Some people requested a copy of the ‘Great debate’ that was presented at Explosion 2015. The text can be downloaded here or read below

What you are about to witness is a debate looking at, arguably, the biggest question known to Mankind. Is God responsible…is God responsible for the pain, for the suffering, for the chaos in the universe.

However this is not a debate in the true sense of the word. What you are about to hear has been scripted. Both teams already know the arguments that will be presented and they will not be seeking to defeat each other with secret arguments or seeking to catch each other off guard. These speakers will rather be presenting the best arguments that have ever been put forward. The prosecution, those arguing that God is responsible, will present the best arguments from atheists, agnostics and those who generally are not happy with God. The speakers for the defence will present the best arguments based on the writings of the saints, theologians and great Christian writers of our time.

At key moments in the debate you will gather in your small groups to deliberate on what has been presented so far. At the end, you will once again have a chance to discuss your verdict to decide on which side has presented to most convincing argument. However, there will be no final judgement about the winner of this debate. You will vote personally at the end of the debate, not by raising your hand or by applauding, but rather, you will vote with your life.

You see that there are no spectators in this debate. The questions that we are addressing touch the life of every person in this room. Your answer to these questions will determine whether you choose to believe in God and whether you manage to find any meaning in life. There are no spectators and this is not being presented for the sake of your entertainment. So we ask that you listen very closely as we begin, what could be, the most important debate that you ever listen to.

Speaker one for the Prosecution

It all begins with mosquitoes. The deadliest creature on this planet is not snakes, not sharks, not bees, not wolves…it is the humble little mosquito. The greatest threat to the life of a human is this big [show size with fingers]. Of course, the creature that is the second most deadly for human beings is…other human beings, but we will talk about that a little later.

Now some would say that this little fact is unfortunate, some would say that it is of no importance, some would say that it is only a problem for those who live in the tropics. However, I want to suggest that this concerns everyone…particularly those who claim to believe in God.

The simple reason is this. If God is the creator of the universe, if God is the one who made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all they contain, then he also made mosquitoes. Now if this was the only blemish on the face of God’s creation then we could possibly excuse God for making a mistake. After producing billions of life forms, to get one thing wrong is probably understandable. However, when we look at the list of all creatures, we find that no less that 10% of creatures are parasites. 10% of all animals, and plants mind you, exist by destroying other creatures. As the author Annie Dillard wrote,

“ten percent of all the world’s species are parasitic insects. It is hard to believe. What if you were an inventor, and you made ten percent of your inventions in such a way that they could only work by harassing, disfiguring, or totally destroying the other ninety percent? These things are not well enough known.”

Now for the sake of this debate, we are assuming that there is a God. It would be a little bit difficult to argue that God is responsible if God does not exist. Yet what we find is that creation itself has often been the source of unbelief for many of the great thinkers. Charles Darwin was a Christian, yet his study of creation caused him to question not only the nature of God but also the very existence of god.

The people that wrote happy church hymns proclaiming that God made all things bright and beautiful clearly didn’t get out into the country very often. If they did, and if they looked closely enough, they would have found a world of chaos.

A world where parasitic wasps are able to enslave caterpillars so that the caterpillars become their bodyguards, working tirelessly to protect the young wasp larvae from attack. What sort of God would make such a creature, and what does this reveal about the creator.

If they had travelled abroad, they would have seen the effect of the African eye worm, a parasitic worm that lives in the eye of a child and in the process, makes the child go blind. In fact it can only complete its life cycle by living in the eye of a human child, and can not exist in the eye of any other animal. What sort of God would make such a creature, and what does this reveal about the creator.

And so far we have only looked at animals. What about the parasitic plants, which attract insects with sweet nectar, or an attractive scent, then drown the insect in a liquid that slowly dissolves it and absorbs it into the plant. What sort of God would make such a creature, and what does this reveal about the creator.

There are roughly 10 million Plants and animals on this plant so we could spend all day speaking about the things that God made that are not so bright and beautiful.

However, we need to talk a bit about creation itself. Now ever since Charles Darwin became a bit disturbed by what he found when we travelled the world studying animals, scientists have become equally disturbed by the physical world. The more we study the earth and the universe, the more chaotic it seems. And in all of this, we are faced with the disturbing question of what sort of God would make this?

Modern science suggests that the earth is 4.6 billion years old. We need to try to comprehend how long this is. 4.6 billion second is nearly 140 years. So 4.6 billion years is a really long time. As I speak, my assistant is unravelling a role of toilet paper which will give us an idea of where we stand in the space of history. If we assume that each individual sheet is 9.2 million years, we begin to see visually how the creation process unfolded. It took about a billion years just for the earth to become solid. Somewhere around that first billion years the earth gets hit by another planet (or something really big) which tips the earth off its axis slightly to 23 degrees, and causes a huge chunk of earth of break off and start floating around in the earth’s orbit, This big chunk of rock is now affectionately known as the moon.

The earliest life forms begin about 3.7 billion years ago, but it then takes another 1.7 billion years before we start to get oxygen in our atmosphere. Now we would assume that once life gets going, then the party begins and things start to speed up a bit. But life continues to remain as microscopic, multi-celled organisms until about 580 million years ago. After a few more million years we start to get the first large plants, then we get the first animals. It is not until we get to about 50,000 years ago that things have developed enough for the first humans. Human beings live a very primitive life for about 40,000 years until the first civilisations begin around 4000 BC. Now if we were to try to understand our history, our little part of the history of the earth, we would be no bigger than this [pluck off a tiny speck from the edge of the paper and hold it up]. This is us. Your life, your society, all of the modern achievements of humanity… we are nothing more than a speck.

The question that faces us is this…is this how God works? Is God prepared to spend 4.6 billion years doing nothing, going through endless generations and evolutions and then expect us to believe that we have some sort of value and worth? Is it any wonder that the philosophers of our age have looked at the world and declared that it is meaningless?

Once again, if our world was peaceful and ordered, it would be easy to see the image of the creator, but we live on a planet that is torn apart by earthquakes, set aflame by volcanoes, ravaged by storms, baked by drought and engulfed by floods. This may have been acceptable behaviour for those billions of years when all we had was rocks, but now humanity suffers as a result of the chaos of creation. Every years between 100,000-500,000 people die as a result of natural disasters. And most often it is the poor, the elderly or the children who are the victims.

And we haven’t even begun to question the universe? Stars exploding into supernovas, black holes sucking everything into oblivion, meteorites and asteroids raining destruction upon the surface of planets. Creation through chaos. What sort of God would make such a universe, and what does this reveal about the creator.

