We’ve all met them. And while they aren’t the sole domain of the religious, they’re the most annoying when found in the religious. I’m talking about those people who paste on smiles when
a) Their own lives are full of doubts, or
b) In the face of someone else’s suffering.
There are two types of people who have called themselves Christians:
1) People like John Loftus or Bart Erhman. “I believed that God was kind and loving. Then I experience pain, suffering and loss. Now I see that God is cruel to allow me to experience this suffering so I refuse to believe in Him anymore.”
2) People who have a relationship with Jesus / God. Those who have a relationship with Jesus, as opposed to beliefs about Jesus (group #1), can say in all honesty, “I cannot pretend that I’m comforted by God in this situation, but I know that He loves me.”
This, I believe is perhaps the single greatest reason for why God allows suffering and tragedy to take place. These things solidify our opinions about God. Suffering causes us to either reject God or humble ourselves before God.
As a retired counsellor, I fill my time doing pro bono work with those in the community where I live. I sit with many who have had the courage to say, along with Mother Theresa, “I haven’t felt the presence of God for a long, long time.” Many of these clients are people who once had a belief in a particular BELIEF about what God is like and how He interacts with His creation. Either from their parents or on their own they had been told that “this and only this” is the way that God interacts with those He loves. Then came a reality that didn’t match that particular belief.
That kind of journey will cause us to react in one of two ways. For those who did not have a relationship with God, but merely survived on beliefs in a belief about God, the reaction is usually one of giving up on God.
For those in the second group, because they have a relationship with God as opposed to a belief in a belief about God, these people are able to say,
“I have no comfort from God;
. I do not feel His direction or presence;
. I see that my former belief was not accurate.
. I don’t know what to expect from God at the moment, but I know enough from my relationship with God that I am certain that my Heavenly Father will prove that He is just and true and right. In fact, I will allow you to think what you will of me and of God until that day when He proves Himself worthy of my allegiance once again.”
The one who has a relationship with Jesus, not a “belief in” but a relationship with Jesus is able to say, “When everything is known it will be shown that God is not cruel. When everything is known it will show that out of all possible scenarios, this difficulty was exactly the best path toward the growth in character for which I’ve been praying.”