The question of suffering leads many to leave their faith. Why didn't I?
World leaders are waiting anxiously before the British referendum on EU membership on 23 June 2016, while Remain and Leave campaigners bombard voters with facts, opinions, and threats, causing confusion about what is true and what is false, and who could be believed. Many like me are ‘Don’t knows’, between a rock and a hard place, with uncertainties on both sides.
Life is like that. It poses big questions and asks us to vote. To weigh the evidence, choose between not only competing facts but competing interpretations of facts, opinions, and risks, and reach a balanced judgement of what we think is right.
Life’s most worrying question, asked 2700 years ago at the start of Homer’s Odyssey, is this: in a world of suffering, does God exist and if so, does he care? No and no, is what many vote in our increasingly secular world. Church attendance is shrinking nationally, and Christian parents find their grown up children no longer Remain in church because for them God is dead, killed by science, or impotent to stop wars, floods, earthquakes, and pitiless nature, red in tooth and claw. God’s package brings joy and woe – a duality, like Remain and Leave, with joy and woe in both alternatives!
I was brought up by Christian parents and in my late teens was asked to post a Christian leaflet through a stranger’s door. When it opened, the owner refused the leaflet, told me his child was born incurably handicapped, and closed the door. I hurried away, defeated, with nothing to say. I felt like joining that parent in the Leave camp, the Brexit of faith.
I thought the same when our third child died aged three weeks after an infection in Uganda, towards the end of our nine years on the equator. The last chance was to give her my blood but despite two transfusions, we lost her. So why should one Remain in faith? I would have to Leave an unreal interventionist, protectionist God whose umbrella shields bodies from the rain of disasters. Another sort of God could be more real to our world.
Years later in 2000, we learned that our daughter’s first son aged one, was born disabled, with a genetic defect of the brain. Since then my wife and I have helped to care for Daniel who is almost 17 and still unable to walk, talk, and crawl, and needing to be changed and fed. We shall not Leave Daniel – he still stays with us alternate weekends – but what credible reasons can I give to scientists – such as our eldest grandson studying Physics at uni – that it is possible to Remain in the Christian faith without committing intellectual suicide? That search for credible grounds and a fresh approach lies behind my latest book Suffering: if God exists, why doesn’t he stop it? It aims to answer Homer’s question by outlining a plausible solution to life’s perennial question.
With one eye open, I could stop praying and Leave a God who appears to do nothing to stop Daniel’s seizures – nor halt gunmen in their killing, nor planes from crashing. There are thousands of Daniels and millions of sufferers – though I am lucky, like the majority, to be healthy in old age. Creative God lets the physical, evolving Darwinian process that he upholds, take its course, and violence has been inevitable since the Big Bang, long before humans evolved – a violent universe confirmed again last week by the second detection of gravitational waves bursting from merging black holes. Thinking people today will Leave the faith – or not consider joining it – if they are told it’s all Adam and Eve’s fault for wrecking a perfect world. Remain must open both eyes and reach a more balanced judgement of biblical and other evidence, based on better theology and scientifically respectable grounds for faith.
To capture a wider audience, my 2016 book is the briefest I have written, perhaps the shortest and cheapest in Waterstones, ‘a 100 minute read’, over a drink or two! It is in straightforward language not church-speak, that can be given as a safe, unpreachy birthday present to atheist neighbours and wobbling believers, who may enjoy picking holes in the argument!
I shall gain nothing from the sales, as my royalties go to charity, Equipment for Disabled Children. My reward is simply to remove stumbling blocks to belief in Remain, and the satisfaction of spreading the good news of God’s continuing existence and impartial love for all people. ‘All’ includes Hindus – as are most of the boys in a Darjeeling orphanage whose funding body I chaired for 18 years – so I write short sections on how suffering is regarded in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, compared with the distinctive suffering of Jesus. His resurrection might be thought an incredible fairy-tale so in an earlier book, Contemporary Creed, I examined the evidence and debated whether that could have been a spiritual or physical resurrection.
What improvements do you think God should make to his ongoing creation? I analyse several changes to see if they would be real improvements to the world or make it worse. I end Suffering on the brave conclusion – some would say foolhardy – that we live in God’s best possible evolving world of unfinished business.
Dr John Morris was a teacher and lecturer for over thirty years before being ordained as an unpaid Anglican clergyman in 1995.
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Article Originally Published Here The Baptist Times