“If God exists, if God is all good, and if God is the governor and order of the universe, why is the universe such a mess? Why is there so much evil in the world?

Speaker one for the Defence

[Begin by looking unsure how to start, as thought you are looking for the right argument to begin. Then point to a certain person in the crowd] Excuse me, I wonder if you can help me. Reach under your chair and you will find a piece of paper. On that piece of paper there is a paragraph highlighted. Can you please stand and read that out for us.

[Person reads a paragraph from the Lord of the Rings – “At dusk they halted again. Now twice twelve leagues they had passed over the plains of Rohan and the wall of Emyn Muil was lost in the shadows of the East. The young moon was glimmering in the misty sky , but it gave small light, and the stars were veiled. “Now do I most grudge a time of rest or any halt in our chase’, said Legolas. ‘The Orcs have run before us, as if the very whips of Sauron were behind them. I fear they have already reached the forest and the dark hills, and even now are passing into the shadow of the tree. Gimli ground his teeth. ‘This is a bitter end to our hope and to all our toil!’ he said. ]

What you have just read to us is absolutely depressing. What sort of story would be filled with such an image of despair? In fact, what sort of person would write such a thing? If this passage reveals something of the mind of the author, then we have grounds for serious concern.

However, we have only just heard one paragraph. We do not know how long the full text is, and we do not know the rest of the story. So who are we to judge? What seems like chaos may very well be part of a much bigger ‘order’. This violence may yet have a purpose; this hopelessness may yet be redeemed.

What we have just heard is part of a story…and very long story, called ‘the Lord of the Rings’. Now, most of you will have either read this story or seen the movies. You now know how it ends and you can now fit the passage that we just heard into its right context.

You see, chaos is often a matter of perspective. If you take a random event out of context, it will naturally seem chaotic or meaningless. In fact, even if we knew all of the events that came before that passage, and did not know how the story ended, we could still have room for despair. This is the nature of stories…they only make sense once they have ended. Now a simple story told by a child may have a simple and obvious plot, but a story written by a master will keep everyone in suspense until the final page.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to welcome you to life…the greatest story ever written. We struggle to understand this story because we are but characters written into this grand narrative. I can see only my life and the events that have gone before me. I can not yet see how the story ends and so it is only natural that it appears to be nothing but chaos.

Now surely at this point I have just lost the argument? If life is a grand novel, then it is logical that the author of this tale stands responsible for all of the events that take place? If our particular chapter involves violence of injustice, then the one who wrote the story must bear the guilt. Perhaps…but this is no ordinary story. For in this story, the characters are also the authors. This novel is the ultimate ‘choose your own adventure’ where the characters themselves decide their fate…sometimes in unexpected ways. The actors step willingly step onto the stage, but they fail in one important point…they did not read their contracts first. For if they did, they would see that the script of this novel is determined by their decisions. In fact, the whole nature of this world will be determined by one decision.

Let us open to the first chapter…Act one, scene one. In the beginning, all was good. There was peace, there was harmony, and there was order. Then there was a decision.

Now before we talk about the decision, let us talk for a moment about order. You see, for something to be in order, there must be someone keeping it in order. And that someone needs to remain in charge at all times to make sure that this order remains. Now when we read the bible we find that in the beginning, everything was chaos. But then God came upon the world and brought order out of chaos. The world which began as a formless void very quickly formed into a paradise. God was that ‘someone’ who held all things in order.

Living in paradise is fine as long as those who live under the rule of the one who holds all things in order are happy living under their rule. As long as there was order, there was complete happiness so it would seem only natural that the characters in the story at this point would be happy to live happily ever after.

But what would happen if the desire for freedom was greater than the desire for happiness. What if there was something unique about the human being that craved freedom. While every other creature was happy to just eat, sleep and live, human beings were created with that unique character that was the true image of the divine: freedom.

Now every adult knows that the perfect act of freedom is when a person gives away their freedom as an act of love, something we see all of the time in marriage. But a child sees freedom as a toy to be played with. Saying ‘no’ is simply a game through which we assert our autonomy.

But sometimes, even the games of children can have terrible consequences.

The first characters said ‘no’. They may have thought that they were saying this only for themselves, but they did not read their contract before stepping onto the stage. If they did, they would have realised that they spoke not for themselves, but for the whole of humanity…and for the whole of creation.

They said no to the one who held all things in order, and in doing so, they changed the story. They chose their own adventure…and ours…and as they say, the rest is history.

As a result of this sin, Chaos entered the world once again. We do not know how long the world was in chaos before God brought it into order, but we do know that ever since this fateful decision, the world has been left to its own fate. We pushed God out of the door and invited the chaos to enter back in.

I do not need to elaborate on the details of this chaos because we have already heard enough examples of the mess that has become our universe. There are simply a few points that need to be considered.

The fact that we are even having this debate reveals something very important. We do not like the chaos. In fact we do not believe that the chaos is natural. If the world was really meaningless, as some philosophers would have us believe, then chaos should not surprise us. If we are merely the product of chance, and accident of biology, then we should be content with whatever comes.

There is something unusual about the fact that we are not happy with the mess. It suggests that deep within us we believe that things are not meant to be like this. It is as though there is some deep primal memory of a world that pre-dates the chaos, or perhaps it is an abiding hope of a world that may yet transcend the chaos and return to its former glory.

St Paul speaks of this very hope. He says in the letter to the Romans that “creation itself groans with eager longing for the revealing of the glorious freedom of the children of God”. Some scripture scholars have suggested that through this poetic language, St Paul is pointing us to the link between creation and that first decision. When we chose to live without order, without the God who held all things in order, we not only consigned our selves and our own human relationships to chaos, but we pulled the rest of creation with us. And so now, the whole of creation waits longingly for the redemption of humanity. It lives in the hope that once we return to God and once more reconcile with God, so too will the creation be dragged back into order along with us.

Now we know from history that the chaos of our world has tormented humanity for as long as we have known. So many religions have tried to understand the relationship between this chaos in creation and the creator. If God is all powerful, then surely he must be in control of the disorder. It seemed to be only logical that God would allow this chaos as a form of punishment for our original rebellion.

And so we have ended up with the idea that bad things happen to bad people. If your village is destroyed by a volcano, then surely you must have done something terrible to deserve it. However, in our modern world we would have to ask why it is the poor nations that suffer natural disasters, while the rich nations, the ones that have made themselves rich through injustice and oppression, who never experience any such pain.

This would suggest a God who is not only vindictive, but also unjust.

