Comparative Views on Pain and Suffering

What we have in Christianity is a God who is separate from His creation, but He isn’t detached. He is intimately engaged even with our suffering.


I studied World Religions in college at a time when I was searching. Buddhism was attractive to me at the time. (I have written on this before in Lured by Buddha but Taken By Christ and Reflecting Back On the Path I Have Traveled, among other places.) Perhaps, the reason that I think about the comparison of Christianity to Buddhism (in particular) is that I was attracted to Buddhism once, so I am interested to read or listen to what others have to say about it.

Though I eventually gave my life to Jesus Christ and vowed to follow Him, that decision was made in the environment of a secular college. My new found faith was challenged from the start. I engaged in a constant measuring of that belief against competing views early on, and that habit of measuring Christian belief against competing worldviews continues to this day.

Though we are all susceptible to confirmation bias, I strive to put my faith to the test. While I have held tightly to “mere Christianity”, I have held loosely to denominational doctrines, peripheral views and political positions, among other things. I have “evolved” in my thinking on evolution and science, and I have spent the better part of 4+ years deconstructing my political views at age 60 (now), to identify just a couple of area sin which my views have changed.

I also have spent much time wandering in my own wilderness. I have not always been a faithful follower.  Though I have had many reasons to turn aside and have nearly been undone by my own proclivity toward sin, I have not found any worldview or way more compellingly true then what I have found in following Christ.

Since I became a believer in Jesus, I have always been keenly aware of the intersection of belief and unbelief, probably because of the environment in which I became a Christian. I was confronted from the beginning by alternative and opposing views, and testing Scriptural text against alternative and opposing views has become a force of habit.

As I do, I am reminded of certain signposts along my journey, benchmarks of enlightenment – the light bulb moments in my journey – that have marked my way. I am reminded of them again when they pop up in front of me from time to time.

I came across one reminder of an old signpost this week. It was in a letter to Justin Brierley, host of the Unbelievable? Podcast, that he read on the air. The writer of the letter commented on a discussion about Christianity in India and the native religion of India, Hinduism. Brierley read the letter, prefacing it with the questions: “Which worldview offers the most satisfactory explanation [for pain and suffering], and which worldview offers the most opportunity for healing?”

Below, I will recite from the letter verbatim and make a few comments on the the dramatically different ways in which Christianity and Buddhism  (and Hinduism) approach suffering: Continue reading “Comparative Views on Pain and Suffering”

God’s Caring and Purpose in the Midst of Pain and Suffering

God is not cold or uncaring or unaware of our pain and suffering. Yet, He has a plan, and He intends to carry it out.


“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:18 NIV)

John is talking about Jesus, of course. The progression in the beginning of John’s Gospel goes like this: In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God; the Word was God; all things were made through the Word; in Him was life; and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1-4, 9, 14) Then, John makes the statement I have recited above. No one has ever seen God but the one and only Son, who is God.

The Greek word that is translated “one and only Son” in the New International Version of the Bible is monogenés, derived from the world monos, meaning one of a class (one of a kind) and genos, meaning only of its kind. A more literal translation of the word would be “only begotten”.

The beginning of the Nicene Creed[1] captures the idea as follows:

We believe in one God,
      the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.
      For us and for our salvation
           he came down from heaven….

These thoughts arise today in the context of a discussion between the great Anglican scholar, Tom (N.T.) Wright[2], and Justin Brierley[3], the Unbelievable? Podcast and Ask NT Wright Anything host out of the UK. They were talking about the corona virus threat that is plaguing the world.

Among other things, Tom Wright (who is an historian) observed that a pandemic like the corona virus is not unique in the history of the world. The Justinian plague is believed to have killed as many as 25 million people (6th century), the Black Death killed probably double that in the 14th century. The Italian Plague (1629-31), Great Plague of London (1665-66) and Great Plague of Marseilles (1720-22) took millions of lives in Europe, and the Third Plague Pandemic killed about 15 million people, hitting China and India the hardest.[4]

After a discussion of how Christians should respond to the threat (in the same manner as they always have – with compassion and self-sacrifice, helping those in need), Justin prompted Tom by asking him for a five minute response to the hard question: why does God let things like plagues happen?

Tom Wright’s response recalls articles I wrote on March 22, 2020 (Change of Perspective: From the God of Moses to Jesus) and on March 28, 2020 (Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality). In the first article, I addressed the seeming incongruity between the picture of God we see in the Old Testament compared to the person of Jesus we meet in the New Testament. In the second article, I sought some perspective on the bad things that are happening in light of God’s revealed purpose in creating us and the world in which we live.

