Leadership Development Ministry Co-Hosts Event with Harvard Humanists, Atheists, and AgnosticsStudents of various faith backgrounds (and no faith backgrounds) gathered in Harvard's Science Center's Auditorium B on the first Sunday after the start of classes for a debate on the topic, "Can the Christian God Be Good in Light of the Suffering in the World?"
For the second consecutive year, Harvard College Faith and Action (HCFA) and Harvard Community Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics (HCHAA) co-hosted a debate. HCFA is a leadership development ministry supported and resourced by Christian Union.
Welcoming the students, HCFA President Alastair Su '14 noted that debate is a misnomer, saying the event was more of a discussion. Julia Bruce '15, president of HCHAA, extended a warm welcome to students of all backgrounds and emphasized community.
The debate was moderated by Jay Harris, dean of undergraduate education and the Harry Austryn Wolfson professor of Jewish studies. In his opening remarks, Harris eloquently set the tone, reading from Jeremiah 12. He noted that the event's topic has occupied the greatest minds of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions for over 2,000 years.
Stephen Mackereth '15 and Veronica Wickline '16 represented HCFA.
"The problem of suffering puts God's goodness on trial," said Wickline. "And to question someone's goodness, one must appeal to a moral standard of good."
"For love to exist, humans must have free will," Mackereth asserted. "For our free will to matter, our actions must have recognizable consequences in the world."
HCHAA was represented by Sarah Coughlon '15 and Will Harrington '16, who focused on why God would create a world in which humans have free will along with the capacity to limit the free will of others and inflict suffering. While Coughlon and Harrington were debating the goodness of a God whose existence they question, they were respectful and rigorous in their inquiry.
"For love to exist, humans must have free will. For our free will to matter, our actions must have recognizable consequences in the world."
The dialogue was courteous, and Harris moderated with questions that helped each side round out its position.
Even so, the weight of the topic was clear. Wickline countered a common criticism with a quote from Oxford Professor John Lennox, who once said, "Could God have made electricity that wasn't dangerous? Could He have made fire that didn't burn?" Mackereth joined in by stating that "there is one great redeeming factor that utterly transforms suffering, and which assures us that suffering is not the end of our story."
The HCFA team addressed the gravity of the debate topic, while centering on the importance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in redeeming suffering.
"For anyone who loves Jesus, for anyone who chooses to act as Jesus would act towards God and men, Christ's resurrection proves that God will relieve all suffering and bring that person to a state where they can experience the full benefit of loving and being loved by God and men," concluded Wickline.
Mackereth's and Wickline's preparation began six weeks prior to the event, as there were vigorous online discussions across the organizations. Hence, the debate itself was only a glimpse into the ongoing dialogue between the two student organizations.
Looking back, Mackereth reflected, "I am personally a great deal more confident in God's goodness, after thinking about every possible argument, every possible counterpoint. I can see myself doing more apologetics."
"I deeply valued this opportunity to share God's word in such a public forum," said Wickline. "I think it has opened my eyes to more opportunities to share God's Word in and around Cambridge. I pray the discussion shed light on some important God-questions for those present."