You don’t have to live long before you experience intense pain. For me, I have given up trying to identify the most painful experiences in life.. a friend killing himself, another dying from a painful disease, another being raped, marriages breaking up, violence, loneliness… I could go on but the real tragedy is that what I am describing is just normal life on planet earth. After 37 years my conclusion is this… Life is both messy and painful, and there is something in all of us that cries out.. why? Good question. Intellectual types who scoff at Christianity say that God is either good and powerless or powerful but not good. They say he cannot be both or else he would stop all the suffering. We believe that God is both good and powerful, so why does He allow suffering? There are two sides to the question, the first side is, why did God allow evil into the world? which I will look at in a seperate topic. The second, is why doesnt He stop the suffering that is going on now? This is were we will start. But be warned, there are no easy answers…
No one is innocent. I guess we should start here. It’s natural to feel like a victim when we suffer, as very often we suffer directly because of what other people do. However, the Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3v23). But what about babies who die? they haven’t sinned right? It’s a tough one, the Bible says that we are sinful from birth (Psalm 51), and that the only reason anyone dies is because of the universal affect of sin (Romans 6v23). Therefore, babies are guilty by nature. That’s a hard concept but none the less true. Perhaps its especially hard in our western individualistic culture to grasp this, in other countries there is more of a sense of corporate or tribal responsibility. So no one is innocent.
We live under a curse because of man’s sin and rebellion (Genesis 3v17). In other words the consequence of rebellion against God by the human race is that God has taken away paradise and allowed everyone to live with the consequence of being part of a race that is separated from Him and hostile to Him. Romans 1v18 says that the wrath of God is being poured out from heaven on all unrighteousness. We see this in all the suffering around us. God says we will reap what we as a race have sown. This is hard to accept in a world that sees God at best as a benevolent grandfather figure. However, God is holy and just and takes man’s rebellious autonomy as an affront to His holy character.
Suffering in this life is a message that needs a response. C.S Lewis called pain, God’s megaphone. God’s beautiful creation and blessings are a foretaste of heaven, but in the same way, suffering is a foretaste of hell. It is almost as if hell casts a shadow upon the earth and as its darkness falls it brings suffering in its wake. There is a taste of hell now so that those who will be warned by it will not experience the real thing. God uses pain to get our attention, to show us that something is drastically wrong with the world because we are not right with God. Pain has its benefits. When you burn yourself on a cooker, the pain tells you to remove your hand from the heat, or else you would be in real difficulty. So God speaks to us through pain, for our benefit.
God is compassionate. We shouldn’t imagine from the above that God is just angry and wrathful, He is also loving and compassionate. Jesus wept over the rebellion of Jerusalem and wept at the grave of Lazarus because of the human plight. God is moved by the tragedy of our suffering, and has done something about it.
God has intervened. Christ as the incarnate God came to earth to represent sinful men and women, to suffer in their place more than any person has ever suffered, so that for each person who trusts Him the suffering would one day stop forever. He will wipe away every tear (Rev 21v4). On the cross, Christ suffered for our sins (1 Cor 15v3) and became a curse for us (Gal 3v13). However, this is not heaven. Even Christians who have been forgiven still suffer, and sometimes worse than before they were Christians, as we become less and less popular. The truth is we live between two realities. We are “in Christ” which removes suffering for us for all eternity in the new heavens and earth. However, we are also “in Adam”, in other words we are still human and have to live in a sin cursed world.
Christians suffer with purpose. The Bible tells us that Christians should think of suffering differently than we did before we were saved. Before, God was our judge, but now He is our Father. Hebrews 12 tells us that God is in complete control of how much suffering comes into our lives. It’s not punishment but rather Fatherly discipline that aims at helping us grow in holiness and be separated from our sin. 1 Peter 4v1 says that, he who has suffered in his body ceases from sin. Thats why the psalmist could say, “it was good for me that i was afflicted as before I went astray but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119v67). We can’t answer all the mysteries but we can grapple with what God does tell us and believe that “the judge of all the earth will do right” (Gen 18v21). So when tragedy hits and it seems so senseless, do I ask why? You bet I do, its a valid question. The question only becomes a problem when we ask it in a way that blames or accuses God. The parable of the sower tells us that such a response to trials shows a defective faith. So how should we respond when we suffer? Peter says, “Commit yourself to your faithful creator and continue to do good”. What a challenge! So often we use suffering as an excuse to feel justified in sinning.. like getting drunk or…. you fill in the blanks! However, God is the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1) and He will comfort us in our trouble if we come to Him. A fellow pilgrim.