Some will even go so far as to try and turn this into a pseudo-philosophical proof against the existence of God. A loving and omnipotent god simply cannot exist over this world of pain. This god is either not really all-loving or not really all-powerful; otherwise god would put a stop to the suffering.
For Christians, this move is just bologna. We can talk about that if you want—that’s what the comment section is for—but that’s not the point I want to make here. Instead, here I want to show why this tension that so many feel between the Christianity’s claims about God and the realities of life is, it seems to me, such an odd tension. It makes for a poignant argument, but I think it deeply misunderstands the biblical account of God's redemptive work.
Michael Ruse, an atheist philosopher and author, makes the same point. After describing how, in the Darwinian view of the world, violence and death are such important and pervasive realities, he goes on to say:
As Dawkins shows powerfully, Darwinism stresses the natural evil in the world. It does not explain it, but it opens the way to the Christian response... if you are a Darwinian looking for religious meaning, then Christianity is a religion which speaks to you. Right at its centre there is a suffering god, Jesus on the Cross. This is not some contingent part of the faith, but the very core of everything. God is not some impersonal Unmoved Mover, who has little concern with the creation and who feels none of the joys and travails of the earthly creatures... Darwinism, a science which so stresses physical suffering, looks to Christianity, a religion which so stresses physical suffering and the divine urge to master it.
Ruse sees clearly what so many have (somehow) missed: God is not removed from--much less unconcerned with!--the horrors of our world. Nor has God sought to redeem them from a safe distance: instead, our Lord underwent suffering and loss and death itself so that Creation might ultimately be delivered from these powers.
I suspect that those Christians for whom the realities of pain and suffering and death are the end of faith—those Christians haven’t been told the whole story. They have heard a gospel about heaven and hell, a gospel concerned above all with the two big ‘S’s: sin and souls. When these people come face to face with something in this world that they know, deep down, is truly evil—something like Alzheimer’s—and their god of sin and souls has nothing to say to this evil, doesn’t even seem to care about it at all, everything comes crumbling down. They’ve been given a truncated gospel. It may have some truth to it, but it’s not whole; in the end, it’s just not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims that, in the end, God himself will come to dwell among us, he will wipe every tear away, and mourning and crying and pain will be no more (Rev 21:3-4)--that God will swallow up death forever (Isa 25:8)!
Or, if you prefer John Donne: "Death, thou shalt die."
That is the gospel. It is the story of a God who has been trying to speak a blessing over a people laboring under a curse since that fruit in the Garden. It is the story of a God who knows about the power of death firsthand, and who absolutely refuses to let this power reign over his creation. It's about a God who is trying to heal a world stained by death--the world we all know so well. It is precisely to this world of Alzheimer's and hunger and sudden infant death syndrome and napalm that the gospel speaks a word of life: "I am making all things new."
This "God" that so many grow tired of, the one who doesn't do anything in the face of the world's pain--I don't believe in him either. The God the Church proclaims, the God we know in Jesus, doesn't leave me with questions and doubts in the face of suffering. This God leaves me with hope that the world doesn't have to be this way and a calling to live towards this hope, to make my life a foretaste for others, right now, in this world, of the justice, peace, and goodness of God's coming kingdom.
The tension so many feel between a God of love and a world of suffering seems so strange to me because this is the God we're talking about.