- Understanding arguments that seek to reconcile a powerful, loving God with a suffering world.
- Understand key concepts about God’s character.
- Reflect on the responsibility to help others when someone has the ability to do so.
- Analyse a clip from Doctor Who, considering the reasons for the Doctor’s reluctance to help people in danger.
- Consider the similarities or differences between the Doctor’s attitude and a Christian understanding of God’s attitude towards the world.
- 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 comparison of God and the Doctor.
Ask the students to answer the following question honestly. If you were out walking and saw a small child flailing around in a river and calling for help, what would you do?
a) Run straight over, jump in and try to save the child.
b) Start shouting to attract someone else to rescue the child.
c) Look for a long stick or something similar that you could hold out for the child to grab on to.
d) Just walk away.
Invite students to explain their answers in a non judgemental fashion. There are many good reasons why some people would feel unable to choose option A (for example, they may know that they aren’t a strong swimmer).
Assuming that none of your students fits this description, ask them what they would think of someone who was capable of doing something to help the child but who instead chose to just walk away and leave the child to its fate. Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about the question of how to reconcile the idea of a loving, powerful God with a world where many people suffer.
Introduce the clip from the Doctor Who episode The Snowmen, which is available on Doctor Who Series 7 Part 2 (BBC DVD, 2013, certificate PG). Click here to buy the DVD online.
Ask the students to pay particular attention to the things said about the Doctor’s attitude to other people’s problems.
- Start time: 0.07.00 (in chapter 2 of the DVD)
- End time: 0.10.24
- Clip length: 3 minutes and 24 seconds
The clip starts with Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant) walking into an ally and being confronted by Jenny (Catrin Stewart). The first line is Jenny saying, ‘Well, Dr Simeon. You’re out very late tonight.’ It ends with the Doctor (Matt Smith) saying, ‘In over a thousand years of saving the Universe, Strax, do you know the one thing I’ve learned? The Universe doesn’t care’.
‘Alternate ending 0.09.01. Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) says, ‘So pray for a miracle, because I think we are going to need him.’
Ask the students whether they agree with the Doctor’s reluctance to help. Why should he put himself at risk to save others? What are the consequences of his inaction? Can the students suggest any reasons why he might be choosing not to help people anymore?
Remind the students of Madame Vastra’s words: ‘The Doctor doesn’t help people. Not anyone, not ever. He stands above this world and doesn’t interfere in the affairs of its inhabitants. He is not your salvation, nor your protector.’
How do the students think a Christian might respond to a similar description of God? To what extent does God stand above the world and not interfere?
The question of how to reconcile the concept of an all-powerful God with a world where suffering and injustice are widespread is a complex one. For many people, God’s apparent inaction is a powerful argument against belief in the Christian God. Others argue that far from being inactive, God is indeed at work in the world.
Introduce a second clip from the same episode. Explain that Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) is trying to find the Doctor because she has discovered something sinister in the iced-over pond at the house where she is working as a governess. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the personal qualities that Clara and Madame Vastra identify in the Doctor.
- Start time: 0.22.35 (in chapter 5 of the DVD)
- End time: 0.26.53
- Clip length: 4 minutes and 18 seconds
The clip starts with Clara calling out the Doctor’s name and jumping for an invisible ladder. The clip ends after Madame Vastra says, ‘Strax has already suggested where to start investigating.’
Ask the students why Clara thought the Doctor would help her. Draw out that she recognised his kindness. Point out that although Madame Vastra has previously stated that the Doctor never helps anyone anymore, she also helps Clara to persuade him back into his previous role as ‘a hero’ and ‘a saviour of worlds’.
While the episode of Doctor Who suggests that the Doctor has retired from being a hero due to his emotional wounds and needs to be coaxed back into service, Christians do not believe that God ever made a similar retreat.
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 judgment 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 much of the suffering in the world 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, 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. It would also be worth pointing out that God’s solution of sending Jesus to die on a cross was far from an easy option, costing God enormous pain and suffering in the person of Jesus.
SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:
Remind the students again of Madame Vastra’s statement:
‘The Doctor doesn’t help people. Not anyone, not ever. He stands above this world and doesn’t interfere in the affairs of its inhabitants. He is not your salvation, nor your protector’.
Ask the students to write a comparison between the Doctor (at this point in the episode) and God. They should include references to appropriate Bible passages that help to explain a Christian understanding of God’s continued involvement with his creation, and how his character and nature lead him to such activity.
YOU WILL NEED:
- A copy of the Doctor Who episode The Snowmen and the means to play it.
- God and Suffering worksheet.