Asking David Burke about Suffering

Samantha Ho asks David Burke some questions about suffering. 
David is the Unit Coordinator for the upcoming online ‘Faith & Suffering: Theological & Pastoral Explorations’ Intensive from 3-7 August.

SH: Why do you think ’suffering’ is often the most common apologetic topic Christians get asked about?

DB: When I did philosophy at uni, belief in an all-powerful and all-good God was deemed logically inconsistent with the obvious fact of suffering. For some people, this is a serious question and it deserves a serious answer. For others it is an intellectual game. Christian responses to this are known as theodicy – the justification of God. However, in my experience, people in the midst of great suffering have little interest in logical arguments or theodicies. They want to cope with what they experience and find meaning in it before God. Dr Kapic’s book and classes arise from the experience of deep suffering in his own family and speak into our search for grace and meaning in the midst of suffering.

SH: Is there a figure in church history whose story has inspired you in thinking through suffering?

DB: Church history has many many stories of people who suffered for their faith and we who live in the cosy western church have much to learn from them. Meet Wang Ming-Tao. He was raised in the political turmoil of early twentieth century China. In 1918 he became a pastor, having promised to do so if he survived a serious illness. Wang Ming-Tao’s theology led him to resist any compromise with the state. This led to threats on his life such that he kept a coffin at home in expectation of execution. His resistance to the Three Self-Patriotic Movement of the new Communist government led to his 1955 arrest. Under torture and threats he signed a ‘confession’ of crimes against the state in 1956, but soon revoked it and returned to prison until released as an 79 year old in 1979. Prison was not easy with daily privations, beatings and other torture, work parties, further interrogations and all the rest. In his writings he emphasises the necessity of suffering for all who resist idolatry and evil. 

SH: How about someone you know personally?

DB: Listen to the story of Janet who became my Chinese Godmother. As a young Chinese-Singaporean, Janet showed promise and gained entry to a high-quality school. However, dancing was her real passion and she won a scholarship to a dance school in London. The dream of dance ended with the Japanese WWII invasion of Singapore. Life was hard under occupation and Janet spoke of foraging for food in the jungle and going hungry. She lived in fear of beatings from the occupying army for the slightest infringement of rules. One time Janet and other young girls were put in a wooden hut and the doors locked. Soldiers piled dry bushes around the building and only the last minute intervention by a Japanese officer prevented a fiery death. After the war Janet married and had three children. Life with an abusive husband who gambled the meagre family funds brought new suffering. Janet shared an apartment with five other family members and even in advanced years slept on a mat on the lounge room floor. For most of her life Janet followed traditional Chinese religion and resigned herself to suffering as an inevitably of fate. Her conversion was marked by a strong tearful and emotional response to the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross – his sufferings for her spoke into the deep recesses of her suffering soul. 

SH: Why might it be a good idea for pastoral leaders take up this unit next semester? 

DB: Suffering is normal and universal in the abnormality of a fallen world. If pastoral workers have not discovered this by the time they leave college, they are soon faced with suffering in their own lives or that of church members. Many of us are painfully inadequate at dealing with suffering and fluster about with stoic resignation, pointless platitudes or deepening despair. I have started reading Kelly Kapic’s book and wish I had done so earlier in my life. He draws on a wide range of sources, from early church fathers to contemporary writers, to discuss suffering in a way marked by profound compassion and with nuanced theological reflection. This unit is a cross-over between pastoral and theological disciplines and brings ’Christ for all of life’ into our reality of suffering. It holds promise of helping equip students face suffering in their own lives and to help with the suffering of others in ways that are profoundly pastoral and faithfully theological. 

About the Faith & Suffering Intensive

Christ College is running an online intensive with Kelly Kapic & David Burke from 3-7 August, 2020. Read more on our webpage here.

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