Megan Rapinoe and the Pagan View of Suffering
Proverbs 19:3 states, “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.” In other words, sinners have a way of causing their own misfortune, then blaming it on God. Don’t get me wrong, accidents do happen. Take soccer star Megan Rapinoe, for example. On Saturday, during the National Women’s Soccer League championship game, she suffered an injury likely to be a torn Achilles tendon.
“I thought about it a little bit,” she said in a press conference following the game. “I’m not a religious person or anything, [but] if there was a God, like, this is proof that there isn’t.” An unfortunate view of the situation, but also not a unique one.
Atheists commonly use suffering against the existence or nature of God. “If God exists, why does He allow bad things to happen?” the atheist inquires. Usually adding, “But even if He does exist, He can’t be good to allow suffering.” These are attempts to validate what they don’t understand, namely, the effects of sin in a fallen world, and use it against the God they claim not to believe in. So, Rapinoe’s conclusion that her injury means God doesn’t exist only follows suit.
I listened to a sermon by Pastor R.C. Sproul this morning that fits this discussion well. He said, “Somehow we assume that God owes it to us to give us a life free from suffering.” Pride can cause anyone to think God shouldn’t allow hardship. But part of living in a fallen world, he continued, means “the reality of suffering is something we all have to deal with.” And it’s the pagan views of suffering that make this reality more challenging to grasp. Sadly, suffering is a hindrance to unbelievers and believers, so understanding the different perspectives is crucial.
Unbelievers often see no purpose to suffering, and hedonism, the philosophical argument that pleasure is the highest good and the proper aim of human life, is one of the most common coping mechanisms. In response to suffering, hedonism takes form in the abuse of alcohol, drugs, sex, or other types of self-indulgence. It’s interesting, because these self-indulgences are anything but good or fulfilling. Rather, it stands to reason they are distractions from a lack of good and purpose.
Paganism will always fail to explain suffering. It either blames a “bad God” or decides it’s futile and makes life intolerable. It’s a miserable outlook on life that helps explain the hedonistic approach. It’s part of why suicide is among the top five causes of death for age groups between 10 to 44. It’s rooted in the belief that we came from nothing, are here for nothing, and are going to die and go back to nothing. With this worldview, how could suffering have any purpose?
I asked Joseph Backholm, senior fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement here at Family Research Council, for his thoughts on Rapinoe’s comment. “She’s clearly frustrated,” he told me. “Of course, you can’t be mad at someone you don’t believe exists. So, I think her need to go out of her way to say her injury is proof that God does not exist was an attempt to exact a pound of flesh from a God she is generally angry at for reasons known only to her.”
Backholm continued, “Part of our worldview is determined by whether we see God as part of our story or ourselves as part of God’s story.” The secular view is centered on the self, and “if we are the center of our own story, we see it as an injustice when God does not cooperate with our preferences,” he said. Whereas for the Christian who sees “God as the main character in the story of history, it’s easier to make peace with circumstances we don’t prefer.”
Scripture makes it clear suffering is part of this life. Indeed, Christianity is built upon the suffering of Christ, and Christians are called to share that burden. But “for the Christian,” Sproul said, suffering “is never an exercise in futility,” but is always “used by God for redemptive purposes among His people.”
Unlike the unbeliever, the Christian knows this life is the unfolding of God’s ultimate story of redemption. Everything leads back to Him. As Backholm put it, “For one person, an Achilles injury is proof that God is either cruel or absent, for the other, an Achilles injury is an opportunity to learn something new in furtherance of our highest goal of being more like” Christ.
One day, believers will be in heaven where God “will wipe away every tear from” our “eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain” (Revelation 21:4). As a girl, I would read Revelation 21 and 22 as a source of comfort. I remember getting excited reading about heaven and the coming of Jesus, even before I truly understood much. But looking back, one of the darkest seasons in my life was when I forgot this truth.
After several months of what I considered suffering, I questioned the purpose of it all. Although brought up in a strong Christian household, I had a glimpse of the pagan view of suffering where it had no purpose. Believing that, even for a moment, absolutely crushed me. Because believing that, even for a moment, blocked my hope and made me desperate for an escape.
But by God’s faithfulness, He used that moment to make it clear that He is the purpose. That was the only answer I neglected to acknowledge up to that point, but it was the only answer that provided peace, provided joy! It’s not because it was an answer, but because it was — is — the answer.
When it comes to why we suffer, Sproul ended his sermon in this way:
“We don’t always know. And we don’t have to know. What we have to know is Him. Because when Job demanded an answer for his pain, and asked God to speak to him and explain it … what answer did Job get from God? He didn’t get one.
“God didn’t say to Job, ‘You’re suffering this pain for this, this, this, and this.’ The only answer that Job got to his affliction in the final analysis was God Himself. The presence of God. In fact, what God was saying was, ‘Job, here I am. I am with you. Trust me.’ Now, when people say, ‘Trust me,’ it’s time to run. But when God says, ‘Trust Me,’ it’s time to trust.
“Let me finish by reminding you that our God never promised any of us that we would never go into the valley of the shadow of death. What He did promise us is that He would go with us. … We have the good Shepherd. We have His presence. We have His consolation. That doesn’t mean we’re removed from the arena of pain, but that we are upheld in the arena of pain.”
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.