Why does God allow suffering?

On Wednesday, a few of us from St John’s and St Mary’s went down to St Stephen’s, Twickenham, to join a large crowd of others from nearby churches for an evening with the Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Rev Dr Graham Tomlin, looking at the tricky question of “Why does God allow suffering?”

 

Bishop Graham began by outlining how nobody has convincingly “solved” this question. Christians have wrestled with this issue throughout history and despite it, many people still choose to believe in God and follow Jesus. Bishop Graham also pointed out that if this question causes you to disbelieve in God, you are still left with the problem of how to live with pain and suffering – and by rejecting God you may have thrown out the one thing that could help!

We had a chance to discuss in groups three ideas that some Christians have put forward to answer this question. 1. Human free will causes suffering (it’s our fault!), 2. God uses suffering to help us grow (it’s his fault!), 3. There is a kingdom of evil which causes suffering (it’s the devil’s fault!). Generally, we all felt that there was some truth in each of these ideas, and they may provide some sort of comfort at times but they also raise many more questions than answers.

Bishop Graham presented many other arguments, but I personally found it helpful when he reminded us that Jesus was relentlessly opposed to evil in his life, teachings, death and resurrection. Where there was sin it was forgiven, where there was suffering it was healed, where there was evil it was overcome and where there was death it was conquered. This means Christians are people of hope. The goodness of God will one day endure forever beyond suffering and evil, which itself will end forever.

Bishop Graham finished his talk by suggesting practical ways the church could respond. Church should be a place where there was Lament (honestly speaking about suffering), Solidarity (standing with those who experience suffering), Transformation (working to alleviate suffering and seek human flourishing), Resistance (fighting against evil, injustice and oppression) and Hope (living now in light of a future without suffering or evil or death).

David Maclure. Bishop Graham’s talk will be available for everyone to listen to via the St Stephens church website www.st-stephens.org.uk.