Good evening. The subject of my talk tonight is love, pain and suffering.
Of course, as a comfortably situated middle-aged bachelor I must be quite an authority on pain and love, wouldn't you have thought?
Now, by "pain" I don't mean a nagging discomfort in the intestines. For that matter, by "love" I don't mean a nagging discomfort in the intestines either.
The question I will put to you this evening, and one which I will attempt to answer, is this: if God loves us, why does He allow us to suffer so much? War. Pestilence. Famine.
This is this morning's paper. Last night, as I'm sure you know, a No 1 bus drove into a column of young Royal Marine Cadets in Chatham, and killed 23 of them. They were ten-year-old boys, marching and singing on their way to a boxing match. The road was unlit. The driver didn't see them. It was a terrible accident. Nobody was to blame. Except...
Now, where was He? Why didn't He stop it? What possible point can there be to such a tragedy? Isn't God supposed to be good? Isn't God supposed to love us?
Now, that's the nub of the matter: love.
I think I'm right in saying that by "love,"most of us mean either kindness or being "in love." But surely when we say that God loves us, we don't mean that God is in love with us... do we? Not sitting by the telephone, writing letters: "I love you madly – God, XXX and hugs." At least I don't think so.
Perhaps we mean that He's a kind God. Kindness is the desire to see others happy. Not happy in this way or that, but just happy. Perhaps we mean that He loves us with a more mature benevolence. Not so much a Father in heaven as a Grandfather. "I do like to see the young people enjoying themselves. What does it matter as long as it makes them happy?"
Here I'm going to say something which may come as a bit of a shock. I think that God doesn't necessarily want us to be happy. He wants us to be lovable. Worthy of love. Able to be loved by Him.
We don't start off being all that loveable, if we're honest. What makes people hard to love? Isn't it what is commonly called selfishness? Selfish people are hard to love because so little love comes out of them. God creates us free, free to be selfish, but He adds a mechanism that will penetrate our selfishness and wake us up to the presence of others in the world, and that mechanism is called suffering.
To put it another way, pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
Why must it be pain? Why can't he wake us more gently, with violins or laughter? Because the dream from which we must be awakened is the dream that all is well.
Now that is the most dangerous illusion of them all. Self-sufficiency is the enemy of salvation. If you are self-sufficient, you have no need of God. If you have no need of God, you do not seek Him. If you do not seek Him, you will not find Him
God loves us, so He makes us the gift of suffering. Through suffering, we release our hold on the toys of this world, and know our true good lies in another world.
We're like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering in the world is not the failure of God's love for us; it is that love in action.
For believe me, this world that seems to us so substantial is no more than the shadowlands. Real life has not begun yet.
From "Shadowlands," by William Nicholson