The problem of suffering is the age-old question for many people in the world. If there is a loving God, how can there be pain and suffering? This question has been asked of me several times over more than a decade of ministry, teaching – or even just being a Christian in everyday life. If I am honest, I’ve never come up with a convincing answer. Maybe because my cultural background has never seen the question of God’s goodness in relation to our pain as something to compare and contrast. The pain many Black and Brown Christians have experienced has not (at least for many of us) led us to question God’s goodness or God’s existence but the goodness of humanity. My philosophical and theological question is really: ‘If human beings are good why do they cause so much pain?’ The suffering that Black and Brown people have experienced at the hands of white oppression is not just a one-time event, but has lasted hundreds of years.
In my ministry, when I have experienced pupils and students who are angry and closed off, my response is to think that something much deeper must be going on either presently at home or within the family history. What if this has happened for more than one generation, even for two or five or even twenty generations? There is generational suffering occurring. This is what many Black and Brown people are experiencing. In her book Healing the Racial Trauma, Sheila Wise Rowe writes about this as a form of radical battle fatigue. Studies from the University of Utah have shown that the mental and physical stress, which people of colour face from racism, is similar to what soldier’s experience in battle. This fatigue is mentally, emotionally, and physically draining – every day trying to navigate a world that at times they feel they are not created for. The Mayo Clinic defines fatigue as ‘a near contestant state of weariness that develops over time and reduces your energy, motivation and concentration’. These experiences are not a matter of God’s doing but a matter of sinful people.
Often, we pray like the psalmist: How long O Lord? And we ask God, ‘How long are we going to experience pain and suffering?’ I think when Black and Brown people pray, How Long O Lord?, we are asking God, through Christ in the power of the Spirit, how long will our white siblings continue to ignore us or cause us pain? How long will have to question our very existence and battle in the public square for our value? This question of the problem of racist evil is not one that can be addressed by questioning God, but by questioning ourselves