Horrific accident seriously injured Dan’s mother and left him seeking answers to his suffering
Will my mother die, or be a vegetable? Will she be normal again someday?
These were the questions that shattered a fun family holiday and the beliefs of nine-year-old Dan Paterson after a car crash ripped away the mother he had known.
Though Dan's mother survived her shocking brain trauma, she lost part of her vision, her ability to self-regulate emotions, and had to relearn basic tasks.
"Watching a parent, who you think is an immovable object in your life, face their mortality – you start to wonder what is going on in the world," Dan says sadly.
Up to that point, he remembers, "I had believed that God has a wonderful plan for your life, but that no longer matched my experience."
His reaction was to withdraw from the God he thought had betrayed him because He "offered nothing for me."
After high school, he searched for purpose in life when he realised that most of his friends were just living to escape theirs.
"On weekends they found some escapist experience, usually with alcohol, only to hate their everyday life," he explains.
"That lifestyle seemed empty to me."
“My questions about purpose, suffering and guilt were completely confronted”The purpose of suffering and guilt also began to play on Dan's mind.
"Maybe it was a hangover from my Christian upbringing, but there was something gnawing in me that wouldn't let me feel okay doing what my schoolmates were happy doing."
Dan read the entire Bible in two months after a Christian co-worker suggested that it would provide him with some answers.
"My questions about purpose, suffering and guilt were completely confronted in the New Testament accounts of Jesus Christ. As I read about Jesus' life I moved from atheism, scepticism and doubt to believing that this is a God whose character I can trust," Dan says.
"Jesus said, 'The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And the second is like it, love your neighbour as yourself.'
"This meant that I was made for a relationship with God and to care for people outside of myself. Pointing upwards and outwards made sense to me, because when I was just trying to have fun experiences they eventually seemed to get empty again."
On his question about suffering, Dan shares that Jesus' death on the cross – the "suffering of God on my behalf" – showed Him that "God suffers with us, and that He loves us."
Dan also points out that the cross of Jesus made sense of his guilt.
"This guilt was not just a psychological hang-up but a helpful part of my conscience telling me that I was outside the moral boundaries God designed for me to operate in, and that not everything is right between me and God. Jesus' sacrifice was His provision for my guilt and separation from Him – it brought me back into a relationship with Him."
This realisation lead Dan to respond in commitment to Jesus' offer of forgiveness and new life at age 18.
"I didn't hang up my questions. I didn't check my brain at the door," he adds after his decision.
"Knowing God personally brought me into the security of a relationship where I was able to explore my questions and doubts, and I found an intellectually compelling way of interpreting human experience, human history, religions and philosophies."
After volunteering in his church's youth ministry, Dan gained a Master of Arts in Theology and is now a church pastor and itinerant speaker for Ravi Zacharias Ministries, a global Christian apologetics movement.
"The Christian response to suffering," he shares enthusiastically, "makes the most sense of our innate expectations and reactions to suffering.
"If I were to reject the Bible, I would have to put something else in its place. According to other worldviews suffering is either deserved, an illusion, meaningless, or bad cosmic luck – none of which are illuminating or helpful."
On the common charge that suffering disproves God's existence, Dan responds, "Our innate expectation, that suffering is evil or wrong for humanity to experience, actually presupposes the biblical view that suffering and death are enemies of humanity.
"The Bible says that suffering is not the original state we were created into, nor is it the ultimate fate in which we are meant to exist. Finally, suffering is not going to be the eternal state for those who walk with God."
What about natural disasters and weather events?
"There are meaningful responses to that as well," Dan says. "C.S. Lewis said that perhaps suffering is 'God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world', because without suffering we would be indifferent to the fact that all is not right between the Creator and His creation."
Dan observes that when somebody is actually suffering, they do not need a philosophy, but a friend.
"The God of the Bible says He is near to the broken hearted and carries us in the midst of our suffering," Dan shares.
"If you read the claims of Jesus for yourself, I think some will be surprised how far off the stereotyped caricatures of Jesus truly are." •