My friend just said to me, “After all the fires, floods, and now this virus I can’t believe that God exists, and if he does he must be really cruel & I wouldn’t want anything to do with him” – I didn’t know what to say – HELP!
From a helpless Christian
Dear helpless Christian,
Firstly, it’s really important to be sensitive to why your friend is responding in this way. It could be that the stressfulness of this time is taking its toll on them emotionally, or that they’ve had a bad experience with a ‘religious’ person being harsh and judgemental. It’s OK to identify with them in their response, by being open about the times you may have struggled with the same issue or had doubts and fears - even as a Christian! And by apologising if any Christians - including you - have not been as helpful or caring in discussing this issue as they should have.
In the end, alongside a good Gospel shaped response, it will be your love and commitment to them as a friend at this time that will ‘adorn’ the Gospel, and help them see that the truth of God’s love in Jesus does actually make a lasting, hope-filled difference in people’s lives.
One way to respond to your friend’s statement would be by gently, and respectfully challenging the worldview that they have assumed: Is it actually a logical, foregone conclusion that because suffering exists, God cannot exist, or if He does, He must be cruel?
For example, a fascinating fact is that parts of the world in which religious beliefs are the highest, are also generally places where the incidence of suffering and poverty is greatest - and these people make up the majority of the world’s human population. Belief in God is really only in decline in the affluent West where relatively speaking, for the privileged minority life is pretty easy. And citing the existence of suffering as a reason to not believe in God is actually a very western (and fairly recent) idea. If the majority of people in the world for whom life is much tougher than ours still believe there is a God, then maybe the existence of suffering doesn’t necessarily rule out the existence of God.
Or, you could point out that for two millennia, millions of Christians have faced unimaginably worse suffering than we have in the last few months in Australia, but have still maintained their faith that God is both good and loving. This must tell us something - believing that God is love isn’t incompatible with experiencing the existence of suffering. Large portions of the Bible wrestle with the problem of suffering, which makes it a very relevant book for us today; and if the Bible also states conclusively that God is love, then maybe we should rethink our ideas that suffering and a loving God are mutually exclusive.
The Bible’s wrestling with suffering and God’s love comes to a climax in Jesus - where we see God Himself, in human flesh, actually suffering alongside us, as one of us. This is how we know God loves us - because in Jesus He is close to us, alongside us and with us in suffering.
If your friend is willing to hear you out, you could explain to them the Bible’s picture of the story of the world, and how that actually makes sense of the existence of suffering:
Creation was originally made good, without suffering or death (Genesis 1-2);
But because of humanity’s rebellion against God’s good design, God deliberately ‘cursed’ the world (removed his blessing) and subjected creation to decay (Genesis 3, Romans 8:18-23).
Suffering, decay and death are part of God’s plan for the world now, so that human beings would see and realise that the world is not the way it should be; to long for something better; and to realise that we are morally responsible for what has happened and so we need to be reconciled to God.
This should point us to see what God has done about it - by sending Jesus into the world, to experience the pain and suffering we do - and even worse when he went to the cross to die for us to take upon himself the moral penalty for our rebellion.
Jesus’ resurrection shows that God’s plan for the world is not yet finished - the time will come when suffering will come to and end, and anyone who has trusted the risen Jesus will be part of the new creation. (Revelation 21).
You can be assured that while your friend may express their desire to not have anything to do with God, God certainly wants to have something to do with them - and He has demonstrated that by giving you to them as a friend! So keep praying for them, keep loving them, and keep seeking opportunities to speak gently and respectfully to them about Jesus!
Grace & Peace