by Ross Carper
Note from the Famine team:
Yesterday, Famine leader Ross Carper wrote about the importance of being ready for Big Questions (BQ) that come up when working with teenagers—complex questions that don’t have easy answers. Ross suggested that BQs often come up during an experience like the 30 Hour Famine, since teenagers are in a place where they’re thinking more deeply about tough issues. Yesterday’s blog post suggested the first two of six responses to BQs. Here are Ross’s remaining four suggested responses:
- Don’t treat the BQ as a solely intellectual question. Given that my own dealings with this topic began in an academic setting, this has definitely been my biggest mistake. I’m working on it, though. It’s often better to just “mourn with those who mourn” and deeply recognize the darkness in our world than to launch into a sterile, rehearsed explanation of why it’s there. In fact, many students are dealing with this question because of a personal pain they are experiencing, not just because of the general existence of evil.
- Don’t claim there is only one catch-all answer to the BQ. The technical term is theodicy. Giving a theodicy is what we do when we provide God’s reason for allowing evil. One of the most popular is the Free Will theodicy: in a nutshell, bad stuff happens because God has good reasons to give us free will, and we’re seeing the bad results of that free will. There is powerful conversation to be had in this area—conversation that invokes the broad scriptural narrative and where we currently stand in it (you know: creation, the fall, the resulting brokenness, the ongoing redemption of all things through Christ, and the fact that we’re not yet at the end of the story, when all tears will be wiped away). This is good stuff to explore in conversation, for sure; mentioning free will and perhaps some other theodicies can be an appropriate part of the conversation. But there needn’t be only one answer to the BQ: remember that God is big enough to have a variety of reasons, many of which we may not understand, ever. So it’s not our job to make every tragedy in our world fit within our favorite theodicy. Some theodicies are kind of messed up, too, and they get mixed in with weird bumper-sticker theology, like I mentioned above… nope, it’s not okay to respond to the BQ with “Well, we wouldn’t be able to recognize the good without also experiencing the bad.” Here’s a much better (and actually far more biblical) answer: “I honestly don’t know why God allows that to happen.”
- Don’t just grab a Bible verse willy-nilly. Look into the context and narrative. Of course, there are some great passages from scripture that deal with the BQ. Two of my favorites are John 9 (when Jesus blows a popular theodicy of the day—evil as sin punishment—out of the water), and the book of Job—the oldest book in the Bible, which shows through the narrative that there are some of God’s reasons for allowing evil that we should never expect to understand. But if we’re not careful, sometimes students will think we’re trying to use the Bible as a band-aid. If their doubt has some depth to it, it’s not as easy as telling them to memorize something from Philippians 4 and get on with their lives. The last thing we want to do is have students lump scripture in with those all-too-cheesy slogans. So let’s make sure we don’t use it that way.
- Don’t succumb to hopelessness. Be a part of the answer. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of suffering in our world, especially as we are trying to square that reality up with the beauty we also experience—and the God we’re trying to follow. And as we deepen the conversation by admitting that we don’t have all the answers, apathy can sometimes set in, and we can begin to shrug off our responsibility to fight these tragedies. Find ways to turn the conversation toward how we are invited to be a part of the answer to the problem of evil. With both prayer and action, we get to live our lives as a protest against death in all its forms. We get to join God in his redemptive work. If our questions are concerned with whether God is doing enough to protect the innocent, we need to be sure we’re actively engaged on their behalf as well.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to walk alongside students who are dealing with the BQ, especially when we’re able to respond with love together, rather than just ponder big ideas. We may not know all possible answers to the BQ, but we do know the answer to hunger. Spoiler alert: it’s food. As participants in the 30 Hour Famine, God’s love compels us to respond in a big way, empowering whole communities to become more food secure. This is our bright hope in the midst of questions and doubts.