Ep 155: If God is real, where is he?
Often the question of suffering pushes people to question the reality of God. Where is God when I need him the most? A conversation about the search for something bigger amidst pain and suffering.
Our guest: David Robertson works with Third Space, an initiative of City Bible Forum to help Australians ask the bigger questions. He was previously the minister of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, Scotland. He is the author of numerous books including The Dawkins Letters and Magnificent Obsession and he blogs at theweeflea. He regularly debates and engages atheists around the world.
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Bigger Questions asked in the conversation
David, you regularly engage people on Twitter and on blogs, you’ve been described as stupid, a fruitcake, a flea, a liar, a dishonest clown, a thug, an attention seeker, a pompous old fart - you regularly get insults online. So what’s the best insult you’ve ever received?
Given these types of responses, why do you persist in engaging online?
Is it pointless?
I thought I’d test you on how much you know about “famous searches”.
The challenge of finding God
So David, we search for lots of things, missing people, the Loch Ness monster, lost cities but what about the search for God - it is a search that seems to have captivated humans throughout history?
It’s a search that seems to have persisted?
But doesn’t this so called missing woman’s quest describe the search for God? We are looking for something that doesn’t really exist only to find that it’s within us?
So how do we know that the idea of God isn’t just a human construction?
Jose Oliver, a lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London says that the legend of El Dorado endures because we “want it to be true," he concludes hence "I don't think we've ever stopped seeking El Dorado." So is that the case for God, that he endures just because we want it to be true?
So how do we know we’re not looking for something that isn’t really there?
The absence of God is tested amidst in suffering
But the question of the reality of God is particularly acute when faced with suffering. It seems like a common scenario, when engaging online about evidence for God, the search for God - it doesn’t take long for someone, usually an atheist, to put a meme or a picture of a starving African child and ask a question - like 17,000 kids die from starvation every day - where is God?
Bible - Where is God when I suffer?
The question “where is God”, amidst suffering is a question raised by the Bible. An ancient song in the Psalms, Psalm 42, engages this very question. In verse 3 the psalmist writes,
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
So does this surprise you that this is in the Bible? That the Bible actually confronts the big question of the reality of God amidst suffering?
The Psalmist is also suffering difficulty because he has expressed his belief in his God. Hence his enemies taunt him and it says in verse 10,
My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
It almost seems like the Psalmist has anticipated Twitter? It must be a difficult situation for him? Almost embarrassing perhaps? That he’s professed faith in a good god who seems to have deserted him?
Similar ideas are found in the New Testament part of the Bible - when Jesus who was claimed to be ‘Immanuel- God with us’ - then died. When he was dying on the cross we hear him crying out, in Matthew 27:46 -
46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
But Jesus cries out as though he’s been forsaken. It seems that even God himself has deserted Jesus? Is that what he’s feeling?
At this moment - Jesus was also taunted, and mocked - and he also died and felt the complete absence of God. So if God was real, where was he?
Bible - Hope amidst suffering
Yet amidst the Psalmists pain, and taunts, he says something which perhaps seems contradictory, in Psalm 42 verse 5, he says:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
He says the same thing in verse 11, So what is the psalmist getting at here? Why should be put his hope in God?
But how can you put your hope in something which you can’t see and who seems to have abandoned him?
How has hoping in God amidst suffering helped you?
I saw someone on Twitter share something very similar to the situation of the Psalmist in Psalm 42 . They said:
I'm in so much pain, hurting and depressed, ...i can't even sleep
My life is a very sad mess Where is God when i need him the most?
What would you tweet back?
The Big Question
So David, if God is real, where is he?
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David Robertson is an experienced presenter and debater on the place of the Christian faith in the public sphere, a prolific blogger at The Wee Flea and he was the minister at St Peter's Free Church in Dundee, Scotland for 27 years. David joined City Bible Forum in 2019 to lead a new initiative called Third Space.