I think I have become a heretic.
No one will take me seriously for saying that, but I really am. The lot of a theology student is to regularly have to reconsider everyhting you believe in the light of learning new stuff, but the problem of suffering and pain is causing me a real headache.
I guess you could say my questions are the classical questions of protest against God, but they’re classical because no one has answered them yet without resorting to pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die. My problem is not that I no longer believe in God, but I am uncertain as to precisely what he is like.
We hold that God is all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful. Ok. But then why is there so much evil and suffering and pain in the world? If God is able to prevent it, and yet he doesn’t – can we still say he is all-loving and all powerful? If he is all-powerful, he could intervene – but he doesn’t. Or maybe he does, but not for a while. In the holocaust 6 million Jews were exterminated and it only stoppped because the war ended in 1945. But why not end it in 1944? Or why even let it happen?
I’m playing devil’s advocate, and no doubt anyone I said that to would wheel out the free-will defence to defend God’s seeming inaction, but I just can’t support that either. We say that human suffering is a result of free will – but I call into question just how free our will is. How many choices can we really make, and how free are they? If someone bursts into your house and at gunpoint forces you to leave for a concentration camp, how free is your will for you to say ‘no’? Human suffering is synonymous with a total restriction on free will. Those caught in suffering and bondage are very far from free. Like babies born into starvation – tell them that their suffering is the result of free will being exercised. Unless you are so naive as to assume that people choose to starve. There is no free will in suffering.
That the innocent suffer is a massive problem – and I’m not saying that God causes it, but his inaction must somehow implicate him. Christians who love God and who serve him wholeheartedly still undergo tremendous heartache and loss. OK, so faith in God gets them through it – but why did he let it happen in the first place? I don’t understand how God is glorified in human misery he could have prevented.
I feel like Judas for writing this, but I am being honest. If I sin and accuse God wrongdoing or of mismanagement then I prove him to be correct – I am a man and therefore a sinner.
So I could go to hell, but what would that do to God? He loves me because he is love, and so he cannot choose not to love. God will always love me then. To love me he must somehow be connected to me, because love can only be expressed in a relationship. So I could go to hell and God would be grieved because I was separated from him, but as I suffered forever, so God would be grieved and hurt for ever, and there would never be any chance for us to be reconciled. We would both suffer eternal loss and grief, and what would have been achieved?
And so to my next problem – God judges us and condemns those who do not know him to hell. But he also wants to save us from hell. In salvation, he is trying to deliver us from hell, but it is also him who sends us to hell and casts us from his presence. With one action (salvation), he is trying to rescue us from his second action (condemnation). It just seems illogical that God is trying to save us from himself, whilst also trying to draw us to himself. It just seems such a contradiction, one not apparent to those who willingly and joyfully announce that God is going to send sinners to hell and that God is the way out.
God is able to rescue all of us from sin, yet he doesn’t. He could intervene and save everyone, but he doesn’t. He could save people as they walk into hell, and he wants to – or maybe God is indifferent to suffering and pain? But if God is ever indifferent to suffering and sin, he could never judge us for being indifferent. But we are. I don’t get it.
Christians are supposed to be like Jesus, and they are to love one another as he loves us. Yet so many I know are lonely, disappointed and feel alienated from God, from each other, and from life. Following Jesus has become a spectator sport and been replaced by a passive version of Christianity consisting of conferences, meetings, agendas, planning, proof-texts and projects. That which we were supposed to live and experience directly has become a distant idea that we entertain and we are alienated from the true reality that is Christ because we do not particpate in him.
Whoever controls the consciousness and thinking of the Church becomes our new Mediator and Intercessor. That is, they represent God to us, or at least their version of God. A small minority of Christians write all the books, speak at all the conferences and head up all the big ministries. They represent God to us, and because their influence is so total, to disagree with them is to disagree with God. So we become spectator Christians, watching and reading and lapping up the dominant (yet minority) form of Christianity as though it were Christ himself.
Wherever this dominant mode of Christianity disagrees with Christ, it cannot claim to be called Christian and yet so often it does appear genuine because there is no critical voice present where imitation Christianity is totally dominant. It perpetuates spectator Christianity as a substitute for direct participation in God. We play a simulation of the Gospel and do not participate in or commune with God directly, and so do not so his works.
Christianity then becomes shallow and transforms into a prison, and prison of alienation. By beholding the imitation of Christianity as though it were the real thing, we become alienated from Christ. We become passive Christians cut off from Life itself. We are not radical, or different, but we are isolated and lonely because we are truly in darkness, although we believe that we are chasing an ideal that is ultimately elusive and nothing more than a spectacle lacking all substance, and which is in actuality all image.
I want out of this form of Christianity. It is shallow, and its followers are shallow because they are alienated from Christ Himself because they only behold the spectacle of Christianity and so are never able to offer real hope, real love, or real connectedness.
I think I also want a moment away from God, but that is not possible, because he is everywhere. I do not know if I can trust him, and I am in the middle of a Christian system that is afraid to lament, afraid to protest and afraid to recognise pain and suffering as central to the human experience. I cannot live apart from God if he is omnipresent, but I cannot live with him in comfort when I am so unsure of him.