Saturday, February 23, 2019

Why Suffering

October 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Why Suffering

jesus_carrying_crossPain and suffering have always been a part of human history. The rains fall on both the good and the bad; the holy and the unholy; the righteous and the unrighteous. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and the likes are no respecter of nations, tribes or colours.

When miscarriage happens after parents begin planning and dreaming for a child’s future; we ask why. When small children are killed by accidents, afflicted with cancer, or crippled by disease; we ask why. When young people are run down by drunk drivers or paralyzed by sports accidents; we ask why. When parents, spouses, or friends are taken away from loved ones by disease, disaster, and death; we ask why. We ask more aggressively when we see the families and friends of others still alive.

These questions have baffled philosophers, theologians and scholars since time immemorial. It is all the more excruciating for the Christians since the God of the Bible is one who is all powerful and all loving!

A God who folds his arms and stands detached in the midst of his suffering people is certainly not worth worshipping! A God who is all love, but not powerful enough to intervene and help is of no worth either. But a God who is all powerful but unloving enough to help is certainly no God at all. (which indeed make him an evil being). Where then do we stand? Do we have an answer? What does the Bible say? However, before considering what the Bible has to say to these questions, we must distinguish who is asking the questions.

An atheist who asks such a question should know that his question is out of place. Since atheists do not believe in the existence of God and presumably believe evolution’s claim that we all just evolved from slime and that life is a meaningless accident, there is no reason to question the existence of suffering in life? After all, if a person supports mindless and random evolution, why does that person expect fairness and justice? It makes no sense! The atheist may not like suffering, but he has no reason to object. For the Buddhist or Hindu and the ‘Christian Science’ believer there is no problem. Suffering, and the evil which occasions it, are regarded ultimately as ‘illusion’. But it is a ‘problem’ for the professing Christian because of holding together two articles of faith: God is almighty and God is good. Here is the puzzle – if God is almighty he must be able to get rid of suffering, if he is good he must want to get rid of suffering. But suffering exists, therefore God cannot be both almighty and good!

Scripture echoes our questions. Losing children, possessions, and health, Job asked, “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? (Job 21:7)” The Psalmist wondered, “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? (Psalm 2:1)” Jacob wondered why Joseph was taken from him, apparently torn apart by wild animals. Joseph must have wondered about his brothers’ hatred that led them to sell him into slavery. Moses must have been practically yelling at God, wondering why he’d been burdened with leading such a stiff-necked, sinful people as Israel.

Sometimes we see restoration in this life. Job received back even more than he lost. The widow of Zarephath must have wondered why God sent His prophet to eat the last of her food, yet she experienced how that God kept replenishing her supply. Even more, she asked how one who housed a man of God could have God take away her son. She cried, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son! (1 Kings 17:20)” The Lord chose to raise the child to life through Elijah’s prayer.

Often, God doesn’t answer why. He basically told Job, “When you’re God, then you can demand an answer.” He’s never spelled out why He created the angels, only to see so many of them fall into sin or mankind, only to watch the rebellion of our race unfold.

At other times, God reveals His purposes for troubles. Joseph was taken away so he could save his family. Moses was called because God knew he was right for the job. Sometimes disaster is a call to us to repent and trust God. He sent invaders to chastize Israel and Judah for their sins. Jesus used the fall of the tower of Siloam (Luke 13:4-5) to warn others that their fate would be the same without repentance. The disciples asked, “Why was this man born blind?” Jesus didn’t blame the sins of the parents or God’s foreknowledge that the man would also sin. He said, “It was so the works of God would be shown in him,” then He restored the man’s sight (John 9).

But our Creator in His wisdom doesn’t always give us the answer we want. Rarely does He reveal the specific reason for the decision He makes. Yet He always has a good reason. For example, God delivered the apostle Paul from many trials, but in at least one He declined to intervene in spite of Paul’s fervent prayers (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). On this occasion the response to Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

In this instance, strengthening an aspect of Paul’s spiritual perspective or character was ultimately more important than his personal comfort.

This example should help us understand that God’s perspective is different from ours (see Isaiah 55:8-9; 2 Peter 3:8). He sometimes places the character lessons we should learn in difficult circumstances above our physical and mental comfort. At such times we may think God doesn’t hear our prayers, but He does. It’s just that we often don’t want to accept that His answer is “no” or “not yet”—or, as in the case of the apostle Paul, “I have something better in mind for you.”

With the resultant Fall of Mankind (Genesis 3:23-24), not only the nature of men and women changed, but the physical world itself became unstable and potentially dangerous, with the possibility of earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and various weather disasters, including droughts and floods

(Romans 8:19-22). Crops would also now become much harder to grow (Genesis 3:17-19) – animals too lost their essentially peaceful nature and the world of animals and insects would now proceed ‘red in tooth and claw’ with Satan’s predatory spirit! Pain also now became an inseparable part of human existence and men would tend to dominate and bully their wives (Genesis 3:16). It’s as if the Lord said, ‘You want to do things your own way? Fine, but you must accept the whole package and you must also try to control the natural world without my protective hand!’

So we need to understand that the world which we see all around us today – though still occasionally containing much beauty – falls far short of what God intended it to be. Human beings are now born with a ‘fallen nature’ (Psalm 51:5) God could rightly blame each and every one of us for every evil that has ever happened. However, He doesn’t!
Instead, God blamed His innocent Son. To reconcile Himself to sinners, God “made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)” In His agony on the cross, Jesus cried out with and for us sinners, saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Quoting Psalm 22, Jesus identified Himself with every person who has ever been devastated by untimely loss. No one was ever more innocent, yet no one ever suffered more severely both the attacks of Satan and the divine justice of God. The greatest miscarriage of justice was also its highest expression, for in the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Christ, we are forgiven and invited to become citizens of the heavenly kingdom.

Simply knowing that God knows best and that all things work out for good doesn’t take away our pain. But the pain Jesus felt sanctifies and gives purpose to our suffering. Believing in the resurrection doesn’t immediately call the dead to life, but it guarantees that the dead in Christ will rise. The Christian still asks, “Why pain, suffering, and death?” God still answers, “Because I love you and desire to make My strength perfect in your weakness.”

A mother of five children who is on long-term chemo doesn’t have an easy life, but Beverly worked hard to steer clear of self-pity. She chose daily (and sometimes hourly) to be used by God, no matter where, no matter what. Like so many others who have battled serious illness, she discovered that when you focus your energy on other people and allow yourself to be a conduit for God’s mercy and kindness, self-pity is washed away and replaced by purpose. Beverly believes that regardless of our abilities or our limitations, as long as we are still drawing breath, God has a purpose for us here on earth. When we’re suffering, we may have to adjust our thinking to find our purpose because it may be unlike anything we have done before. Like Beverly, we may find that our purpose is right in front of us — to provide comfort that will help others in their affliction. Whether that comfort comes from our prayers, phone calls, or our heartfelt compassion, the only requirement is a willing heart.

Both man made suffering and ‘natural’ suffering should focus our minds on ultimate issues, causing us not so much to ask ‘Why doesn’t God do something about this?’ but “what is my response to this? How might I change?” Will God remove evil and suffering? Yes – one day. But he has already started and dealt with the underlying problem, our wrong relationship with himself, by sending his Son. Christians can therefore side with God to relieve suffering and fight against evil and wrong. But in the meantime, while we live in a world where people still rebel, there will always be suffering and Christians will suffer too. After all Jesus did! But one day, things will be different and we need to make sure we are on side with God before it is too late.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
(Romans 8:18)

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