How could a loving God stand by and watch suffering? A response to Joey Barton
Joey Barton hates that people are dying in Gaza right now, and he hates that there is not more he can do to stop the violence. I respect that greatly.
He also implies that these terrible events should cause us to reject God. That, I think, is too quick.
The sobering decision to create people in a world that includes the possible abuse of free choice, resulting in severe suffering, is not unique to divine creation. It is also relevant to human procreation.
When we decide to have a child, we risk a lot of suffering. We don't usually think of it this way, and understandably so, but it remains the case that if we willfully have a child we are doing something that we know will result not only in significant suffering - because even the most fortunate of human lives includes serious suffering - but ultimately in death.
And yet, despite the deep pain that accompanies this reality, most of us still believe that having a child can be a loving and even courageous thing to do.
Here's my point: If we think it is in principle wrong to create people in a world that includes the possibility of serious suffering, we will not only need to call God evil, we will also need to call evil anyone who decides to have children.
Is that a full response to the problem of suffering? Not nearly. Nor is it the appropriate response to those who are suffering so severely right now, for whom the right response is tears and everything we can do to facilitate peace. But this connection with procreation does suggest that the question of God's existence and God's goodness is more complicated than it might first appear.
The loving parent is not the one who never risks suffering in a child's life; the loving parent - whether human or divine - is the one who is willing to suffer alongside his child, and willing to make whatever sacrifices necessary to ensure that one day that suffering can be overcome.
Joey Barton tweeted, "How can a God stand by and watch this?" John Stott agreed with the sentiment:
I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as "God on the cross." In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? ... [Jesus] is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.
"How can a God stand by and watch this?" The answer is "He cannot," and He did not.
Vince Vitale wrote his PhD on the problem of suffering. He now teaches at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, is senior tutor at The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and is a speaker for RZIM. He has co-authored with Ravi Zacharias the forthcoming book, Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense (Hachette, 2014).