I’ve started a short thread on the issue of how the problem of suffering affected my Christian faith. To explain the matter further, here I quote from a section of my book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer our Most Important Question: Why We Suffer. The book is mainly about the variety of answers you can find in the Bible about why God allows or even causes suffering. But I begin the book by talking about why it has long been such an important issue to me personally.
Eventually I felt compelled to leave Christianity. I did not go easily. On the contrary, I left kicking and screaming, wanting desperately to hold on to the faith I had known from childhood and had come to know intimately from my teenage years onward. But I came to a point where I could no longer believe. It’s a very long story, but the short version is this: I realized that I could no long reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly-disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.
The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith. After many years of grappling with the problem, trying to explain it, thinking through the explanations that others have of it – some of them pat answers charming for their simplicity, others of them highly sophisticated and nuanced reflections of serious philosophers and theologians – after thinking about the alleged answers and continuing to wrestle with the problem, about nine or ten years ago I finally admitted defeat, came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic: don’t “know” if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn’t the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world. And so I stopped going to church.
Only on rare occasions do I go to church now. My wife Sarah is a Christian (Anglican), and there have been occasions when I have gone with her. The last time…
In the rest of this post I go on to talk about a time when I came to realize with unusual clarity and sadness that I just could not believe the heart of the Christian message any more. If you want to read the entire post, join the blog. It doesn’t cost much and your entire fee goes to help those in need.