Confronting the Goodness of God
Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion poses difficult enquiries for the Christian faith and offers thoughtful responses. Her hope is that skeptics would read it and be disarmed by the honest look at Christianity’s greatest criticisms. She is unafraid of their closer consideration and wholeheartedly believes Christianity remains the best of the worldview options.
I appreciate her project in part because of her backstory. She is well-educated and has worked in esteemed academic circles on the integration of Christian faith into a variety of disciplines. McLaughlin shares her own struggles, doubts and humanity. And yet she is unabashedly optimistic about how Christianity stacks up to humanism, secularism, Buddhism, and so on.
Short of canceled services, I teach this weekend on the goodness of God. And I find it true (again) that learning, belief, conviction, and the sort, deepens when one gets to teach it. I want to persuade the audience even more of the goodness of God. The Scriptures refer to this trait frequently. But the longer I sit with it the more I wander to suffering. What of suffering? I was pleased McLaughlin confronts this lucidly in the last two chapters.
Suffering is inescapable. This is not a popular message in some American churches, especially those that lean towards a prosperity theology but it is the reality. C. S. Lewis once remarked, “What do people mean when they say that they’re not afraid of God because they know that He is good? Have they never even been to the dentist?” I believe Lewis is referring to the potency of pain to spiritually form us. And our suffering does not negate the goodness of God. These are tensions that God’s people inhabit, like Taylor exhorts us.
I have to get more comfortable with this tension – God is good and people experience suffering. I listened to a long sermon series on Job and suffering years ago as I was wrestling with this tension. One of the takeaways for me that I still consider is that God does not save us from our suffering but that He saves us through our suffering. I wonder where would my faith be without suffering, discomfort, disruption, which in all its small and big ways, has pointed me to Someone greater that surpasses this world’s brokenness. We must keep our view of God high and live compassionately with our fellow human sufferers.
While the goodness of God does not mean that things will always be good and feel good for however long my earthly life is, it does speak to His character and posture towards us. God will not leave us or turn His back on us. That is goodness indeed. And that no matter what will befall us in this world, God will ultimately redeem us. McLaughlin says it well:
“From an atheist perspective, not only is there no hope of a better end to the story; there is no ultimate story. There is nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. From a Christian perspective, there is not only hope for a better end; there is intimacy now with the One whose resurrected hands still bear the scars of the nails that pinned him to his cross. Suffering is not an embarrassment to the Christian faith. It is the thread with which Christ’s name is stitched into our lives.”
An application of this for my personal research interest could be to think through ministry expectations tempering. Without adopting a doomsday perspective (and integrating Pinker’s challenge to me to remain positive and optimistic about our worldview of the Kingdom of God), perhaps a more robust theology (or doctrine, Digby?) of suffering would help preserve those in full-time ministry? I know of multiple people that went to work at churches with high ideals of how heavenly it would be, only to later resign jaded. Those tenured in ministry may find this too obvious to mention but how would we sober our inexperienced ministers without discouraging them?
Suffering is a foremost stumbling block for skeptics. And I cannot blame them. And it is not just Christians that need to answer the question of suffering, but the secularists and Buddhists do as well. In a podcast interview with McLaughlin, the host proposed three basic choices to explain pain and suffering: chaos, Karma or Christ. I am more grateful than ever for the choice Christ offers.
 C.S. Lewis, A Year with CS Lewis (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), chapter 9.
 Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), Loc. 4211-2, Kindle.
 Speak Life, “Rebecca McLaughlin Interviewed About Confronting Christianity,” interview by Glen Scrivener, May 6, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIYL7R7yaIg&t=14s.
5 responses to “Confronting the Goodness of God”
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Great blog post, especially that last section on chaos, Karma or Christ. Stay safe if you are teaching this weekend!
Love this and your heart. The end of this quote is powerful – “Suffering is not an embarrassment to the Christian faith. It is the thread with which Christ’s name is stitched into our lives.” If we can understand this maybe we can start impacting our worlds at a profound level. Praying for you as you prepare this weekend, in whatever capacity that looks like.
Well, our church is only offering online services this weekend. I think it is wise. Once NCAA, MLB, Disney, etc made these tough calls, it got clearer.
Crazy, unfortunate circumstances – grateful to have more time to marinate on this topic.
Praying for you all!
What a timely post Andrea. I think Jesus’ interaction with suffering has always been so compelling. I too found McLaughlin’s explanation of it beautifully written. I wonder if a study of Jesus’ life and ministry would be what would prove most sobering for new pastors? Perhaps we have gotten too caught up in ‘super pastor’ model and too far from the one who ‘bids us come and die’? I think I found early on that talking one on one to pastors led to them being much more real than a larger more public forum where there was more temptation to ‘sell it’. Perhaps that is why mentoring is so valuable. It lends itself to greater transparency. Bless you my friend!
Andrea, this is such an important topic to wrestle with. Particularly in the charismatic world, a theology of suffering runs contrary to faith/healing/victory, etc. Rarely do we find those who can embrace suffering as a gift but Peter writes his letters to clearly instruct the church calling Jesus our example. It is necessary to maturation as a follower of Jesus. We studied this under Dr. Brunner in our Master’s program and it was life changing for me.