I’m reading this book.
Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, by Francis Spufford.
(serious points go to both the name of the book AND the name of the author)
I picked up this book on a recommendation from Rob Bell.
If Rob read it, and loved it, I’m going to bank on sharing that love as well.
And sure enough it is proving to be my favorite read so far this year. So many incredible insights from Francis Spufford, a Brit who is writing to mostly a British audience on why he still thinks Christianity is legit.
In his chapter “Hello, Cruel World,” Francis muses on the reality of evil in the world. Not an altogether new topic, by any means. But I found his takes refreshing.
After dismantling all the common theodicies (theologies of why there’s evil in the world), Francis finally offers the following thought:
How, then, do we deal with suffering? How do we resolve the contradiction between cruel world and loving God? The short answer is that we don’t. We don’t even try to, mostly. Most Christian believers don’t spend their time and their emotional energy stuck at this point of contradiction. For most of us, worrying about it turns out to have been a phase in the early history of our belief. The question of suffering proves to be one of those questions which is replaced by other questions, rather than being answered. We moved on from it, without abolishing the mystery, or seeing clear conceptual ground under our feet. Cataclysmic experiences can pitch us back into it of course, but mostly they don’t. Even in bad times we usually don’t go back there. We take the cruelties of the world as a given, as the known and familiar data of experience, and instead of anguishing about why the world is as it is, we look for comfort in coping with it as it is. We don’t ask for a creator who can explain Himself. We ask for a friend in time of grief, a true judge in time of perplexity, a wider hope than we can manage in time of despair. If your child is dying, there is no reason that can ease your sorrow. Even if, impossibly, some true and sufficient explanation could be given you, it wouldn’t help any more than the inadequate and defective explanations help you, whether they are picture-book simple or inscrutably contorted. The only comfort that can do anything – and probably the most it can do, is help you to endure, or if you cannot endure, to fail an fold without wholly hating yourself – is the comfort of feeling yourself loved. Given the cruel world, it’s the love song we need, to help us bear what we must; and, if we can, to go on loving.
We don’t forget, mind. It doesn’t escape us that there seems to be something wrong with any picture in which God’s in His heaven and all’s well with the world. We still know that if He can help us and He doesn’t, He isn’t worth worshipping; and that if He doesn’t help us because He can’t, there must be something weirdly limited about the way He’s the God of everything. The impasse is still there. It’s just that we’re not in the jaws of it. We’re not being actively gripped and chewed by it. Our feelings have moved on elsewhere.
The impasse is still there. It’s just that we’re not in the jaws of it.
I have found that to be true, my friends.
I gave a sermon several years back called Hidden for Ages, and I similarly described how even if we could receive an answer, an explanation, to why certain bad things happen, then it ultimately won’t satisfy us. It won’t help. Not really. So God invites us to embrace mystery, and to lean in to the everlasting and ever-loving arms of God.
Sounds trite, perhaps.
But it’s real.
Well, for me anyways.