But what if the chaos has a different origin? If you kick a soccer ball inside the house, you are very likely to break a window. We naturally understand that the window breaks as a result of our action. It would be ludicrous to think that your father will come along and break the window as a punishment because you broke some arbitrary rule about playing soccer inside the house. We would never think of this breakage as a punishment for sin, but rather as a natural consequence of our decision to kick the ball inside.

Now what if creation is our house? Natural disasters are not a punishment for our sin, but rather they are the natural consequence of our decision to invite chaos into the world. The disaster is that this chaos does not pick and choose. When cyclone rips through a city, it is not becasue that city was particularly sinful, it was because because the whole of humanity has sinned, and in doing so, brought chaos into the world. When those first characters stepped onto the stage, they decided for all of us, and for the whole world. And so we all now suffer the consequences.

However, there is one question that must be asked. If we are simply characters in a grand novel of human history, where are we in that story? And how does the story end?

St Paul points us to the hope of a final redemption that will involve everybody, and everything. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, such that even creation itself will be redeemed from the chaos that afflicts it. Even though we brought chaos back into the world, God will triumph at the end and bring everything back into peace.

Yes, there is chaos in our universe. But is God responsible? [walk off the stage in silence]

Second speaker for the prosecution

In 250BC The Greek philosopher Epicurus looked at everything that was said about the nature of God, and then he looked at the world around him. There was clearly something not right about this picture. The wisest people of his time claimed that God was all powerful, all knowing and most importantly…all good.

But everywhere he looked he saw pain, suffering, warfare, injustice, natural disasters… The reality of the world suggested that there was something wrong with our picture of God. And so he concluded that

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not all-powerful.
Is he able to prevent evil, but not willing? Then he is evil.
Is he both able and willing? Then where does evil come from?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

This is the heart of our dilemma. It might sound nice to say that God is loving; it might make us feel slightly consoled and comforted that God’s ways are not our ways and that god is ultimately in control. But when we look at the world around us we are faced with a reality that challenges the nature of God. Either God is good, and completely powerless to change this world, or he has the power to change it and yet does not want to. Either way, we would have to say that God is responsible for the suffering and madness in our world.

Our earlier discussion made very clear that the natural world is a mess. God either created the world in chaos, or as the opposition would suggest, he sat back passively while the world descended into oblivion. And here once again is the charge against God. If a person chooses to stand back passively and allow evil to take place, they are just as guilty as the one who commits the evil. So even if the disorder came into the world through the decision of humanity, God still needs to answer for his silence.

And here lies the problem…God is silent.

We know all too well the trouble that afflicts us. Human history is not a pleasant story. It started badly and we expect it to end in the same way. Our lives here on earth are simply a matter of survival. We can attempt to fill our days with joy, yet we know that suffering and pain follow us in the shadows at every moment, waiting for the moment to take our lives back to the chaos from which they came.

Everywhere we look today we see violence. Warfare floods our TV screens, the internet is filled with uncensored pictures of torture and death, terror threatens to strike even the most peaceful nations. Our nation seeks to comfort us and make us feel safe by investing billions of dollars in more weapons…as though we can only find peace in the knowledge that we have more weapons than our enemies.

So where do we turn? If we seek to numb the pain with entertainment, we are then surrounded by the endless stories of divorce and infidelity that fill the gossip columns. If we seek to zone-out by watching movies, we end up seeing more violent deaths than your average soldier will see in their lifetime.

Or is our only hope of avoiding pain to leave reality all together; to medicate ourselves into a suitably numb state. We have the option of doing this through illicit substances, or if you have enough money, through more socially acceptable means such as retail therapy. Our modern world is divided into two camps: those who have no option but to suffer, and those who have the money and opportunity to constantly run from suffering.

In all of this…God is silent.

7.2 billion people live on this planet. Each one cries out to the heavens each day in their own unique way seeking deliverance…and God does nothing.

Now, the simplest answer to this would be to once again suggest that all of this evil and violence is some form of Karma: evil comes to those who deserve it. Bad things happen to bad people, so if you are suffering, you must have done something wrong to deserve it.

Even if this was the case, it fails to explain why children have to suffer. What sort of God could remain silent while the cries of innocent children rise up to heaven? If a parent sat in silence while their child was murdered, or if they refused to act while their child starved to death in front of them, we would have no hesitation in declaring that parent to be the very image of evil.

Even as I have been speaking, 40 Children have died around our world from preventable diseases. 29,000 die every day.

And do you hear that? …… God is silent. [walk off stage]

Second speaker for the Defence

Some commentators would suggest that this very question that we are debating is the source of all unbelief in the world. In fact, even though we live in a world where atheism has becoming very popular, it could be suggested that there are very few people who do not believe in the existence of God on purely philosophical grounds.

Most people who claim to not believe in God simply do not want to believe in God out of a strong sense of justice. The very act of ‘believing’ in God suggests that I am prepared to then continue to the second step of being grateful for the fact that he is God. And so, because we do not believe that there is any reason to be grateful, we refuse to acknowledge that God even exists.

We need to point out that this question poses no threat to Christianity at all…assuming that you actually understand what Christianity is. This question that we are looking at, or rather the questions; Why is there evil, why is there pain, why is there suffering, why does God not do anything about this, why do the evil people thrive while the good people are cut down: these questions are at the centre of our faith. In fact, there is a particular book that is very important to Christianity that is filled with these questions; a collection of writing from different authors who all approach this question from different perspectives, all seeking to understand where God is in the midst of the chaos.

It is a little book called the bible.

You see, before we even begin to attempt an answer to these questions, we need to recognise that Christianity approaches these questions from a very unique perspective. Most other religions will seek to provide simplistic answers to this problem. The normal human reaction is to seek to lay the blame somewhere. If the world is broken, then it must be someone’s fault. The ancient Greeks suggested that it was the fault of the gods, and the chaos of the world was the result of endless fighting between these deities. The Dualistic religions suggested that there were two equally powerful forces of good and evil which were wrestling over the world, leaving us to discern the dividing line between these opposing powers. Other religions of our day would suggest that evil is simply punishment for something we did in this life, or in a previous life. Yet all of these reasons are far too simplistic.

The thing that makes Christianity unique is that it is happy to ask the question, yet it doesn’t really try to give a simple answer. The suggestion is that this is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be encountered.

The thing about mysteries is that they are mysterious. We find ourselves surrounded by contradictions to the point that the human mind just gets frustrated and wants to pack up and go home. But the mystery calls us; it summons us and invites us to embark on a journey. As with climbing a mountain, we will face constant resistance from the gravity of reason that seeks a simple understanding of the world, yet we climb in the hope that from a higher vantage point we will see the horizon clearly.

