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    ‘Where is God amid suffering?’ asks regional symposium

    ‘Where is God amid suffering?’ asks regional symposium

    Photo By Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Pintagro | World-renowned theologian Ravi Zacharias discusses the problems of pain and suffering...... read more read more



    Story by Gregory Jones 

    21st Theater Sustainment Command

    A world-renowned religious scholar confronted what many believe to be some of life’s most vexing questions during a symposium conducted April 28 at the Vogelweh Military Complex.
    Ravi Zacharias, a lecturer, writer and founder of an international ministry as well as a religious philosopher, explored such challenging topics as suffering, evil and purpose during a presentation punctuated by rhetorical questions, anecdotes and the main speaker’s trademark wit.
    A captivated audience of around 450 leaders, Soldiers, Airmen, Civilians and Family members from locations as distant as Belgium, Stuttgart and northern Bavaria as well as the Kaiserslautern area converged on the Armstrong Club for the symposium.
    Zacharias addressed similar topics in a lighter and more concise manner during the National Prayer Breakfast held that morning at the Ramstein Officer’s Club. More than 300 enthusiastic participants enjoyed spiritual as well as culinary fare during the annual community event.
    The symposium featured half-hour presentations by Zacharias and Christian Hofreiter, director of Zacharias’ ministry organization and a research fellow at Oxford University. A lively question and answer session facilitated by Lt. Col. R. Randall Thomas, the 21st Theater Sustainment Command deputy chaplain and key event organizer, followed the presentations.
    Both speakers directly addressed arguments against the existence of God, purpose and transcendent meaning lodged by such prominent philosophers as David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche as well as strident “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins – influential in contemporary popular culture.
    Noting the problem of pain and suffering “is a bottom-line question” that transcends philosophies and cultures, Zacharias discussed the emotional and spiritual as well as the physical toll they impose. He also observed these questions loom particularly large for Soldiers, who confront evil, pain and suffering in powerful and intimate ways.
    On the topic of outrage over the evils of the world, Zacharias offered a colorful anecdote that suggested an inherent standard of goodness and perfection that refutes nihilism. And paradoxically, “meaningless,” according to Zacharias, results more often from pursuit of pleasure for its own sake than from pain. Suffering, he noted, frequently yields reflection, understanding, spiritual growth and faith. Comparing life to a drama, he also observed that “knowing the author and the story line” can offer useful context to life’s agonies.
    Hofreiter addressed similar themes, acknowledging the daunting challenges posed by pain and suffering but emphasizing the importance of freedom and redemptive love.
    “Love cannot be compelled,” he said. “It must be freely offered.” Freedom and love, he observed, require choice and therefore the possibilities of error, evil and pain.
    Col. Scott Hammond, the TSC command chaplain, concluded the event with reflections and an invitation to prayer. Dozens of participants remained into the evening to pray and meet with chaplains and the speakers.
    Participants, an impressive group in their own right ranging from aspiring ministers to precocious high school students to intellectually curious officers, Airmen and Soldiers, praised Zacharias for confronting life’s deepest dilemmas.
    “He doesn’t dodge tough questions like the question of suffering,” said 1st Lt. Spencer Bolduc, executive officer of the 635th Movement Control Team, 39th Transportation Company, part of the TSC’s 16th Sustainment Brigade. “As Soldiers we deal with a lot of pain. But he helps us to understand the pain is there for a reason. As we heard from the speakers tonight, the pain can be a gateway to purpose and meaning – those experiencing pain are often the ones who open their hearts to meaning.”
    Some emphasized the force of Zacharias’ intellectual arguments and ability to explain life’s deepest dilemmas.
    “I really enjoyed it because he brings the mind and heart together,” said Pfc. Muhota Mbuthia, a dental assistant who serves at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center clinic. “He played a big role in my journey as a Christian. He unites science and soul. Hearing him talk about the problem of evil was especially powerful.
    “I was thinking about an atheist battle buddy who lives in a wholly subjective world,” he added. “And like Dr. Zacharias said, it’s really unlivable. If there really is no objective reality or standard, then what would stop us from just killing each other or doing anything we wanted? That was really meaningful for me.”
    Others highlighted the value of the discussion itself and praised the chaplains for organizing such compelling events.
    “As Soldiers we try to be technically and tactically proficient,” said Sgt. Tameeka DuBose of the 773rd Civil Support Team, part of the TSC’s 7th Mission Support Command. “This helps build us spiritually, mentally and emotionally as well. I learned a lot from him. I hope they keep bringing in speakers like this who can challenge us and build our minds and spirits.”
    Zacharias said he appreciates the opportunity to engage military audiences. “We are delighted to be part of this setting and to minister to their deep questions,” he said after the symposium. Noting “these are difficult times to be in the armed forces,” the India native expressed hope he and colleagues could provide Soldiers and Airmen “answers that will be meaningful and encourage them in their faith.”
    “We present the truth with relevance so these intelligent men and women can see how critical faith is in our times,” Zacharias added. “But faith can’t be in what’s untrue – it must be in the truth. And the nation needs men and women in leadership – and of this caliber – in their faith walk with God.”



    Date Taken: 05.02.2016
    Date Posted: 05.06.2016 04:52
    Story ID: 197484

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