Hundreds of thousands of lives are swept away in a massive tsunami. Six million people are murdered for their race.
Is it sensible to believe in God amid such suffering?
Theologian Gordon Wong of Singapore believes that the harsh realities of life make faith even more necessary.
In God Makes Sense, the Trinity Theological College Professor of Old Testament cited the example of a Scottish preacher who suddenly lost his wife.
Preaching soon after the funeral, he acknowledged he could not make sense of life and why God allowed such pain. But one thing perplexed him more: how people facing loss could choose to abandon faith in God.
"Abandon it for what?" he wondered.
“You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it. We have nothing else.”
The theologian asked: “How does abandoning the idea of a good God and the promise of a heavenly reunion with loved ones help?”
He was responding to the common objection that belief in the promise of heaven after death is an emotional crutch for the weak and irrational.
Wong pointed out that everyone relies on something to cope with the vicissitudes of life.
“If one rejects the crutch of faith in God or religion, then one is probably relying on the crutch of one’s own fortitude or the crutch of science,” said the Methodist pastor.
It becomes important to ask what crutch is “best suited to help us cope with the emotional anguish and pain of suffering and tragedy on earth,” he expressed.
In the 125-page book, Wong stressed that the Christian faith meets this condition.
Faith in God helps people deal with the problems of suffering and sin and ends their search for significance.
The Christian faith addresses the problem of suffering by providing comfort in despair and hope in defeat.
Christianity presents a God who was unjustly executed in His human form. Such a God can understand human despair and become a source of strength amid suffering. Although God in His human form died, He resurrected. The event forms the basis of the assurance that God will ultimately set things right.
Faith addresses the problem of sin by providing deliverance from pretence, presumption and perfectionism.
The Christian message of God’s forgiveness helps people admit their guilt and confess their sin. While God forgives sin, He does not tolerate or accept it. At the same time that He forgives sinners, He urges them to confess and repent of their sin.
“The power of God’s pardon does not transform wrong into right, or evil into good,” said Wong. “The power of God’s pardon is the way it helps us to confess our sins, instead of trying to cover them up.”
This is because “honest admission or confession of sin is a crucial step in helping us change or cure our sin,” he expressed.
The theologian added that “divine forgiveness is not the way to avoid justice.”
He said: “It’s the opposite! God’s mercy and justice are often mentioned in the same breath. God’s mercy is not contrasted with God’s justice.
“God’s mercy and justice work together to fight the human sin of injustice and cruelty.”
The Christian faith also saves people from perfectionism.
“God does not demand perfection as a condition for loving us,” said the father of two. “God accepts our honest contrition and confession of weakness.”
Faith ends the search for significance.
Christianity presents a God who loved people so much He died for them while they were sinners.
“We were, and are, loved for who we are, not for what we have done or can do,” he said. Such love frees people to do their best without fear of failure or rejection.
In addition, God’s love is “a love that regards a person as significant enough to fulfil an important task,” the theologian expressed.
“The Jesus who died on the Cross gives us the significant calling or commission to be ambassadors of God’s love to others,” he said.
Wong does not think that the existence of evil disproves the existence of an Almighty God of love.
Those who object that a good God could not allow so much evil in the world should realise that the opposite argument is just as strong, he said.
The counter-question: If there isn’t any good and powerful God, why are there so many powerful examples of goodness in the world?