So let us look briefly at the greatest contradiction known to humanity.

God created the world as a symbol of his love for humanity. His one desire was that we would delight in the fact that he delighted in us. But as we mentioned earlier, from the first moment we fell in love with our own freedom. From there, things very quickly turned sour. As soon as we desired to take control of the earth, bad things started to happen. Violence enters relationships, Brother kills brother, nations descend into warfare, and weapons become more important than food. Pride, power and the desire for domination corrupt every relationship.

At this point, the great thinkers begin to ask the very same questions that we ask today. Where is God? Why is God silent? Why do our prayers go unanswered?

This book, the bible, is a history of questions…and attempts at finding an answer. One book will say that there is no answer, and that life is simply meaningless. Another book will point to the problem of sin and suggest that we are being punished for our evil. Another book will suggest that God is in control in ways that we can not understand while others will simply cry out in desperation for God to do something…anything.

At the heart of the Old Testament, we find a story about God being put on trial. In the book of Job we find a man who is completely righteous, and yet his whole life is suffering. His friends suggest that there must be some secret sin that is the cause of his punishment. One by one they suggest that God is innocent and that Job must be the one to blame. Yet in the face of endless accusation, Job maintains his innocence and seeks to bring his case directly to God seeking justice.

And God’s reply? When Job finally asks God directly why there is such suffering in the world, God simply answers, ‘You wouldn’t understand…you are part of a story so much bigger than you can imagine’

While the answer might seem unsatisfactory, God praises Job for the fact that he was prepared to sit in the mystery and not accept simplistic answers; while his friends who tried to defend God with such simple answers are accused by God.

Up until this point, the story seems quite normal. But every good story always has a twist in the plot. For countless generations, people cried out to the heavens for deliverance. People accused God of having failed them in their time of need. Some even turned their anger against God believing that they were innocent and he was guilty.

But then, after thousands of years of silence…God spoke a word. Of course he had always spoken through the prophets, but now he spoke to us directly. Just one word, but it was potentially the only word necessary to answer every question. But this was not like any ordinary word. This was a word that became flesh.

God answered in the form of a person. A man; Jesus Christ, a human being with flesh like you and me. A man capable of experiencing pain; a man whose life from the moment of birth was filled with suffering. Born into poverty, fleeing from persecution as a refugee, living as a stranger in a foreign land; and once returned to his country…living as an ordinary worker in an ordinary village with an ordinary family.

Everything that we experience, he experienced: pain, grief, sorrow, fatigue, hunger. And yet this man claimed to be God.

We could digress at this point into many arguments about the truth of this claim, but let us for the sake of this debate assume it to be true. There is an enormous contradiction staring at us here that needs to be investigated so I hope that you can stay with me while I try to break this open.

Imagine for a moment that you are God. For some of you that may not be so hard to imagine. You know that the world is a mess, you know that a lot of this mess is because humanity rebelled against you, and for thousands of years you have been listening to both their cries for help and their complaints against you. So you decide to act: one moment, one chance to fix everything. What do you do?

Just think for a moment, if you were God, how would you fix the world? Would you send in a division of angels to kill all of the bad people, would you turn the world into a paradise, would you fill the sky with big letters saying “stop doing bad stuff and just behave for once”?

Or would you hide…for thirty years…making chairs in a small carpentry business in the back blocks of Palestine…and not let anyone know that you are there. At this point we could be forgiven for thinking that God is a little bit socially awkward. After centuries of trying to find the courage to answer our prayers, he steps into the world for his big debut, and then continues to remain silent.

The madness here is that so many Christians believe in this without ever really thinking about the story. If we did actually think about this, our Christmas carols would probably sound a bit more like this…”God, what are you doing…do something. Pull out a map, see the bad guys are here, here and here. Smite them over there, release these captives from over here, set these downtrodden free over here, and for goodness sake, when someone prays to you, say something back next time”.

If the problem of evil was as simple as separating the good guys from the bad, then salvation would have been as simple as that. Jesus would have called in the coordinates for an angel air-strike and all of the bad people would have been blown away.

But as the famous saying goes, “the dividing line between good and evil runs right through the middle of every human heart”. If this is the case, then maybe the only way to save the world would be to re-build the human heart from the ground up…ever single human heart in every single person.

If every human heart had been corrupted by evil, then maybe creating more laws and restrictions would not achieve anything. The only way to change our behaviour would be to heal what was broken, to bind up the wounds within us, to heal the pain. Maybe the only way to save the world was by loving us back into life.

Perhaps this is the only way to understand such madness. If God truly became human, took on himself the experience of human suffering and pain, entered into the drudgery and boredom of human existence, the hardship of work, the pain of grief, the hunger and the thirst that drive us crazy…maybe the only way to understand this was that he was trying to love us back into life.

In John’s Gospel, just before the story reaches the climax, it says about Jesus that “having loved those who were his own in the world, he loved them to the end”. To the end…We all know how the story ends. God answers the problem of human suffering and death…by suffering and dying. He joins us in this most horrible experience. In the Old Testament, God promised humanity that he would bring order out of the chaos once again, that he is big enough to turn all of evil around so that everything becomes good.

When we look upon Christ on the cross, the reality is that it does not make sense. This is meant to be God’s way of fixing the problem, yet it looks like suffering is even more powerful than God. Throughout his passion and death, he cries out to heaven for deliverance…to be saved from this pain. Was he crying out for himself, or was he crying out for us, on behalf of us?

Once again, it seems that his prayer is ignored. Jesus cried out to heaven for this cup of suffering to be taken away from him, and once again this cry seems to be met by silence….or was it?

Perhaps he realised in faith that God’s answer to this prayer would come on the third day. Perhaps the resurrection was, and still is, God’s answer to all of our prayers. Maybe once again this is something like the answer God gave to Job, “you are part of a big story, bigger than you can imagine, bigger than anything that is happening right now”.

Is the resurrection God’s answer to suffering? Is the resurrection God’s answer to all of our prayers? As we mentioned earlier, Humanity chose their own adventure, and it has not been a pleasant journey. We pushed God out of the picture, but at this moment in history, God pushes his way back in…not only into history, but into our hearts. He now opens the door to a new possibility. Where our best efforts to save ourselves have simply created further destruction, Jesus now opens an unexpected pathway.

He does not run from suffering, but rather passes through it into new life. And now he calls to us with a message of hope, assuring us that on the other side of this door is the answer to all of our prayers. As it says in the second last chapter of the book of Revelation, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. And the one who was seated on the throne said, “behold I make all things new”.

