Theodicy & Suffering
Even if there were pains in Heaven,
all who understand would desire them.
~ C.S. Lewis
When reading about theodicy (and after looking up what it meant) I found that I get asked a surprising number of these questions. How can we still believe and have faith in the presence of evil and great suffering? Why would God allow this to happen? Theodicy is too deep for easy answers. I love this line. Our culture has programmed us to respond with colloquial phrases to immediately help make ourselves feel better; however, these sayings don't actually do anything to help the bereaved. For example, "They're in a better place", "God needed another angel", "You'll see them again", "At least they're not in pain", etc. In my opinion, these are phrases that society has programmed into us which most people then use to change the subject, diminish, or dismiss the grief of the individual because they themselves are uncomfortable with grief and these hard questions and feelings.
Just like they talk about in the book, rather than simply answering my clients' questions, I ask them to tell me more about God. I was speaking with a woman a few weeks ago who had just lost her dog of 13 years to a freak car accident. Since we had already "agreed" that God is omniscient and ever present, I asked her where God was for her in that moment? She answered and we discussed that for a few minutes. Then I asked her "Where was God for Bella in that moment?" and, just like in the previous example, we had a minute of stunned silence while she thought. She answered that God was present with Bella right then too, just at the moment of death to welcome and shepherd her across the Rainbow Bridge.
There are a number of books that I've recommended to clients who are looking for answers during a crisis of faith and extreme suffering. This is, of course, after I have already done a spiritual assessment and listened to what they already believe. Like they say in the book, we should use their existing community and religious structures of support if available: "We can be of most help by supporting the community structures that they naturally call upon in times of grief and suffering" (1, 218). These existing structures are generally faith groups and the religious traditions they grew up with.
C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors to recommend to Christians, particularly because of his book "A Grief Observed", but in my next case the book I recommended was "Cold Noses At The Pearly Gates" which is a Christian centered book to show through scripture that our pets will be taken care of by God.
I was trying to point out several activities that this gentleman client of mine could read about suffering and God's response, and in particular there was a journal entry about the promise of God's purpose. The fact that suffering and tragedy happen in the world does not mean that God doesn't care. The next time I spoke with him he seemed like a completely different person and after remarking as such I asked if the book had helped (already mentally patting myself on the back for my awesome and insightful recommendation). However, what he really had found comfort with was a completely different journal activity, "Ask Him to bring His peace to you, that peace that passes all understanding. And finally, ask Him to fill the void that has been left in your life" (3). In other words, to give his pain unto God because God is big enough to hold it. He had found such release in that passage, I imagine, because this was something of his own discovery, searching, and meaning making that had nothing to do with what I had suggested initially.
This reminded me, yet again, to listen to the words that my clients are saying and not listen for the crisis that I think they might be in. What I heard in our conversation was "Why did God allow this to happen / God doesn't care" which I interpreted as "I'm angry with God" when what he was saying was more along the lines of "How can God bring me peace now?".