Tuesday, 3 March and Wednesday, 4 March
Reading – 2 Corinthians 5:1-10
Last week Rev Murray Bean gave an excellent talk based on the Youtube interview with British journalist, Stephen Fry, in which he lambastes the idea of a God who allows people to suffer through no fault of their own. It is an issue that is commonly raised – why does God allow good people to suffer? Far greater minds than mine have addressed this issue down through the ages and will continue to do so for ages to come but for what it is worth, here is my penny’s worth.
The first point I want to make is that pain is actually part of our growth into rounded, interesting human beings. If we went through life without experiencing pain, hardship, sadness or any sort of trauma, then out the window would go a wide range of qualities such as courage, bravery, determination, fortitude, grit, guts, compassion, kindness, thoughtfulness, humanity, and the most important of them all, love. There would just be no need for them. So then what would we be like? Bottom line, dull, uninteresting, colourless, lacking any substance at all. God didn’t create us to be like that. We grow through our pain.
You may or may not know of the play, Equus, written by Peter Shaffer. It is a brilliant play based on a true story of a boy who stabbed out the eyes of some hoses in a racing stable in England. The play is actually about the psychiatrist, Dysart, who treats the boy. During the process of Dysart treating the boy we become privy to the lack of any sort of emotion in Dysart’s life, including pain. And because of that, as a person Dysart is going nowhere, and in fact, inside he is dying. He actually becomes jealous of the boy’s pain because at least the boy alive and he is on a path of growth.
Look, to go through life and call it yours, your life, you first have to get your own pain. Pain that’s unique to you.Dysart
My friends, the harsh reality is that we need pain in our lives to grow and to develop.
So where, if at all, does God feature in all of this? Firstly, God cannot intervene whenever the life of the good guy is threatened. We live in a world that has all sorts of laws, but two very important laws in relation to this.
First, physical laws. These are the laws which are governed by such things as gravity, heat, cold, what happens when massive rocks or plates rub together underground – earthquakes, and possibly tsunamis result. God cannot suspend these laws when lives are threatened as a result. It would be chaos.
Secondly, law of freedom of choice. This law says that we all have the freedom to choose to do what we want to do, but of course, there are consequences. You choose to break school rules, that is your choice but there will be consequences. You choose to bully, that is your choice but there will be consequences, both for the victim and inevitably for you. On a larger scale, you choose to carry out an atrocity, that’s your choice but unfortunately there will be consequences. This freedom of choice is actually very important. God even gives us the freedom of choice in believing in him or not by not appearing to us in such a way as to end all debate. By intervening when the life of anyone is under threat, God takes away this freedom of choice.
But God is present, I believe in two ways. Firstly, God is present in the love of those who rally in support of those who are suffering. That is what God is, the spirit of love working in people through people.
Secondly, God is present in life after death. This is a concept that lies at the heart of the Christian belief, and also that of other religions, and one in which I have implicit faith. It is here that the scales of justice are balanced. It is here that those who have suffered in this earthly life through no fault of their own will be blessed. In a similar vein, those who have inflicted pain and suffering on others will receive a rude awakening. In our reading from 2 Corinthians Paul makes it quite clear that that there is a life after death, and the quality of that life will depend on how we have conducted ourselves in this life.
A few points to ponder in a debate that is both complex and extensive.