Sharon Dirckx tackles the problem of suffering.

Some notes and quotes from the talk:

Many of our big questions start with a "Why...?". This is often not just an intellectual question, but a personal question, seeking a personal answer. But to whom is the question "Why...?" addressed? If matter is all there is, there is no point in asking the question. But if God exists, he has questions to answer.

When Christopher Hitchens was asked in an interview with CNN in 2011 whether he was tempted to ask "Why me?", he responded that it was a "silly question". "Everyone's got to go sometime", he replied. If there is no God to ask, then that is a consistent response.

But why do so many people ask the question? Could it be that it is an objection to the way the world is; a recognition that it is not the way it's meant to be. But if that's the case, how do people think that the world should be?

Ravi Zacharias argues that: "when we object to suffering, we invoke a moral law". Suffering invokes an awareness that there is something wrong with the world. Often we only recognise that fact when suffering comes to our own door.

when we object to suffering, we invoke a moral law

- Ravi Zacharias

Where does that recognition of a moral law come from? Is it just internal? A recognition of the impulse to do what is right for me…?

That may be OK for personal decisions which affect no-one else, but what happens when "what is right for me" harms others? A common view is that what is right for you is fine – until it starts to impact on me. We then want to invoke a higher, absolute moral standard, rather than one that is different for each person.

The Christian perspective is that right and wrong, good and evil, originate in something or someone bigger than us. They are not internally derived – they are externally derived from outside of us. Good is defined by who God is... a being who is the ultimate definition of good ... and who has imprinted these values onto the people that he has made.

…a Christian would say it is the very existence of God that helps us make most sense of that gut feeling that some things are absolutely wrong and others are absolutely right.

the existence of God enables you in a world of shifting sands to call evil 'evil' and to say this is wrong.

Another common question, "how can a loving God allow people to suffer?", questions the character and morality of God. "A loving, all powerful God would presumably create a loving world."

A question to consider: "Imagine for a moment that you are God and you have been assigned the task of creating a new world. And in this task you are given one thing to uphold: that this world must be the most loving and the most moral that it could possibly be. How would you do it?"

In The Truman Show, with Truman Burbank played by Jim Carrey:

…you want Truman to discover real freedom. Why? Because a world with the appearance of freedom or false freedom is morally inferior to a world with real freedom.

The type of world God wanted to create is one in which love is right at the centre, but for love to be genuinely expressed you have to have real freedom.

Free choice has to allow the possibility of wrong choice.

Free choice has to allow the possibility of wrong choice

…when we look at this question 'If God exists, why doesn't he stop evil?', we're not just talking about evil out there in the world, are we? We're talking about the propensity for evil in every human heart.

If God is so powerful, why doesn't he stop evil and get rid of it once and for all? … on the one hand we say I want to do it my way … I don't want limits on my freedom. But on the other hand, this question asks that limits be imposed on human freedom.… There's a mismatch…. Do we want limits or do we want God to intervene and stop some stuff? It is allowing God to intervene in our heart … that brings about the greatest level of freedom – it is possible to have both.

The Christian faith says you fix a broken story by embedding it in a much bigger story in which good wins in which evil and the suffering it causes will lose where there will be justice. Evil has been defeated on the cross but not yet removed – but one day it will be entirely removed.

© 2014 Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU) and Sharon Dirckx