Updated: Jul 14
"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something" ~ Princess Bride
The last year and a half has made me more aware of the pain of life. Close friends are currently facing their son in pain and in hospital for days on end. Another close friend grieves the death of his mother while he is on the other side of the world away from family and friends. Parents, family and friends mourn the loss of two beautiful little girls who lived with Rett Syndrome, one of whom was only 2 years older than Rosalie. Then there is all the other stuff that happens to people daily that doesn't get reported or noticed. The quote from Princess Bride seems to ring true. Life is pain.
One of the most commonly asked questions about Christianity, is how could a loving God allow suffering? On the face of it, it is a faith-defeating question. No loving parent would seriously allow their child to face the excruciating torment of a life of pain if they had a choice. Where is God in this? Why won't he heal my daughter?
In short, I don't have an answer to the "why" questions. Despite this, I still believe there is a God who loves my daughter and cares for her.
I have two answers. They aren't necessarily theologically or philosophically heavy-hitting arguments. But, they are honest and they are my reasons.
1. I cannot find another view that can answer "Why does suffering matter?" satisfactorily.
I have spent a decent amount of time reading and discussing different beliefs and worldviews online and in person ever since I was a teenager. I enjoy hearing other perspectives and I find it invaluable engaging with arguments that disagree with what I believe. Despite all of the conversation and books that I've read, I can't find any other view that deals with suffering satisfactorily.
For example, with atheism, all we have is what we see and observe. All animals are equal. Love is just a chemical reaction. There is no reason for the human to be a special animal other than it is a bit more evolved, adaptable and creative than any other species. If Richard Dawkins is to be believed, "The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” Rett syndrome is just tough luck. Natural selection is a bitch.
So suffering doesn't matter. It isn't bad. It isn't good. It just is. Get over it. IF it does matter to you then you should care just as much about a human suffering as an ant being stepped on.
But that isn't what I observe in society. Everyone gets angry when there is a terrorist attack. Charities from all worldviews get involved in helping the homeless, providing aid after disasters, seeking justice for those in slavery and researching for cures and more. Suffering clearly matters to us but atheism, at least the naturalistic kind, can't tell us why.
2. I can't find hope anywhere else.
Without God, a person can find hope in their community, their family, medical breakthrough, technological advance and good old science or a mixture of all and more. In truth, I find hope to some extent in these things. I support Reverse Rett, I hope that they find a cure for my daughter. For all of Facebook's flaws, I have found hope in the connections I have made through the Facebook groups for families facing similar, if not worse, pain caused by Rett syndrome. I hope that we can science our way through this.
But what if we don't find a cure? What if, like the many parents before us, we don't have a cure soon enough?
Society says I can have hope in whatever I want that helps me live a happy life. I find this unsatisfactory because whatever I find to give me hope could in fact turn out to be hopeless. Then, where am I left other than in despair? Even if we find a cure, there will be other suffering in time that my daughter will face - we can't exactly cure death...
The hope I have...
I recently had a conversation with my friend who I think is facing a tougher time than me. Over a beer he asked how I get through seeing my daughter in pain. I remember mumbling something that probably doesn't sound anything like what I'm about to write but it is pretty much what I meant.
When you face pain it can often be a bit like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Here's a picture if you haven't seen the movie:
Suffering can lead to complete emotional disconnection from reality. Like spinning in space without an anchor.
The one reality that keeps me attached to everything else is the reality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Yeah, I know that might sound crazy, but in my opinion it is no more crazy than believing that suffering doesn't matter and humans are nothing but animals.
If you are still reading here are 3 reasons why I have this hope. There are other reasons but this post is already long enough as it is.
Other historians can do a better job than I with defending the historical Jesus but the main gist of it is that the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) can be trusted. There are many sources outside of the bible that confirm Jesus existed and died on a cross (see point 8 in link). The existence of the early church in the location where Jesus' body should have been confirms that something miraculous happened in Jerusalem. The best explanation for the rise of Christianity is that Jesus' resurrection happened. This is huge because, like the atheist, I don't believe people rise from the dead naturally.
2. Jesus makes sense of "Why does suffering matter?"
It sucks when I suffer. Seeing my daughter suffer is far worse. The atheistic worldview offers no response other than, life sucks - get over it by building your own bridge, no matter how flimsy. Jesus on the other hand, if he really did die and rise again, provides an answer that is a much stronger bridge.
If Jesus did beat death then it means his claim to be God can be trusted. If that is the case then it means God suffered. God isn't aloof and pain free. Though we don't always get an answer to the "why" question, we get a solid answer to the "where" question. He is right here in the mess and pain with us. Suffering matters because we were made by a God who cares. We are currently in a world where suffering and mess thrive, but it won't always be so. I know this might throw up more questions for people but I find the Christian worldview has a 2000+ year history of solid answers.
3. I have a hope that does not change
The Christian worldview acknowledges suffering. The bible is full of stories of messy lives, injustices and serious suffering. The books of Job and Ecclesiastes are fast becoming my two particular most read books of the bible. I'd recommend reading them even if you don't believe the bible to be the word of God. Job is a man who has everything and everything gets taken away. You get a bit of a glimpse of God interacting with an agent of evil and allowing the pain but you never really get an answer of why. Long story short: Job eventually meets God and though he doesn't get an answer to the "why" question, the answer to the "where is God" question satisfies him and he finds peace and joy simply in knowing God is there.
Ecclesiastes points out the senseless striving of a culture that seems to think that life should be pleasant and happiness comes from stuff and work. Our current culture is something of an echo of Ecclesiastes. The answer that the teacher in Ecclesiastes finds is "everything is meaningless" until you find your meaning in God. There is stability in this worldview!
The Christian worldview is that life is pain but it wasn't intended to be. Suffering is rubbish so God suffers with us. If we hope in him, one day there will be new life and no more death. Christians believe this because of reason 1 - history shows Jesus defeated death.
Because suffering is defeated, I can have hope that one day my beautiful daughter's body will be made new and we will dance together - heaven will be awesome. That is my hope.
Call it mad, call it blind, it is still my hope. It is blind in so far as someone having faith in a chair to hold their weight is blind faith. I have trusted the cable and it has held me well so far. I will continue to trust in that small cable because it is the only cable that stretches through history to a real place, a real time and a real person who took on all suffering and defeated it. It is the small cable that stretches into the future and replaces suffering, tears and sadness with new life and ultimate joy.
I can cry and be angry at Rosalie's suffering because this isn't supposed to be the way things are - her suffering matters.
I can hope in a future beyond miracle cures and technological advances. It is this hope that means I can choose joy despite the suffering that we face now and may face in the future. I hope you can find this joy for yourself because I don't think there is anything else like it.