Surely this is a question that every Christian has to deal with at some point.
I know I have. I thought about it, listened to others and then made my peace with it a long time ago.
Or so I thought.
Today, having travelled the world (a bit), volunteered overseas and currently working for an international development charity, it’s a question that’s often on my mind.
There is more suffering around the world than I can come to terms with, and that’s only what I know about and allow myself to engage with. I know there’s more hidden suffering out there.
I love the work I do and am enormously privileged to get to meet people living in incredibly difficult situations.
Earlier this year I went to Burkina Faso in west Africa, one of the world’s poorest countries. I spent a few days with a 13-year-old called Josephine.
Josephine is amazing. She does the cooking, cleaning and laundry for her family, as well as studying. She usually eats just one meal a day, bringing home food she’s given at school for her little brother so he doesn’t go hungry.
I remember being 13. I did not particularly help to look after my family and my worries were focused narrowly on me and my friends. The whole world lay ahead of me, full of possibilities.
Josephine passed her exams this summer but her family may no longer be able to afford the school fees. If she’s lucky, she might get a scholarship and continue her education; if not, she’ll wait at home until she’s old enough to get married.
Can our future really just be based on luck and where we’re born?
What happened to Jeremiah 29: “God has plans to prosper us and not to harm us”? If those are His plans for me, why aren’t they His plans for Josephine?
If they are His plans, why don’t we see that happening?
Now, I get that the way the world runs isn’t great for people like Josephine and her family. It’s unequal, unfair, complicated and complex. Fallen.
But that doesn’t really make me feel much better when hearing from Syrian refugees who have lost everything, or families in India who can’t feed their children because of climate change.
This isn’t something I’ve talked a lot about, as it’s a question I’m still trying to articulate myself. And, to be honest, when I have tried I haven’t always had the most helpful responses.
Answers like, ‘We just need to praise God in everything’ don’t really get to the point.
My personal faith is based on Jesus, and what he’s done for me. Ultimately I don’t think questioning global suffering will change that. But I think that it should impact the kind of faith I have and what I do with it.
My conclusions, such as they are, are that:
– God is big enough to handle these questions, so I can keep asking them;
– I don’t think that Jesus likes people suffering;
– I will probably never fully understand how this all fits together.
A friend of mine once joked that when we get to heaven, God will have a long list of FAQs on His door. I reckon “what about global suffering?” will be one of them.
(Photo via Sara Guy / Tearfund)