Now to finish, there are a couple of things that need to be said.

Firstly, this is not a simple answer to the question. If you want a simple answer, go and find a different religion. We are being called on a journey of understanding which is filled with contradictions.

Secondly, if this is real, if God did become a human being and choose to solve the problem of suffering and pain by taking it all upon himself, then what does that even mean? If 2000 years later we still live in a world filled with suffering and pain, did God fail, or did we fail to understand what he was doing? God is trying to say that you are not alone in suffering. Whatever you experience, whatever humanity experiences, he has also experienced.

Thirdly, the whole point of pain is that it is immediate. It hurts now and I need an answer NOW. Some people suggest that the resurrection is some fantasy hope that after all of this suffering God will make up for it with mountains of ice-cream. But the hope of the resurrection might also change how we experience pain right now

Perhaps we do not have to work this out as though it is some eternal problem. Maybe we just have to have the courage to walk with Jesus knowing in faith that he has opened a door to whole new reality.

End of Part one


Beginning of Part Two

As the main character in the famous movie ‘The princess Bride’ once said, “Life is pain, anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.”

Our previous session began to open up the question of chaos, but in this session we want to start to focus in on the real issue at hand. Why does life hurt? And why doesn’t God do something about? So without any further delay, let us welcome up our first speaker to establish whether God is responsible?

Speaker One for the Prosecution

Now for this section of the debate, I will need a volunteer. From the audience. Can I get a show of hands from potential volunteers…raise your hands high for all to see. Yes, thank you. Now you can just lower your hands for a moment but be ready to raise them again in just a second.

Now before I select our willing volunteer, I just want to explain what I need you to do once you step onto the stage. In this section of the debate I wanted to talk about the experience of pain, and so I felt that the best way to display this would be by inflicting pain on one of our participants. So, once I select one of our willing volunteers, they will be brought up on the stage, drowned in salt water, and then I will connect these leads to their ears, and connect the other end of the leads to the power supply. As you understand, this is just a little scientific demonstration to what pain does to the human body.

Now if those who were willing to volunteer can once again raise their hands I will select one of you at random and we can connect these things to your ears. Ummm….there seems to be no one raising their hands this time around. It is strange that you were so keen to be involved before you heard what as going to happen?

Now if I actually was prepared to do this, what would you think of me? What would that say about my character as a person that I would be prepared to inflict such unbelievable pain on someone for the sake of a scientific demonstration? Two words would suffice; absolute evil.

In the previous section of this debate we looked at the world around us. A world filled with chaos, natural disasters, parasites, violence, warfare, greed corruption. All of these can be explained away through the Christian story. Some might say that this is because the Christian story provides the answer; others would say that it is a convenient way of excusing God from taking responsibility. Ultimately, you as the audience need to decide on which position you will take.

But beyond all of the possible stories and explanations, there is one problem that remains, and will always remain.

The Problem of Pain.

You see, life hurts. Life always, of its very essence, contains pain. This is the one truly unavoidable reality. You can avoid death through cryogenic freezing, you can avoid taxes by living in the cayman islands, but pain is the inheritance of everyone who calls themselves ‘human’.

The question here is not about the experience of pain, but about God. If God is all powerful, and all good, what possible reason could there be for allowing pain to be such a dominant part of human existence? We spoke before about the silence of God. The question here is not some theological debate about whether God answers prayers, but more about the character of a God who would do nothing while people suffer.

In the previous presentation, the speaker sought to defend God by referring to mystery…suggesting that the Christian story is filled with contradictions. I simply want to highlight that case by pointing out the biggest contradiction of all. You say that God is good. You say that God is Love. But then you go further than any other religion on this planet and say that God is a Father…the ultimate Father. Jesus himself speaks in one of his parables saying, “what Father among you would give his son a stone when he asked for bread, if you who are sinful know how to give good things to your sons, then how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask of him?”

Indeed, this is the very question that we are seeking to ask. If you say that God is good, then why does he sit back while his children suffer. In fact, if we were to address this question correctly, we would have to say that God does not just sit back in silence, he has actually designed the world in such a way that suffering is essential.

It is only natural that down through the ages people have begun to not only question the purpose of pain, but the role of God in this experience. As we suffer here in earth, are we nothing more than ants being cooked by a grand deity holding a huge magnifying glass? Does God find some sick pleasure in watching us wriggle and squirm? Is God like some evil dictator who delights in seeing his creatures beg for help from an affliction that he has created? If he has created the possibility for pain, then surely it is within his power to remove it.

But here we come to an even more concerning question…Sin and punishment.

For what is sin? If we look through the history of the world, there are people who simply delight in evil. There are those who will pursue power at any cost, and be prepared to trample down the masses of humanity in the process. But for the vast majority of humanity, sin is nothing more than a way of dealing with pain.

A person steals because they are hungry. A person behaves violently because their whole life has been filled with pain and all they now know is self-defence…hurt others before they hurt you. Another person will seek after pleasure in a way that some would deem illicit, yet at the end of the day, they are simply seeking to find a remedy for the pain that lurks deep within their soul. And so these sins of excess, whether eating too much, spending too much, loving too much, consuming too much…are they not all derived from our desire to deal with pain?

Which brings us back to the character of God. Because the scriptures would suggest that those who sin excessively, even if these actions are driven by pain, will endure a punishment of eternal pain in hell. So we find ourselves living with a logic that is illogical: God allows pain to exist, we try desperately to cope with pain, and then God punishes us for trying to survive by inflicting more pain on us? Is this justice? Is this the action of a Just God? Is it any wonder that atheism is the fastest growing religion in the world?

The greatest thinkers of our time looked at this situation and realised that if this was that fate of humanity with God, then we would be better of without God. We would be better to take the world by force and seek to kill any memory of the deity. For too long, pain has been used as a chain to hold humanity as a slave. If only we could rise up as one, if we could unite together in a common pursuit of freedom then humanity could for once be free from this captivity.

For centuries the great philosophers have spoken with hope that such a thing could be possible. And for us, this liberation appears to be just beyond the horizon. Already, the scientific world is hearing from prophetic voices that speak of a coming day when suffering will be a distant memory.

Even in our own lifetime, we may see a situation where science manages to defeat pain and transcend death. Some of you in this very room may yet live until the point where you no longer have to die. Image the situation where you sit down with your great great grandchildren and tell them stories of those dark days when humanity experienced suffering.

Can you imagine such a reality? These prophetic voices speak of hope, of a new world where no one will know pain, where no one will know death.

