- 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 how the experience of suffering can lead some people to react angrily and/or to reject the idea 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.
Supporting Values Education:
The value of individual liberty recognises the right of individuals to determine for themselves what they believe about God. This lesson encourages students to understand why some people’s response to a suffering world is to be angry with God or to reject the concept of him while others are able to reconcile the idea of a loving, powerful God with a world that contains great suffering.
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 Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (Marvel, 2017, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.
Explain to the students that Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), has discovered that his father was not, as he previously thought, a normal human being who had left his mother, but was in fact an intergalactic immortal being with god-like powers. After Peter’s mother died of a brain tumour when he was a child, Peter was abducted by space pirates, but has now been reunited, at last, with his father, Ego (Kurt Russell). Not only that, but as a result of coming to his father’s home planet, Peter now has the chance to share Ego’s immortality and power. In this scene Ego helps Peter to come to terms with his altered perspective on who he is. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the main factor that changes Peter’s mind about the entire relationship.
- Start time: 1.22.37 (in chapter 14 of the DVD)
- End time: 1.26.41
- Clip length: 4 minutes and 4 seconds
The clip starts with Ego saying, ‘I call it the expansion’. It ends with him saying, ‘…as a battery’.
Ask the students why Peter turned so dramatically against Ego. Draw out that when Peter discovered that Ego was directly responsible for his mother’s drawn-out, painful death from a brain tumour, he saw a different side to his father’s attitude to other people.
Ask if the students can see any parallels with the way that some people’s experience of life can cause them to react angrily to the idea of God. Do they think that the existence of suffering in the world – illness, disease, natural disasters – provides an argument against the Christian concept of a loving, powerful God? How do they think Christians reconcile their understanding of God with the undeniable reality of suffering in the world around them?
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, it could be argued that while Christians believe in a God who sacrificially loves everyone that he has created, Ego didn’t really demonstrate any genuine love for Peter’s mother (or, indeed, anyone else – his great plan was entirely centred around himself. He was only sharing it with Peter because he needed another Celestial (as he calls himself) to generate sufficient power for his ‘expansion’). Rather, he was willing to sacrifice her and anyone else who got in his way for the sake of his self-serving plans. You could also point out that much suffering in the world is caused by human action (wars, economic injustice, etc.) If the students believe that it would be wrong for God to take away human free will and leave people unable to make choices that result in suffering, is it still reasonable to blame God for the consequences of such actions?
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.
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: