“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.

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