Pain is our current problem. In a world where ever day people decide that it is better to not live than the hurt, is it wrong to assume that all of this pain is meaningless and that life would be better without it?

Speaker One for the defence

Butterflies. One of the greatest miracles of nature. A lowly caterpillar spins a cocoon and lies dormant for weeks, possible months. In the silence of that cocoon a transformation has occurred, a metamorphosis. This fat little ball of caterpillar has become a sleek, beautiful butterfly. A miracle worked through no effort of its own.

But the story does not end there. This butterfly is trapped inside a cocoon. This capsule which was the place of transformation has now become a prison. Unless it manages to break free of this shell it will never see the light of day.

And so it must fight. It must fight with all of its strength to break through the walls of this cocoon. Can you image waking up from sleep to find that you are trapped in a coffin and needing to punch your way out. It is not known how many butterflies suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but we could imagine that there would be quite a need for therapy after this event is over.

Eventually, after much effort, and possibly a lot of pain, the creature extends its wings and allows them to harden in the light of the sun…and then it takes flight.

Everyone knows about metamorphosis. Everyone knows that caterpillars become butterflies. But no one thinks about the fight. The fight is the essential part. If you were to see a butterfly struggling at this point and take pity on it, if in compassion you tried to help it by tearing open the cocoon, you would inflict more pain on it then you could imagine.

You see, for a butterfly to fly, it needs great strength. After sitting idle in a cocoon for months, that strength does not come naturally. It can only get that strength by fighting to break out of a cocoon. The fight is essential for it to fly. Without this pain, it can not truly be a butterfly.

Now we mentioned before about how in the beginning of the bible it says that the world was chaos, and then God brought order out of chaos. But then Humanity made a decision that threw us, and the rest of the universe, back into chaos. We do not really know what the world looked like when it was in order, and we would probably be foolish to even try and imagine. But what we do know is that the world as we currently know it is filled with some strange things. Yes, there is chaos, yes there is pain, but sometimes the world manages to draw beauty out of pain…good out of evil.

We know that an ordinary lump of coal can be transformed into a diamond, but only after it has been placed under enormous pressure and heat for thousands of years. We know that the most fertile ground for agriculture is found in places where the earth has been ripped apart by volcanic explosions. If the world operated by the law of chaos, such things as these would make no sense.

God did not make the chaos, but every day he is able to turn chaos into beauty. Before we go any further we need to establish one key fact. God did not create pain…we did. Let me just repeat this to make it really clear – God did not create pain. The bible makes clear that pain and suffering were never part of the plan. They came as a result of our sin.

We spoke briefly about his before, but just to makes things clear, let’s go back over this one more time. This thing that we call sin was not that we broke some arbitrary rule. It was that we rebelled against the one thing that was keeping us alive: God.

Our desire for freedom came at a very hefty price. Image a person hooked up to a life-support system who hates the fact that they are not free. In their desire to be released from this dependence on the machine, they start cutting the cords and wires that keep their heart pumping and their lungs filled with air. The more they rebel, the more dead they become.

Now as the person is dying, they are experiencing a lot of pain. Who has caused the pain? They freely cut the cords to the life-support machine, so it would be crazy to suggest that the machine is the one causing them pain. If they reconnected to the machine, life would begin to flow through their veins once again.

God did not create pain…but…God is able to use pain to heal us.

You see, the question before us is really whether the question before us is the wrong question. When we speak about the problem of pain, we have already made a grand assumption that pain is a problem.

Perhaps pain is not a problem. Perhaps pain is not meaningless. Perhaps we have been so busy running away from it that we have failed to hear what it is saying to us?

Let us start with a story about one of the highest paid comedians in the world. Steven Colbert is the main presenter of the Late Show in America and is no stranger to suffering. On September 11th, 1974 when Colbert was only 10 years old, his father and his two older brothers were killed in a plane crash. He was left as the only child with his mother.

Now it would seem reasonable that a person who has had their family taken away from them would have every right to be a little bit bitter. In a recent interview, Colbert was asked about his attitude to life. He said,

““I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…. And it was just me and Mum for a long time, and by her example I am not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” As it turns out, Colbert’s mother was a very strong Catholic who believed that suffering was inseparable from joy, and that suffering could only be understood in the light of eternity.

Now the interviewer was a little bit surprised by this and tried to push a bit harder for an explanation. At this point Colbert quotes a letter written by JRR Tolkein, who you would know as the author of the ‘Lord of the Rings’. After the book was published, a priest had written to Tolkein who questioned his understanding of suffering. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’…“So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

Now this is a truly extraordinary statement, not from a priest or from some pious homily, but from an ordinary man who has lived his whole life with pain. He is able to be grateful for what he suffered.

But this changes our focus slightly. What was Tolkien talking about that suffering can be a gift? Well if we delve into his history, we find that he was no stranger to suffering either. Tolkien’s father died when he was only three years old, and by that I meant that Tolkien was three, not that his father was three years old, because that would have just been weird. His mother took him and his brother back to England and converted to become Catholic. Now her family really disapproved of this and basically disowned her, leaving her as a widow with two small boys and no way to provide for them. The family was cared for by the local priest, Fr Francis, who helped them understand that there was meaning in the midst of their suffering. This priest was a huge influence of the young Tolkien, to the point where some suggested that the character of Gandalf was possibly modelled on this man. As a result of this personal journey, Tolkien was able to say that even Suffering is a gift from God.

So where did Fr Francis get this idea from? Well he was mentored by another priest, who was recently beatified, by the name of Blessed John Henry Newman. Another man who converted from being Anglican to Catholic, was also disowned by many of his friends and family, who had to struggle through life and in the midst of that managed to find that suffering brought pain, but also a strange blessing that often went unnoticed.

Now I began by saying that pain is not a problem and so far I have not proven anything. For all we know these four men that I have referred to could all be stark raving mad. But they do raise the prospect that there may be a mystery here that the rest of us have never seen. How can suffering be a gift, and what sort of gift could this possibly be?

Now the best way to understand this might be with the analogy of a disease. Imagine that you are a parent and your 3 year old child is dying of cancer. The child’s small body is being attacked by a cancer which is sucking away its life. You are faced with a choice…do you be kind, or do you be loving?

The most kind thing to do would be to put your child out of its misery, in the same way that you would treat an animal that was sick. If we live only for the sake of pleasure, then death is a better option than suffering. However if you were loving, then you would be prepared to do anything to save your child…even if that means inflicting pain. You see, because Love is very different to kindness. Love assumes that you want the best for your child, you want them to grow, to live, to live until old age. And sometimes it is worth suffering for the sake of getting there.

This is the terrible dilemma that many have to face. The child sees his parents asking a doctor to fill his body with chemicals that will inflict even more pain on his small body and can not possibly understand why they are doing this. From the perspective of the child, this makes no sense, when all the child wants is to make the suffering go away.

It is all a matter of perspective. The child does not understand the disease, and therefore can not understand the remedy. The child also does not understand that this pain might be worth it if it means he lives for another 70 years.

The parent knows both the disease and the remedy, and has to play the role of a ‘monster’. The parent know that even if this causes the child to hate them, this is the only way that they can be saved.

Now this is but an analogy, but it may help us understand something of where we stand. We stand in the position of the child. We do not understand the disease that afflicts us; in fact we may not even know that we are sick. It seems crazy that the pain being dealt out to us could possibly heal us, when it seems to be driving us even closer to our grave. And also, our perspective on life is very different from that of the parent; we do not understand that there is something greater worth living for.

It is in this sense, that suffering can be interpreted as a gift from God. In chemotherapy, we use a poison to kill a disease. In the same way, God can sometimes use pain to heal us of a deeper and more deadly disease.

To fully understand pain, we need to try to see things from God’s perspective. God desires that we be in relationship with him, not because he needs us; not because he is lonely or in need of creatures to worship him to boost his fragile ego, but because we need him. We can not exist without him. God is the life-support system that keeps us alive. God is Love, and the thing that keeps us in existence is Love. The further we move away from that love, the closer we move towards death.

Ever since we rebelled, we have seen God as being an optional extra in life. As CS Lewis said, “We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.” We believe that we can get along quite fine without God interfering in our lives. We definitely don’t want any talk about ‘submitting’ to God or being ‘Obedient’. These words make the most sensible person tremble, for they are seen to be the very opposite of freedom.

But from God’s perspective, they are the cables that connect us to the life-support machine. At every moment, in every thing, God is calling us back, seeking to heal us from the poison of rebellion that is killing us.

If we were to return to our analogy, imagine at this point that the sick child has become so convinced that its parents are evil that it has run away from the hospital; and now that the parent runs in pursuit, the child feels it has even greater evidence that the parent is seeking to destroy its life.

This is us…so many people are angry at God for inflicting pain on us, or for not taking the pain away when we cry out for help. We can not understand that maybe the parent is being motivated by love.

CS Lewis, the great author of the Nania series, wrestled most of his life with this question of pain. He believed that pain was God’s way of calling us back. Where humanity had tried to block out God, or rather tried to make ourselves into God, pain was God’s way of breaking through this delusion and bring us back to reality. Like any loving parent, God first tries to do this with pleasure and kindness, but these things are easily misunderstood. As he says. ““We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Pain is God’s megaphone. And what does he shout? You are lost, you are dying, your constant pursuit of freedom is actually your death.

Our rebellion is killing us, and God knows that as long as everything is going well with us, we will never surrender our self-will. And this is the strange thing: no one ever complains about the fact that they are happy. No one ever gets angry at God because they experience joy. We only shout at God when things go bad. We say that suffering is an injustice, and yet we never admit that the real source of our pain is that we have cut ourselves off from the one thing that can bring us life, which is God.

Here we find an inconvenient truth: so much of our pain is actually directly related to the fact that we are separated from God. Our previous speaker spoke about the hunger that drives us crazy. But do we ever stop to think what that pain of hunger, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual, is shouting to us? If this pain is God’s megaphone, what does it shout? “That you exist for something more”. The desires within you point to the fact that you were made for so much more than this. The philosopher Pascal referred to these unmet desires as the “memory of a dethroned monarch”. If you could image a king pulled down from his throne and forced to live the rest of his days as a beggar on the street; ever day he would be tormented by the memory of the food and comfort that he had in his past life. This is our pain; it is as though there is a deep memory written into our souls of a time before the fall when our desires were fulfilled. Your hunger points you to heaven; your pain points you back to God.

When your body falls sick, God did not create the sickness, but he uses it to remind you that you are destined for eternity. When you face the pain of grief, God never intended that you would suffer this pain, but he is able to use that pain of love to remind you that you that Love is stronger than death and that in the resurrection we will all be reunited. When you experience the daily pains of hunger, of love or not being content no matter how much pleasure you have, this is God shouting to us that we were made for so much more than this.

Does it bring God joy to see us suffer? No more joy than a parent experiences as it sees its child go through chemotherapy. But sometimes true love means that we make painful decisions.

Pain is a grand mystery, but it is not our enemy. No matter what you do in life, how much money you have, how much power you gain or how influential you are; you can never avoid pain. The real question is whether you can see what God is doing, whether you can hear what God is saying. God might not take the pain away, but he will always be able to turn it towards the good if we allow him to do that. Can you recognise that perhaps you are a scared child running away from a hospital, running away from the person who wants to cure you.

At the very beginning of this debate, you were encouraged to vote on which side won the debate by voting with your life. The best way to cast your vote is to stop running and start listening to the echo of this megaphone.

Speaker Two for the prosecution

The opposition has put before us a stern defence of God. In fact they have attempted to put the blame back onto us. In drawing on the scriptural story of humanity’s rebellion against God, they have suggested that we brought chaos into the world and that God is now trying hard to bring healing to our pain, possibly even through using things that are painful.

If we assume that this is true; if we assume that the decision by humanity to rebel against god played a big part in bringing chaos into the world, if we assume that our separation from God is the source of much of our pain, if we assume that pain is not meaningless, and if we are prepared to accept the very difficult idea that sometimes God will use pain as a way of bringing us back to healing…then we are faced with one very disturbing fact that must be examined.

Why has no one told us this before?

Quite simply, if the Catholic faith proclaims this glorious vision, this vision that there is hope even in the midst of the greatest pain, then why is the church the source of so much suffering in the world. If the Church is meant to be the body of Christ, why is it causing pain and not healing it?

When people talk about the sins of the church, they normally talk about the crusades, abuse, corruption and so on…but the failure of the church is not just at the level of the pope and the clergy. There are 410,000 priests in the world, but here are 2 billion Christians. To blame all of the bad stuff on the priests might be just like us trying to blame everything on God.

If this is real, if this is actually the vision of Christianity, then why do Christians not live it? If this is the heart of the Gospel, why do the vast majority of Christians live as though it is not real? If the whole reason we are here is to be reunited with God, to submit our wills to God in complete love, then why are so many Christians acting as thought they are God. If Christians really believe that the whole of this life is a preparation for the next, then why do they spend so much of their time building a paradise here on earth?