Tom Wright’s brief response (focusing on the raising of Lazarus from the dead) sits right in the middle. Right where we live. Let me explain.

Continue reading “God’s Caring and Purpose in the Midst of Pain and Suffering”

Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality

The lack of control that we feel is real, but there is purpose behind the chaos.


From the moment the Chinese government woke up to the significance of the corona virus threat, they kicked their efforts into high gear. I have a friend who described to me what it was like for his parents, who live in China. We have all heard reports of the virtual lock down of the country by the government.

That’s what totalitarian governments do. They exert the collective power of man by the force of governmental control en masse. Totalitarian governments rest on a foundation of top down, human power. The philosophies that gird them are largely humanistic, not reliant on divine power, but on the iron fist of self-governance.

Not that democracies, republics and other forms of government don’t rely equally on variations of collective human power, control and ingenuity. They all do. And we do the same on a personal level. In the face of the present corona virus threat, we have all taken personal measures to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbors. As well we should.

Ultimately, though, the corona virus reminds us of things we can’t control, though we try.  Underneath the collective and individual determination to take control of this virus Thing that threatens us, and all the things that threaten us, runs an undercurrent of uncertainty and uneasiness, sometimes even dread. It ebbs and flows from conscious to unconscious. Some of us are more aware of it than others.

Its roots are found in the same place: try as we might, we know that we don’t ultimately control the outcomes. We don’t ultimately control our own fate.

Beginning with our own birth and the circumstances, time and geography in the world into which we were born, we are not in control. We didn’t choose any of it. If we strip away the façade, we don’t control our own lives.

We don’t control our nature or nurture. We don’t control the generations of DNA we carry in our genes, and we don’t control the way our parents raised us, the classrooms in which we were educated, the circle of friends that influenced us and the myriad influences that shaped us.

Things happen in our lives that we don’t control. We could be sailing along at a good clip when a rogue wave comes “out of nowhere” and knocks us overboard. The car we didn’t see coming, the cancer growing inside us, the closing of the place we always worked, an unseen virus that shuts down the state and national economy, putting hundreds of thousands out of work for who knows how long.

When we really think about it, there are so many things that we don’t control in our everyday lives that it can be quite overwhelming to spend much time thinking about it. It’s no wonder the undercurrent of alternating uncertainty, uneasiness and dread ebbs and flows in our conscious and unconscious minds. It causes many of us to panic and worry.

What’s the solution?

Continue reading “Perspective in the Reminder of Our Own Mortality”

Lessons from the Edge of the Wilderness

The bodies we live in now are tents constructed for a temporary sojourn through the wilderness of this present life.

View of Promised Land from Mount Nebo in Jordan

I am reading through the Bible chronologically. By the way, the “books” of the Bible are only roughly chronological. Following the chronology closely requires jumping around a bit. I didn’t realize to what extent that is true before taking this journey that I am on.

Presently, I am right at the point where Moses stands on top of a mountain (east of Jericho, on the edge of the plains of Moab) to survey the land that God promised hundreds of years earlier to Abraham and his descendants. Moses dies right before they go in.

Before he dies, though, he reminds the people of all that has transpired. He reminds them how God delivered them out of their slavery in Egypt and went with them every step along the way. The reminder of God’s presence was with them by fire at night and cloud during the day.

God revealed Himself in dramatic ways to these people and instructed them through Moses down to very particular details for establishing a relationship with God through the Tent of Meeting, Ark of the Covenant and the offerings they were to make through the intermediaries of the Levite priests, among other things. They had 40 years of wandering in the wilderness with God’s presence continually among them in visual demonstration and ritual reminders.

Reading through this history of God’s interaction with the people He chose to lead eventually into a land He promised many, many generations before through a modern, intellectual lens can be unnerving. The skepticism of the age echoes in my mind and unsettles my heart.

Of particular note are the times we read that people are stricken dead for ignoring or refusing to follow the instruction. For instance, the Sons of Korah, the sons of Moses’ cousin Korah led a revolt against Moses. They and all the people who followed them died when God caused “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah”. (Numbers 16:1-33)

Incidences like this prompt a person of modern sensibilities to wonder, “Why would a good God do such a thing?!” It seems Draconian.

The stakes were high for these people, and even less intentional “slips” were sometimes met with the same fate. It’s hard to imagine living in those circumstances, especially in light of the grace that seems to color everything that Jesus said and did.

Continue reading “Lessons from the Edge of the Wilderness”