Half an Answer on Suffering

Path to Edge By Hartwig HKD
Path to Edge By Hartwig HKD
This weekend, CNN carried a blog post from Tim Keller on suffering and the danger of asking God “why me?” In typical Keller-fashion, he succinctly dismisses a number of deficient answers to the question, before looking at how the gospel proposes at least half an answer. He argues that the following three responses are insufficient:

1) This makes no sense – I guess this proves there is no God
2) While there is a God, senseless suffering proves God is not completely in control of everything. He couldn’t stop this.
3) God saves some people and lets others die because he favours and rewards good people.

And even this fourth is only partly right, because it’s cold and nowhere near as comforting as the biblical answer:

4) God knows what he’s doing, so be quiet and trust him

The answer, for Keller, is the gospel: Creation > Fall > Redemption > Restoration. No great surprise perhaps, but what I like about the article is the way Tim sums it up, demonstrating that this half an answer is better than any of the previous four attempts:

Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason isn’t – what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.

He understands us, he’s been there, and he assures us that he has a plan to eventually to wipe away every tear, to make “everything sad come untrue.”

Someone might say, “but that’s only half an answer to the question ‘Why’?” Yes, but it is the half that we need.

If God actually explained all the reasons why he allows things to happen as they do, it would be too much for our finite brains. Think of little children and their relationship to their parents. Three year olds can’t understand most of what their parents allow and disallow for them. But though they aren’t capable of comprehending their parents’ reasons, they are capable of knowing their parents’ love, and therefore capable of trusting them and living securely. That is what they really need. Now the difference between God and human beings would be infinitely greater than the difference between a thirty-year old parent and a three year old child. So we should not expect to be able to grasp all God’s purposes, but through the Cross and gospel of Jesus Christ, we can know his love. And that is what we need most.’

You can read the full article here or the shortened version from CNN here.

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