Suffering constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith for the believer and also for the skeptic. Scripture teaches that God is all-powerful, all-loving, and full of grace. Why then, if this is true, does He allow so much pain and suffering in the world?
Suffering began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and go their own way. As a result, human beings became sinners both by nature and choice, and suffering became an ongoing consequence of life on this earth.
Suffering is misery from affliction, feelings of mental or physical pain, or a state of prolonged anguish and deprivation. Why would a loving God allow such sorrow?
- CS Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, states, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
- As Joni Eareckson Tada says, “God permits what he hates to achieve what he loves.”
- According to Hugh Sylvester, author of Arguing with God, human beings are responsible for up to 90% of all pain and suffering that we experience. God, in His goodness and grace, uses it to draw us to Himself.
How are we, as Christians, to deal with suffering? Most of us would say that we don’t deal well when our world falls apart. A broken friendship, job loss, horrific diagnosis, or terrible choices are at the heart of most of our suffering. None of us choose to suffer, but we can determine the way we deal with it. If we are guilty of doing something sinful, we can either repent of our sin and turn back to God, or we can blame God for the consequences and turn away from Him. The same is true for natural disasters and illnesses. We can either respond to suffering by being angry at God, or we can draw nearer to God, and live in His peace and joy as we work through the hardest of times. Suffering is one of God’s greatest tools to grow us in our faith and to share with others His love and faithfulness.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).
Do I understand why God brings on almost unbearable suffering to some and not so much to others? No. But I do understand God’s character and know that he is faithful to make us stronger and more dependent on Him as He walks with us through any circumstance. He never promised that we would not suffer; quite the contrary. Those who go through difficult times often can come out on the other side with a stronger, more personal, and deeper faith.
“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Over the years, I have learned a whole lot about God and suffering. Here are a few of them:
- He does not need nor want my opinion as to how I think He should carry out His duties of being God.
“for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” (Hosea 11:9).
- Expect to suffer.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
- Through my own suffering, God has made me to better understand and comfort others in their pain.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:14-15).
- By choice, not by feeling, I have learned to thank God for my own suffering which has enabled me to see and experience His nearness and grace in the worst of times.
” For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5,6).
For those of us who believe in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we know for certain that suffering is temporary. Eternity awaits!
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).