It’s an ancient question: God is entirely powerful. God is good and does not desire suffering. Complex life inevitably involves frequent suffering. How can we reconcile these three truths with one another?
Christianity doesn’t have a pat answer for this question. To some extent, accepting that we may never quite understand suffering is part of faith; we trust God anyway. St. Paul writes that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Trying to comprehend God’s entire plan would require what Ronald Rolheiser describes as “a slimming down of God to fit the size, expectations, and reasoning of the human mind and imagination.” Nevertheless, exploring the question of suffering in the world can help us move toward greater understanding, both of the role of suffering in our lives and of our relationships with God.
In this class, The Rev. Dr. Ian Markham, Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary, discusses possible reasons for suffering and ways to cope with suffering that can help Christians not only endure, but also grow from our experiences with pain. His overall argument rests on the idea that we may never entirely understand why we suffer, but that as Christians, we have the comfort of knowing that our God suffered, just as we do. We know, therefore, that God understands what we feel; that God cares about the pain and suffering of living creatures. We can trust that our suffering is part of a great drama; a story that centers on nothing less than the redemption of the universe, and we can take comfort in that knowledge.
This class is ideal for people who want to understand suffering in the world, or for people experiencing suffering or anxiety. For a preview of this course, please click here.
Image 1: Photograph of a makeshift grave for Vera Smith, a New Orleans citizen who died during Hurricane Katrina.
Image 2: El Greco. La Crucifixión (1597). Public Domain.