Wednesday, February 11, 2015

...these three...

The Problem of Evil is certainly one of the biggest questions that challenge for many the existence of God. For Stephen Fry, it's a stumbling block that reveals God to be a capricious monster in his eyes; for former Archbishop Rowan Williams it reveals a profound mystery.

Stephen Fry finds much common ground with the late Christopher Hitchens in believing that there can't be a God, or further that if God exists then He does not deserve to be worshipped owing to the suffering of so many people. Their point comes from a point of reality, not from the hallowed halls of abstract theology and that is what makes their case more powerful. Suffering is visible, God is not. It stands to this sort of thinking that if God exists then He does not see it, does not care about it, He cannot do anything about it, or potentially all three.

it is clear that both Fry and Hitchens have a deep concern about the sufferings that happen in the world. Why should children get bone cancer? Why is it fair that so many people starve to death each day while a tiny, tiny few wrestle with the problem of not being able to afford the latest variant of the Playstation? Both Fry and Hitchens show something that lies deeply within their humanity, within the humanity that we all share. They care. The suffering of others means much to them. They find it intolerable. Why should they care? Why not just let the whole problem go and get back to living their own lives? As Archbishop Williams points out, that's as much a mystery as why suffering happens in the first place. It is the fact that human beings care about others that often brings us face to face with our Creator seething with passion and anger about His apparent inscrutability and indifference to the plight of others.

The trouble is, without God, what can ever be the answer to this question? At least, with the possibility of God existing, there is the possibility of an answer. We have to remember that the above trichotomy that apparently disproves the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God is false in that it does not allow for other possibilities, namely the possibility that it may be necessary for suffering to exist for hitherto unknown, or even unknowable, morally justifiable reasons: God being all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving transcends humanity and the smallness yet beloved nature of human thought.

Again, we still come back to the fact that we are also having to wrestle between emotional and intellectual responses here: both are valid and both inform the other. Yet, all the best that any of us can do is to face the darkness that reality possesses in sheer ignorance. Truth be told, if we see a person suffering horribly, truly horribly, we suffer too because of our inability to relieve that suffering. Yet these are different sufferings. We cannot  know what the little girl with bone cancer is going through. We can only extrapolate her suffering in the arena of our own experience, and think what it would be like for us to suffer in this way. It is from that basis that we wish to stop the suffering of this little girl simply by following that Golden Rule "do unto others what you would have them do unto you".  And so we share in that suffering, just as Christ would have us do. Yet still we do not know the suffering of that little girl - it is her suffering; these are her scars being etched upon her being. The temptation is for us to lose hope and faith.

As C.S Lewis points out, the true existence of faith is seen most when whatever rational principles we hold dear come under the hardest scrutiny: faith will bear that scrutiny. To hold true to the rational principles that we have received - no matter what - is the true test of faith, and it will be this faith that saves us. In this sense, faith and works cannot be understood without each other. Faith is received when we understand the impact of the revelation that God gives us, then must come the testing and refining, the acceptance or the rejection of one's faith.

In suffering, we also have the issue of hope which can be strengthened or lost. To see another suffer horribly raises the question of "WHY??????" loudly in our minds. Either we believe that nothing can justify the little girl's suffering whatsoever, or we realize that the transcendent existence God promises the faithful will make this suffering worthwhile. We struggle with this because our human thought cannot possibly imagine what could make such misery worthwhile. The after-life is not apparent, the suffering is. Dostoevsky wrestled with this in the Brothers Karamazov. Can Heaven ever be worth the torture of one innocent little child?

To whom is this question addressed? If it is to the academic theoretician, then there can only be abstract theoretical answers - none that can give hope and none that can alleviate suffering, just perpetual debates in public theatres to the entertainment of the intellectual. Is the question addressed to the child? If so, then we cannot answer for her. This is a question between her and her Creator. Is this a question addressed to those around her as she suffers? If there is no Heaven then there is no hope that this horror can ever be transformed and no way that the works of the Devil can ever come to nought. Is this a question for God? If so, then let us ask the poor, innocent man tortured and dying upon the cross. Clearly He knows the answer by personal experience.

Finally, what answer could ever be given? Explain colic to a newborn baby and yet she still screams in pain. Faith, hope and love go beyond argument and  discussion, and strike only at the root of what it means to be real and alive. They provide comfort because they present no intelligible answer and yet hold fast to the suffering as it is. They lie at the heart of our being and the only one we will find there will be God.

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