace.
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Appendix 1: Are babies innocent?
In Australia, seemingly innocent rabbits are pests because their ancestors did something contrary to nature: they came to Australia with white settlers and became inhabitants of the Australian bush. Though cute, it is inevitable that as a baby feral rabbit matures it will damage the ecology. Likewise, claim Christians, when we were born we, too, were adorable and too weak and too dumb to sin, the darling of God’s heart, but it was inevitable that we would contribute to this world’s suffering – lying, cheating, slandering, etc – the moment we gained the strength and intellect to do it. That’s because our ancestors abused their God-given responsibilities. There’s no point blaming our ancestors or God, the argument goes. Had our ancestors been removed before genetically transmitting their predisposition to wrongdoing, we would never have been born.Back to Text
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