God, being all-powerful, could easily end the whole world’s suffering if he wanted to. Perhaps with the flick of a switch, the blink of an eye, or a simple word.
Terrible philosophy, right? Way over-simplified. It’s the kind of thing people only say when arguing against the existence of God at all, or making out that if he exists, he must be evil.
It’s an argument I used to have, but never felt much personal connection with. In Stalin’s words, ‘One death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic.’ It’s an argument about the statistics, about the way the whole world is set up, our expectations about the collective experience of humanity. The world is like it is, it’s not changing, so our expectations of God and life have to fit in with that.
But down here at a much more personal level, the Christian expectation changes. When it comes to a particular sort of personal suffering, we do believe that God could fix it, just like that. And we’re taught to expect that he will.
It’s the sort of suffering that is both self-inflicted and yet apparently indiscriminate in its victims. It’s the kind that trips us and traps us, binds us and blinds us, incapacitating even the most capable and motivated of go-getters.
We’re meant to believe he can just step right in there and zap it away.
When it comes to addictive behaviours, spiralling thought-patterns, chaotic lifestyles, self-sabotaging choices and destructive relationships, all it would take is a word from God.
I’m hooked on the idea.
I’ve had this song on repeat recently (see: compulsive behaviour; addictive personality):
Say the word, and I will be free. Say the word, I’ll be made whole. At your word, mountains are moved; seas that are raging will calm when you say the word.
Another that I used to listen to day in, day out had a similar sentiment:
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea would call out through the rain and calm the storm in me?
Of my many emotionally charged Soul Survivor experiences, the one that had the biggest impact on me was a talk and prayer time on addictions. The great promises of the Bible on freedom were spoken out with power and authority:
‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’
‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’
‘It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.’
To someone intimately acquainted with storms, recklessness, compulsion and addiction, the idea is as intoxicating as any drug. It’s the offer of relinquishing your losing battle for control, to find yourself held by one much stronger.
However out of my depth I am, he can step in. However little authority I have over my own emotions, he can say the word. Perhaps he can take responsibility where I don’t want any. Perhaps the buck can stop with him instead.
(Why he doesn’t is as painful to ask as it is impossible to answer.)
In Matthew 8, a centurion comes to Jesus asking him to heal his dying servant. He doesn’t need Jesus to come to his home, to physically touch the man. “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,” says this man of true faith, “but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.”
For the centurion, Jesus says the word. At apparently no cost to himself, no difficulty caused for others, the mighty authority of Jesus over nature and personal suffering is put into action with a simple, understated word: ‘let it be done for you’.
For the rest of us, the promise might have to be enough. There’s no choice; it’s too enticing to give up on. While others get on with justifying and arguing about the massive-scale, structurally-caused suffering in the world, and excusing God from doing anything about it, a few of us stay fixated by this small, personal hope of redemption.
Perhaps this prayer, this moment, this new wave of faith, will see it happen. Perhaps this time he’ll say the word, and I’ll be made whole. Mountains will move. Seas that are raging will calm… if he’d just say the word.