So I’ve been thinking about a God who deliberately and willingly inflicts pain upon the very creatures He purports to love (and have you noticed that when people talk about a God who does things to us, they almost always refer to Him in the male pronoun? I wonder what that says…). So God thinks that the thirty-five-year-old woman to whom he gave cancer (generous of Him) needed to be taught – what? She had children and was forced to spend eight weeks away from them whilst she received treatment. Either you can see that as a cruel and almost sadistic “lesson”, or you can see it as being simply shit happens – a horrible thing that happens to a very good person. What about the little girl born into a family which molests and abuses her? By the time she’s seven years old and I’m her behaviour management teacher/counsellor/reading recovery supporter (the school I worked in was under-funded), all she’s learned is how to hit most effectively. And, presumably, how to make herself small and stay away from dad when he’s drunk and angry. Or what about the young man standing on the edge of a cliff, because the alternative to jumping is to either come out as gay, or live a lie, both of which are, to him, untenable? What can God possibly be getting at there? Why did God “give” the good Christian boy such a brutal experience of schizophrenia that he cannot leave his bedroom for the demons eating his soul? God’s got a bastard sense of humour, if that’s the case.
If “God” is some capricious and mercurial and – let’s face it – sadistic being who willingly inflicts such suffering on His creatures just to see how we’ll react – well, then, I’m not following that God to the end of the street, let alone devoting my life to walking in closer step with Him.
If, on the other hand, the Source of Love and the Ground of Being in the world suffers as we do, shares our pain and mourns over it, writhes in agony at the agony of Its creatures – then, and only then, can I start to make sense of the pain around me. A vulnerable Creator which is destroyed by the actions of Its own people, even as it sustains every breath we take with Its own unending love. A Brother Creator who gets angry at injustice, and who weeps at death even as It takes death into Its own being.
When it comes to suffering, God doesn’t do this to us. God does it with us, and that one word makes all the difference.