In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, as family members and friends of the slain and wounded suffer unspeakable agony, people around the world are asking, “Where was God?” But very few are asking, “Is God hurting too?”
According to Basilea Schlink (1904-2001), a German Christian leader who stood up to the Nazis, “Anyone who loves as much as God does, cannot help suffering. And anyone who really loves God will sense that He is suffering.” She found support for this view in the writings of the Japanese Lutheran theologian Kazoh Kitamori in his book “Theology of the Pain of God.”
God suffering? God in pain? How can this be?
If he is the Almighty Creator and Ruler, and if he has infinite knowledge of the future, why would he even create a world in which there would be so much suffering and pain on a daily basis? And if the scripture is true that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge (or care) of the Heavenly Father (Matthew 10:29), how could he allow 20 innocent children – not to mention the adults – to be cut down in cold blood?
Questions like these are raised in the Bible itself, including cynical observations about the state of the world (see Ecclesiastes 7:15) and even harsh accusations against God uttered in the midst of extreme suffering (see Job 9:22-23). As one Old Testament scholar put it, if you’d like to voice your complaint to God, the Bible provides you with forms with the words already filled in for you.
Of course, as I noted in my Ohio State University debate with Prof. Bart Ehrman, a noted New Testament scholar and agnostic, if you remove God from the picture, there’s really no problem of suffering and evil. A spider kills a fly; a lion kills a zebra; a mugger kills his victim . . . this is what the random products of unguided evolution do! What’s wrong with the survival of the fittest? Why doesn’t might make right?
But if you believe that there is a loving Creator, then you recognize that suffering and evil really do present a problem.
How then do we respond to a mind-numbing tragedy like the Newtown massacre, and how does the concept of God’s pain help us process this tragedy?
First, we affirm that it was right for God to create the world, without which we would not exist, and we affirm that it was right for him to give us free will. But these are gifts with consequences, and the things we cherish most – our existence and our ability to make choices for our lives – are the very things for which we fault God at times like this.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.