"The problem of pain." It's one of the most prevalent reasons people don't bother to think about Jesus. Every time a nonChristian or a Christian brings up this subject, it's always felt oddly difficult to answer. I know that everything doesn't need a proven answer, but, I would at least like some framework of thinking about this "problem" that brings peace into my life.
I've been taught to respond to the question of "the problem of pain" however C.S. Lewis did in his book (The Problem of Pain) or just to help people see that God is good no matter what the pain is. Essentially, to just help people get their mind off of pain. But, I've let myself admit that I'm unsatisfied with those responses lately. I think when people ask about the problem of pain, what they are really perceiving is an apparent contradiction of goodness and pain existing together. I want to guide people away from that polarized worldview and towards one that makes it possible for pain and goodness to coexist because that's the world we live in. I want to help people use the suffering as a tool into God's heart instead of painting it as a thing that needs to be removed or resolved to get to goodness. On this side of eternity, we've got to learn how to live in this strange contradiction of being in pain and being in Christ.
I've been seeing suffering this way: suffering reveals a hope inside of us for goodness to exist despite what our circumstances give us evidence of.
We usually think the opposite: the presence of suffering can prove to us that goodness can't be trusted and that hope isn't worth it. But, whenever I suffer in life, I don't really want to use suffering as an argument against the existence of goodness. I doom myself if I do.
I was bitter at God for about two years after high school. I felt like He had unreasonably taken away every good thing and I couldn't see Him showing me how it was all going to be worth it. Subconsciously, I felt God owed me an apology. But, I realized that as long as I was demanding it be true that God had hurt me and asking for an apology, that there was no room for me to hope that He would be good to me now. It came down to deciding if I would hold my grudge or lay it down to allow the possibility of goodness again. When I believed the Word when it said that God only has my best interest in mind, I was free. I was free to believe in goodness again despite what had happened to me and I gained strength to understand that no matter what may happen to me in the future goodness would always exist.
That is what my heart really wants anyway; it wants to be allowed to hope. And since the world wasn't great at giving me that permission, I had to look elsewhere.
I had to let suffering strip away the weaker supports for goodness (e.i. wavering circumstances) and choose to believe in goodness for other reasons than just being able to see it with my eyes. It hurts when the things we used to lean on to believe in goodness are taken away. Boyfriends, money, happy families, jobs...etc. The healthy response isn't to give up on hope entirely; it's to delve more deeply into the search for goodness to discover if there are other more stable supports. I delve deeper into the Word to know what it says about my reality and I trust it. I can choose to see pain as an obstacle to my relationship with God, or, I can see it as a way to gain a stronger conviction for what I believe about Him. I say all this not meaning that God intentionally brings suffering into our lives to be a crucible. I say this meaning that how we think about suffering and live among it affects how we think about God and that this fact is unavoidable.
At the end of the day, I think all the evidence that we really need for goodness is our hearts that cry for hope. When we suffer, we realize that all of the external supports we construct to help us believe that goodness exists are pretty flimsy. What we really need is the bravery and abandon to trust that the Word transcends our circumstances and to let it be a fuel for us as we continue to hope. That presence of hope is evidence enough that someone exists who is worthy of our hope and who will never let us down. The problem of pain? No. The crucible of suffering that tears off every weak support and reveals the strongest tie between us and God: the unquenchable search for hope, truth, beauty, and goodness.
Let's talk about the stuff that makes goodness hard to believe in.