- Understand some of the reasons for believing (or not believing) in the existence of God.
- Knowledge of the ways in which, according to believers, God can be known.
- Understanding arguments that seek to reconcile a powerful, loving God with a suffering world.
- Reflect (positively and negatively) upon the state of the world today.
- Analyse two fictional characters whose assessment of the same evidence led to contradictory beliefs about the existence of God.
- Analyse Bible passages that help explain how Christians reconcile a loving, powerful God with a suffering world.
- Understand the responsibility of Christians to show God’s love to those around them.
- Synthesise learning by writing a letter to God, explaining whether or not the student believes in his existence.
Put the students into small groups, and give each group a few minutes to brainstorm answers to one of the following questions (assign each question to half of the groups):
- What is wrong with the world?
- What is right with the world?
After a short time, call the class back together and take feedback, recording answers on the board in two columns for purposes of comparison. If the lists seem too one-sided in either direction, encourage students to think of some additional answers. Ask the students whether, in view of the lists, they think that the world is more or less a good place or a bad place. Who do they think is responsible for this state of affairs?
Explain that many people, whether they regard the world as a good or a bad place, think that the state of the world is a powerful argument for or against the existence of God. In today’s lesson you are going to be exploring that idea further.
Introduce the clip from the film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Walt Disney, 2011, certificate 12). Click here to buy the film online.
Explain to the students that the clip takes place on the ship of the feared pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), and includes an encounter between Blackbeard and a Christian missionary called Philip, (Sam Claflin) whom he has taken prisoner. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the respective attitudes that the two men take towards the question of suffering in the world, and what it reveals about God.
- Start time: 0.40.22 (beginning of chapter 9 of the DVD)
- End time: 0.46.21
- Clip length: 5 minutes and 59 seconds
The clip starts with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) triumphantly exclaiming, ‘The ship is ours!’ It ends after Blackbeard bellows, ‘Again!’ and blasts the mutineer to death.
Ask the students to sum up Blackbeard’s view of God. Remind them of the following speech that he makes towards the end of the clip:
‘You know when I feel closest to our maker? When I see suffering, pain and anguish; that’s when the design of this world is revealed.’
Contrast that with Philip’s view, exemplified in his response to Blackbeard’s statement:
‘And I see it revealed when in times of hardship and tragedy, kindness and compassion are shown to those in need.’
Ask the students how the two different statements reveal two different perceptions of God. Draw out that whereas Blackbeard seems to conclude that any God who can permit such suffering in the world must be a god who revels in suffering, Philip seems to see the suffering in the world as being an opportunity for those who would do God’s work to demonstrate God’s compassion in response to that suffering.
Explain that a number of different things that Christians believe have to be considered in order to understand how to reconcile the idea of a powerful, loving God and a world where many people experience suffering and injustice. A summary of these appears on the God and Suffering worksheet, which you should give out to the students now. Ask the students (working individually, in pairs or in small groups) to go through the Bible passages listed on the sheet, matching each one up to one or more of the statements of belief. The statements are listed below for your reference, along with our thoughts as to which passages apply to each statement of belief.
• …that God created the world, and that what he made was good. (Genesis 1:31)
• …that God made human beings with free will, and that they chose to reject God. (Romans 3:10-18, Romans 3:21-26)
• …this spoiled the perfect world that God had made. (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:20-22)
• …that God is a just God, who will one day put right everything that is wrong with the world. (Psalm 9:7-10)
• …that God is also a loving and merciful God, who has made it possible for people to be put right with him. (John 3:16-17; Romans 3:21-26)
• …that once God brings justice to the world, it will mean the final judgement of everybody’s life. Anyone who hasn’t been put right with God by then will face eternal punishment. (Revelation 20:11 – 21:5)
Take feedback from the students, discussing their answers with the class as you go, to make sure that they have understood what Christians believe and how it is relevant to the subject under discussion. You could point out that in the example from the film, all of the suffering is the result of human action. If students believe that it would be wrong for God to take away human free will and leave people unable to make their own choices, is it still reasonable to blame him when things like these happen?
Christians believe that God will put right all the wrongs in the world, but that he will only do this at the end of time, when everyone will stand before him to face judgement. In the meantime, God does not leave the world without any solution to injustice and suffering before his final righting of wrongs. Rather – as Philip suggests – he expects his followers to work on his behalf, showing his love to the people around them. Romans 12:9-21 is a good example of the Bible commanding Christians to live their lives in this way.
SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:
Ask the students to write a letter to God, talking about the state of the world today, and drawing on that and other evidence, including Bible passages, to assert their own beliefs about his existence and character. Make it clear to students that they are completely free to draw whatever conclusions about God’s existence and character they choose, but that their letters should demonstrate an understanding of Christian arguments supporting God’s existence.
YOU WILL NEED: