In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which has created such devastation and tragic loss of life in the Philippines, many are undoubtedly asking the question, “How can a good and loving God permit such things to happen?” US pastor-theologian Greg Boyd shares some thoughts in response:

I generally find myself in agreement with much of what Greg has to say. One of the things I particularly appreciate is how he constantly emphasises that God’s character is most fully expressed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus is therefore the standard against which we should measure all of our thoughts, perceptions and suppositions about what God is like. Clearly, Jesus did not cause or rejoice in suffering. Therefore, any theology under which God causes or somehow rejoices in (or is even indifferent to) suffering on the scale we have recently witnessed in the Philippines is not consistent with the full revelation of God. There has to be some other explanation, and in the video above, Greg offers his perspective on what that explanation might be. I’d love to know what you think – let me know in the comments.

Of course, the question of why God allows suffering has been a theological hot potato ever since Jesus’ time (see Luke 13:1-5). I make no claim to have a definitive answer. But I’m reminded of a recent conversation with a friend who shared something that a family member had said to him: “I’ll let God off for all the suffering in the world if I can know that He suffers with us.” To me, that lies at the very heart of the gospel witness: the incarnation was proof that God is not aloof, detached and indifferent to our plight. He didn’t just offer us a remote solution or sympathise from afar; He took on flesh, made his tent among us, and knew what it was to suffer rejection, misunderstanding, unjustified criticism, and ultimately, great personal suffering and death. And he still says the same to us as God said through the prophet Isaiah:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you. (Isaiah 43:2)