Forthright Magazine

Grappling with the shadows of suffering

Suffering creates a mortar where experiences might grind against convictions. For those experiencing life collapsing, the lament "Blessed Be Your Name" drags a question into the spot light. Will I praise God regardless?

This song declares that whether  "the sun’s shining down on me" or I am plodding down "the road marked with suffering," I will exclaim, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." While people can decide to praise God regardless, some might claim such devotion is delusional or at least disingenuous. Why? Consider a unicorn.

Imagine someone attributing goodness and sovereign power to a unicorn. How rational would it be to persist in believing in a unicorn, if life experiences failed to support its existence? When an idea becomes insulated from evidence and impervious to rational conclusions, it can’t reliably rise above being a delusion.

Does this criticism apply to God? Some think so. I’ve been told that the Holocaust led some to become atheists or at least agnostic. Having experienced life within the mortar, their suffering overwhelmed their theistic convictions.

Fundamental to such corrosive ruminations are two assumptions: first, our present world must reflect at all times all of the qualities of any God who is out there. Second, we humans understand best how life ought to work.

It is precisely these two thoughts which dominated the thinking of Job’s friends. In their minds, God must manage our lives according to a set of principles. Stated most crudely, within this world God will always bless the righteous and punish the wicked. When the friends were forced to add a touch of sophistication, they conceded the righteous might suffer or the wicked could enjoy blessings … but only for a moment before God would set everything right.

Job vehemently disagreed. He claimed God’s running of the world does not reveal one’s moral status. The righteous may suffer, while the wicked might die in peace and with prosperity. Job believed those devoted to God could suffer even though God exists!

When God finally spoke out of the tornado, he denounced Job’s friends, "You have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has" (Job 42:7). Yet, because Job had justified himself by insinuating he knew better than God how to run the world, Job also got his hands slapped (Job 40:2,8).

Where does this leave us? Here’s a few possibilities:

  • To be consistent, anyone denying God’s existence due to suffering, must also deny objective goodness exists. Why? Without God, no real good nor evil exists. Everything would be incidental, meaningless and without moral value.
  • Unlike unicorns, a wide range of evidence from various disciplines provide good reasons for the conviction God exists. Whether God exists is not indicated by human suffering.
  • God is worthy of devotion because of who he is and what he has done, such as creation and redemption.
  • We can choose to exalt God’s love, power and goodness in spite of suffering.

It is neither disillusioned nor disengenious to exclaim, "Blessed be the name of the Lord," even when life falls apart. God is worthy of devotion regardless.


Barry Newton
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