God in Suffering

I recently watched a video of a message delivered by Tom Honey, a vicar in the Church of England. His message is a reflection on the 2004 tsunami, and how God can allow such tragedies. If you would like to watch the video you can see it at this link.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/112

He briefly discusses the paradoxes and difficulties in nailing down God’s place in tragedy. Does he cause it, allow it to happen, use it to test us? Ultimately the idea that God suffers along with us engages Honey and propels the rest of his message. He takes God’s participation in our suffering (and our rejoicing) to suggest the possibility that God is not an agent as we are agents. “What if God doesn’t act,” he asks. He suggests instead that God is IN things, like “the loving soul of the universe, an indwelling compassionate presence underpinning and sustaining all things, the infinitely complex network of relationships and connections that make up life, the natural cycle of life and death, the incredible intricacy and magnificence of the natural world, the collective unconscious, the soul of the human race.”

Honey’s view includes a god without consciousness. He says, “To have faith in this god would be more like trusting an essential benevolence in the universe and less like believing a system of doctrinal statements.” Following this god would involve seeking the god within and cultivating your own “inwardness.” Our inwardness is “the me that remains when I gently put aside my passing emotions and ideas and preoccupations.” That sounds quite Buddhist to me. With the little understanding I have of paganism and Buddhism, I would say his theology mixes the two.

It is difficult to counter Honey’s arguments because he doesn’t actually use any arguments to make his point. He simply suggests the possibility of a god like this. Though the god that he is describing is clearly not the God of Christ. That being said he does raise a question that I think we all need to wrestle with. If God is in control, why does he allow tragedies like the tsunami? We can say that we live in a fallen world where natural disasters occur. I agree with that, and I agree that the world (earth) is in need of redemption just as we are (McKnight’s fourth restored relationship of atonement). We could say that God takes what the evil one means for ill and redeems it for good (the ransom fishhook theory of atonement suggests this). But none of these arguments, even with the truth that they contain, answer the most difficult question. If we truly believe that God has the power to control the wind and the waves, why would he allow a tragedy like the tsunami to occur? If we are going to examine and really engage in our faith, it is a question we must ask, isn’t it? I don’t have a great answer, but then again neither did Job.

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5 Responses to God in Suffering

  1. Kathy Rice says:

    Jason,

    If we truly believe that God has the power to control the wind and the waves, why would he allow a tragedy like the tsunami to occur? There’s a million dollar question!

    The truths you state are so good, and like you (and Job), I also don’t have the answer. Disasters such as the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and a multitude of others call into question my belief in the goodness and mercy of God. When asked the “why” question, I find myself without adequate response. And yet, the place of faith I dwell in doesn’t see a need to have an answer. While I wrestle with life’s hard realities at times, for me, it’s okay to not be able to fully understand. Trusting in the goodness and sovereignty of a God who is infinitely greater than the way I perceive things is a refuge of comfort, hope, and strength in a world that often doesn’t make sense.

  2. Faith Carter says:

    Jason,
    What you extracted from Honey paints an interesting picture. With some of the questions that you were left with, I was reminded of our reading in A Grace Disguised. Because we have the power to get much of what we want in life, when we lose control (tsunamis) it makes us vulnerable to disappointment and pain, and when we experience pain we are able to join in a fellowship of suffering that spans the world, and it is in our suffering where God and humans meet.

  3. Jason Feffer says:

    Kathy,
    Those are great words. Thank you. One thing that Honey does say which I love is that when a person has experienced tragedy, that is NOT the time for explanations, but that is time for weeping alongside them.

    Faith,
    I agree. There is a connection with A Grace Disguised for sure. I wish I’d read the whole book so I could better bring it to the table in this discussion.

  4. Rev. Doug says:

    Thanks for opening the door on this subject. It is one which I stuggle with – almost daily- as I am a Minister “in charge” of Pastoral care in a very large church. I can not begin to count the times I have heard some one exclaim it was “God’s will” that their labs came back “cancer free” – I wonder… would they be as quick to claim God’s will had the results come back malignant?

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