I was browsing around in a Barnes and Noble bookstore one day and saw a table featuring “Thought-Provoking Books.” Items on the table included entertaining books of mathematical brain-teasers, mind-boggling books on astronomy and physics, and off-the-wall books on politics. There were also several books on the topic of religion and philosophy. I looked at each one of those books and was frustrated to find that every thought-provoking book in the section was negative on faith and religion. Books like The God Delusion, Atheist America, The Quotable Atheist, and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything were all there. All were bestsellers at that time, and the bookstore wanted to cash in on that popularity. That’s their business, so no problem there. But I wondered about the selection process of those books that were considered ‘thought provoking.’ There are all kinds of ‘thought-provoking’ books written in response to these atheistic books, and many books written by Christians over the centuries that speak to the questions raised in these books. Barnes and Nobles does have a great section on religion, and many of those good books are there. But why not even one single positive book on faith in the ‘thought provoking books’ section? Some of them were also selling very well at that time. Was that store manager of the opinion that religious people do not think and just blindly believe what they are told? I had been looking for one book in particular that was also published at about that same time. It was by Anthony Flew, a world famous philosopher and out-spoken atheist for 60 years. Anthony Flew then changed his mind, and his last book was entitled There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. I bet that would be thought-provoking. Another good book would be I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. That also sounds thought-provoking, but that book wasn’t there either.
I know what all of those anti-religion books say. They make the usual challenges with questions like, ‘If there was an all-powerful and all-loving God, then why is there so much suffering in the world?’ And that is indeed a huge question. But you don’t need a $29.00 book to raise that question in your mind, do you? Anyone who has ever suffered, any one who has watched a loved die, anyone who reads the newspaper will ask time and again, ‘Why Lord?’ The Bible itself asks that question time and again, as God’s people over the centuries struggled with what looked to them like God’s lack of power, lack of concern, or both. The Bible has many responses to this question, and believers over the years have struggled with this challenge within the context of their faith, and, they have come to many profound insights and answers. The problem of suffering leads some away from the faith, and leads many to deeper faith, but everyone thinks about it. It is too bad that the Barnes and Noble manager considered only one type of response thought-provoking.
I would be quick to agree that there is no full and completely satisfying answer to this question of suffering. And even the best answers will seem most inadequate to anyone who is in the midst of suffering. But God’s ways are not our ways, the Bible tells us, and we should not be surprised if we do not understand everything about God.
And perhaps the whole answer is in the Bible, and it is just that we, in our sinful minds, do not find it satisfying. Perhaps God’s attempts to reason with us are like a parent’s attempt to reason with a child…
“Mom, why can’t we have candy for supper,” says five-year old Teddy. “I like candy, but I don’t like that goulash you are making again.”
“Well,” says mother, “eating candy all the time would not be good for you. It is not very nutritious, and you will never grow big and strong by just eating candy; and not only that, but too much sugar can make you sick, and even cause diseases, and its not very good for your teeth either.”
“Yes, mom,” replies Teddy, “I know all that, but why can’t we have candy for supper every night?”
Good reasons are given, but the small child’s little mind doesn’t get it. Perhaps it is that our small, sinful human minds just cannot or will not comprehend or accept the knowledge and insights given in the Bible about why God allows suffering in this world.
Most importantly of all, despite our lack of understanding, God’s most important response to the problem of suffering the wonderful hope and promise of the time and place when there will be no more suffering and no more pain. That much in the Bible is very clear.
Psalm 10:1 — Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Psalm 13:1-2a — How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
Isaiah 55:8-9 — “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Revelation 21:4-5a — God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds…
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength.