Some suffering may be redemptive, but some is just plain senseless

“Why do you think God allowed you to get Parkinsons?”

This question or some derivative of it is commonly put to me, or if not put to me directly, at least thought about. Behind it lies the assumption that there must be some divine purpose to everything that happens, including the bad. People want to make meaning out of suffering, and thinking that it is part of a grand plan of God helps them find that meaning.

To me the question doesn’t make much sense. Certainly there is purpose to some suffering: the death of Christ; the pains of childbirth; the soldier going to war. But it strikes me that most suffering is not like this. Where is the higher purpose to the child starving to death; a body wracked by disease; or a person being the victim of a brutal and violent attack? Suffering in the first and last of these instances reflects the utter banality of evil, while the middle case surely reflects the chaotic nature of what from a Christian perspective is a broken world.

To ascribe a higher purpose to these forms of suffering is to turn God into a practitioner of a perverse kind of consequentialist ethic where the end justifies the most abominable means. And I can’t help but feel that it somehow diminishes the chaotic, disordered, and at times malevolent nature of evil. That’s the “genius” of evil. It has no purpose. It simply destroys.

As I read the story of Jesus, the great comfort is not that there is a higher purpose to everything that happens in my life, but that God, rich with love for all he has made, is acting purposefully to bring to an end all that diminishes the flourishing of creation. Consequently, while I see no grand purpose to my Parkinson’s, I do see a grand purpose to my life and to what God is doing in the world. I draw comfort not from the idea that there is a reason that I suffer, but from the hope that a new world is coming in which suffering will be no more.

Prophecies were made to be broken. Why restoration might be the last word.

The most horrific of all Christian doctrines is the doctrine of the eternal judgement, the declaration that vast numbers of humankind will experience eternal punishment at the hands of their Creator. In its most extreme form it imagines a house of horrors in which people experience excruciating torments that never end and for which there…Continue Reading

Aussie Jihadists, the KKK, and Bikie’s

“How can I know I’ll be safe when I’m walking down the street?” asked a young woman on last night’s Q and A program.  She was referring to radicalised Islamic young men who had had their passports cancelled in order to prevent them going to fight with ISIS.   Her question reflects the  anxiety in our…Continue Reading

Australia. How we bludge off the rest of the world

I opened the Australian newspaper today to read a vigorous defence of the government’s  policy of turning back  boats filled with asylum seekers.  Australia has not only succeeded in stemming the flow of people coming by boat to Australia, we have apparently also reduced the flow of refugees into Indonesia, and saved people from drowning…Continue Reading

Sometimes we don’t get to decide who comes to this country

This week Scott Morrison invoked John Howard’s famous dictum “We will decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come.” We should decide whether to turn back boats filled with asylum seekers and we should decide who gets a visa granting them the right to enter and live in Australia. The…Continue Reading

The death of the wisdom of our youth

When I was growing up there were two pieces of wisdom frequently imparted to me: “the ends don’t justify the means” and “think about how you would feel if that were done to you”. These two pieces of ethical guidance were designed to help me act with clarity and correctness in difficult situations. The first piece…Continue Reading

That Strange Moment When A Stranger Offers Me Her Seat

It had to happen sometime. That moment when my physical impairment became sufficiently noticeable that complete strangers feel the need to offer me assistance. Last Sunday as my flight from Perth approached Sydney, a fifty-something woman across the aisle watched me struggle to put on the shoes I had earlier slipped off. When we landed…Continue Reading

A time to stand shoulder to shoulder with Australian Muslims

The great environmentalist David Suzuki has spoken of the shame he experienced when as a Canadian of Japanese descent, he and his family were incarcerated in their homeland during WWII. Being of Japanese heritage they were viewed with suspicion, so untrustworthy they had to be locked up. This experience was so damaging that Suzuki spent…Continue Reading

I have been blessed with Parkinsons.

In recent months my physical condition has deteriorated. The tremor in my right side is becoming more pronounced; I have found all kinds of things for which you need fine motor skills, like folding down the collar on your shirt, and bending down to put on your shoes and socks; I occasionally lose my balance;…Continue Reading