Saturday, August 22, 2015

Evil, Suffering, and Meaning In Your Life

FEAR abounds in a life racked with anxiety when there is a lack of meaning to life.
Evil is not the only problem in life. Good, too, betrays us when we see the evil get ‘blessed’. It happens a lot. And when ‘good’ people are blessed and we aren’t we wonder what is wrong with our variety of faithfulness. Evil causes us to experience much emotion — shock, fear, disgust, but mostly rage for what is so wrong.[1] And then there is the problem of good that does have our name on it — finally some justice — but it’s a gratuitous good; a good with too little good effect.[2]
It’s incredible to recognise that “great good often comes to us from this [suffering] evil.”[3] This is not said flippantly, although, in saying these very words, especially in the presence of injustice and suffering, we do entertain unhelpful cliché. It is clear that often all we can do is be prepared to face the evil reality bravely.[4] But inevitably this involves our free will.
What a burden to carry; God loves us so much he gives us free will, which is the “awful dignity of making real choices with real consequences.”[5] When we consider that many of our lives have gotten so messy with mental illness we truly decry life in the worst of our moments, but we consider that suicide is not an option because of the consequences left behind.[6] It doesn’t mean we don’t think about it though — or pray to God for him to come soon. We may well find that wishing our lives away was such a waste. In the end, we tend to accept life is what it is — a painful mystery.
God gives us what we need in suffering this life well. He doesn’t give us what we want, which is a life with every loss returned to us.[7]
Our opportunities for life are to believe that the world will do us good “if we see it clearly and live in it wisely.”[8] Especially as we see some live, we know that that is true, both ways. Some live especially wise lives we can envy. Others life especially foolish lives and we just want to shake sense into them. And many are just learning the lessons we, ourselves, were forced by experience to learn.
What do we do with the fact that God doesn’t bring justice when it seems it’s warranted? How do we respond to a life that seems nonsensical? Perhaps if we can’t control life then faith is the only way we can control our response. Because justice lags we have to find a way to act as if justice were on its way, and that’s faith.
Acting faithfully is the great challenge. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we don’t. And we must accept humbly that our character is what God is most interested in. We find later on that God blesses us most in growth because he didn’t answer our pleas straight away.[9]
It’s all the times in our life that are hardest, loneliest, numbest, most confused, anxiety riddled, and depressed beyond description, when we somehow rose to the challenge, that we see our faith in action. We hung in there. And even where we didn’t we somehow got through.
God is interested in what we are characterised by. He is urging us toward consistent fortitude; that we would live our lives faithfully no matter the injustices we suffer.

Heaven is the last word on suffering. Evil is ended and suffering is no more. But heaven, for many of us, seems too far away. We forget we may not wake in the morning. We gloss over the fact that the number ten bus could take us out. We don’t consider that God could takes us home any time.
If we are disappointed with God let us be comforted by thought of heaven.[10] Heaven will be the ultimate compensation.
When we arrive at the fork in the road, we must decide to stay bitter or get better. And this is where true Christian faith is unbeatable. It never feels good in the moment. But later… (See Hebrews 12:11)
Stackhouse concludes that Christianity 1) feels good, 2) it works, 3) it really happened, and 4) it makes sense.[11] Against the problem of God and whether or not God can be trusted, this says Christian faith is the only good, workable, sensible answer.
“Christian religion is not finally about what we think, but whom we love… our lives demonstrate what we truly believe.”[12]
Evil is not simply ‘out there’, but our Christian faith agrees with God, it is inside us, too.[13] Somehow this is an incredibly important detail within our belief.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

[1] Stackhouse, J.G. Jr. Can God Be Trusted: Faith and the Challenge of Evil. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 51.
[2] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 52.
[3] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 61.
[4] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 67.
[5] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 72.
[6] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 79.
[7] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 85.
[8] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 87.
[9] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 98.
[10] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 125.
[11] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 126f.
[12] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 174.
[13] Stackhouse, J.G. Ibid., p. 174-75.

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