4. The Awful Problem of Pain

It’s Friday, and one of my students began singing Rebecca Black’s “Friday” in class today, and it made me think of the problem of pain.

The existence of pain is probably my biggest doubt about Christianity.

If I weren’t a Christian, I think I’d be an atheist with the existence of pain as my chief weapon against crazy religious people. “How can you claim,” I would thunder, “that God loves everyone and is all-powerful if he lets thousands of innocent children starve to death every day? Your God lets religious hypocrites hurt people in his name. Your God just watches instead of doing something as men and women kill each other. How can you say he’s good and almighty? You can’t have it both ways, you crazy religious person!”

(I’m actually really glad I’m not an atheist, because I’m pretty sure I’d also be kind of a jerk.)

It would be awesome if every Christian received The Complete Compendium of Answers to Every Moral and Theological Question Ever. That way, when perplexed by the problem of pain, I could just turn to page 374 and read God’s authoritative answer to the question of why bad things happen.

However, Christians don’t have The Complete Compendium of Answers to Every Moral and Theological Question Ever. (The Bible is God’s Word, but—as many dissenting theologians can testify—it doesn’t answer certain questions.) We’ve had to study the Bible and reflect upon our own experience in order to come up some possible answers.

One possible answer has to do with free will. If God gives us free will, the ability to do whatever the deuce we want, we can choose to ignore his good instructions and wreak havoc on his creation. Another possible answer has to do with personal growth. We do tend to shine our brightest when we’re dealing with our tragedies—or helping others deal with theirs.

Whatever God’s reason for allowing pain in the world, one thing is clear. It’s a good enough reason that he didn’t hesitate to suffer because of it. Jesus Christ came into the world and endured not only an excruciating death but every other pain, humiliation and discomfort known to humankind, from the pain of rejection and betrayal among his friends to the minor nuisances of blisters and bad breath. The problem of pain didn’t deter Jesus.

These reflections are abstract, but I still find them comforting—most of the time. The real problem comes when someone else is suffering and wants to know why God lets it happen. What answers can be given to someone in pain?

“I know you’re hurting, but God loves you.”

“Where’s the proof of that?”

“I know you’re hurting, but this tragedy is making you a better person.”

“So God’s punishing me because I’m not good enough, is that it?”

“I know you’re hurting, but Jesus suffered too.”

“Why the heck should I care?”

“I know you’re hurting, but you can’t blame God for human error.”

“Just shut up.”

What’s the conclusion of the matter? Why does God allow pain and brokenness and Rebecca Black’s “Friday” to exist in the world?

I wish I knew.

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