You could say that this is not so important, but you need to think through the implications of this. One third of the world professes to follow Christ, yet very few seem to live as thought they do. The vast majority of them are doing what everyone does…spending their life trying to numb the pain, spending a lot of money on themselves because they believe they deserve pleasure even if it is at the expense of others and turning a blind eye to the suffering of others because it might make their own life less pleasurable.

Earlier in the day we accused God of being silent to the cries of the suffering, but perhaps it is Christians who are really guilt of being silent while the world cries out in pain.

So basically, even if this Christian vision of pain and suffering is a beautiful vision, even if it opens up for a us a whole new way of seeing the world, how can we possibly believe it to be true if Christians themselves do not believe it? At least the atheists have the courage to fully rebel against God because they think that God is evil. It seems that Christians are too cowardly to live what they believe; and their actions suggest that they do not actually trust God. Christians might say that they believe, but for the most part they live just like the atheists.

As I am sure you can appreciate, this is disturbing. The vision that the opposition has presented has the potential to change the world if people actually lived this. In fact it could jeopardise a large part of our economy which exists for the sake of numbing the pain in the human heart. If we truly believed that this pain had meaning, the whole focus of our world would be different.

If there is one area where the church has failed the world, it would have to be this. And if there is one thing that questions the truth of this idea it would have to be the fact that Christians themselves do not believe it.

As the opposition reminded us before, the challenge in this debate is that you would vote for the truth by living the rest of your life according to that idea.

We are faced with two options at the end of this debate…only two.

Either suffering is meaningless, and therefore life should simply be focussed on numbing the pain or drowning yourself on pleasure; or it actually has meaning in which case you then live your life for this eternal vision. It seems to us that the church has already voted…and the results are in the negative. It would appear that the vast majority of Christians believe that God is to blame and that they are helpless victims of a cruel deity that can not be trusted. So in closing our argument, we simply want to suggest that this debate has been played out over the last 2000 years and the results are already in…and we win.

Second speaker for the Defence

Imagine if someone gave you a present, beautifully wrapped with a nice bow on top. They tell you that inside this box is something which has the power to change the world. If you learn how to use this thing, you could do so much to cure the pain of the world; you could feed hundreds, maybe thousands of starving people, you could heal the wounds of those who have been hurt and rejected, you could resolve conflicts before they had a chance to cause more pain, you could bring peace to those who were sick and without hope. Could you imagine what it would be like to hold that power in your hands? To know that all you have to do is untie that bow and pull back the wrapping paper, and you could change the world.

But it is not just going to change the world is it…if you unwrap this package, it will also change your life. You have spent many years dreaming of the perfect life, all of the places you want to travel, the sort of house you want to buy, all of the fun you want to have. If you unwrap this present, all of that might suddenly change. If you take hold of what is inside, you might feel compelled to use this thing and your life will never be the same again. Perhaps it is better to leave it wrapped up, so that you can at least plead ignorance. Maybe you could just keep the present and leave it in the cupboard, so that when you have ticked off everything on your bucket list you can then open it up.

What would you do? It is a huge responsibility isn’t it. I don’t know about you, but if I was given this present, and told about its potential to change the world…even if I tried to hide the present and go back to a normal life, I wouldn’t be able to watch the news without feeling really guilty. Every time someone complained about how bad the world was, I would be looking at that box in the cupboard out of the corner of my eye wondering whether I should be opening it up to see what is inside.

We have spoken about a lot this morning and I really want to apologise if your head is about to explode right now (maybe that is where we get the name of the conference from). But if your head can handle one more idea I just want to complete the story.

So far we have spoken about whether god is responsible for all of the mess; we argued that actually humanity played a really big part in bringing chaos into the world. When we look at the size of the problem it is only natural that we would feel a bit helpless. God could walk in and clean the mess for us, but the problem is that he would be treating us like spoilt children. Or he could walk away and leave us to do it ourselves, but that would only lead us to despair because the problem is too big.

Once again God takes the position of Love, and invites us to clean up the mess with him. But God knows how weak we are, so he gives us something which is able to make us strong enough to clean the mess. And so God gives us a present that has the potential to change the world

Now this is the truly mind-blowing bit about Christianity, which you may not have heard about before. Jesus came to save the world by entering into our pain on the cross. He then opens up a new door of hope for us through the resurrection. But then he does something extraordinary…he asks us to be him in the world. This was the whole point of Pentecost. God knows that with our normal human spirit, as broken as it is by sin, we find it really hard to love other people unless there is some benefit for ourselves. So God gives us his spirit. We are now able to love with God’s love, which is infinite.

This is what made it possible for the early Christians to do crazy things; loving their enemies, sacrificing their lives to help other people. This is what made the saints into saints…it wasn’t because they were super-human, it was because they were basically divine. They lived their lives not just with their own human spirit, but with the Spirit of God.

Now this present has already been given to you…it was given to you when you were a small screaming baby on the day of your baptism. You may never have even realised that it was given to you.

Now, the opposition suggests that we have lost this debate due to the fact that most Christians think that God is responsible. And on that point we actually agree.

We have played the role of the victim. Like helpless children we have screamed at the first taste of pain and believed that God must be a tyrant to allow such evil in the world. In fact, I would suggest that this is why most Christians find prayer really difficult: we don’t trust that God is really looking out for our good. We pray reluctantly, as though we are trying to appease a violent and vengeful father. We don’t really believe that God loves us.

But what would the world look like if every single Christian lived like this? Would there be any poverty? Would there be children dying because they are hungry? Would there be war? How much influence could one person have in this world if they allowed this gift of the holy spirit to work in them?

So is God responsible or are we?

This debate has been about a few things; is God good? Is God powerful enough to change the world? Why would God sit back in silence while the world suffers? At the end of the day God is powerful enough to change the world in an instant…but for some reason he chooses not to. God is powerful enough to destroy evil right now…but for some reason he stays his hand. Maybe the real problem is that we, as Christians, have not opened up the present. Maybe the answer to all of our prayers is already sitting in our hands…unopened.

There was an author in the 19th century who was speaking about Christians saying, “you are the salt of the earth…if the world has lost its flavour who should I be blaming?”

There is another more recent quote where a person said, “I screamed at God for all the starving children, and then I realised that all of the starving children were God screaming at me.”

Pain is God’s megaphone. He is shouting to you through the pain that is inside of you, calling you to come back to the source of life; he is calling to you through pain of the world, that you would step up and be the answer.

Do you hear him calling…and if so, what response are you going to make.