Why The Suffering?

How many times have you heard (or even thought, for that matter) the following:

If there were a God, an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God, why would He permit such suffering in the world?

Seems odd that God would allow a small child to suffer and die from cancer, or allow a young couple to tragically die in an automobile accident, or allow a large portion of an entire continent of people to suffer miserably and die from a disease. War, violence, natural disaster, sickness, hate, pain, rape, pillage, prejudice, murder, and on, and on, and on…. Why would an all-powerful and all-loving God put up with this mess if He had the capacity to stop it?

We cannot fathom the depth and breadth of God’s wisdom. We are completely out of His league. We can’t even entirely understand ourselves for that matter. So what makes us think that we can judge the right and wrong of the nature of God?

I believe that God exists both inside and outside of the dimensions of space/time that restrict us. Since God is not bound by time, why wouldn’t he know more about cause and effect than we do? In the Frank Capra movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Clarence the angel explains to George Bailey (during the period that George got his wish and as a result never existed) that his brother Harry Bailey died as a young boy because George was not there to save him from drowning. And because of that, Harry never served in the war, and as a result, wasn’t there to save an entire transport of men from dying. Most of us can accept that time paradoxes would easily exist if we were not bound by the restrictions of time. We enjoy entertainment on the subject in books, movies and television (Back to the Future, Star Trek, etc…) and it stirs our imagination.

God is aware and understanding of the big picture in ways that we never can nor likely ever will. Yet people still judge God on these issues, and mistake His benevolence for either apathy, indifference or even malevolence. What do we know of the afterlife? We know nothing.  Why do people assume that their lot in the afterlife will be worse than their lot in this life? What do they know of the spiritual life that the little girl who died of cancer enjoys today, instead of the suffering that she endured while living her temporal life here on earth? Again, they know nothing. And knowing nothing scares us! We want to bring things back down to our level of understanding because then it will be familiar, and then we can get a handle on it, and then can we be in a position to judge – and we want to be the judge.

What we want and what we need are often two different things.  Being a parent, I can assure you I’ve seen this in my kids while they were growing up and my parents saw the same thing in me.  Avoiding pain and suffering (however manifested) isn’t always what is best for us.   I remember very vividly when my second oldest child was only 9 months old and suffering from a serious kidney infection.  The hospital staff had me hold her down while they drew blood, and she wailed in sheer pain.  I knew she needed this blood drawn, and I wonder what her thoughts were of me holding her still while she endured this seeming torture.  She couldn’t understand why the pain was necessary, but it was of obvious importance.

What desire would we have for living in a place with no pain and suffering if we never endured any pain and suffering?  What need would we have for a Savior if there was nothing to be saved from?  What understanding would we have of what our Savior endured for us if we never knew anything about enduring the unpleasant?

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered  broadcast…The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God…Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.  – C. S. Lewis

The apostle Paul wrote that he rejoiced in his own pain and suffering because he felt it helped him become more like Christ. Paul turned his suffering into thoughts of how Christ suffered for him. Maybe hardship is actually grace in disguise.  Maybe God knows that we can’t really, fully appreciate His grace and provision until we experience some measure of the absence of it.  Maybe we also can’t really, fully understand the sacrifice He made for us when He bore our sin and accepted the punishment for our sins by dying on the cross if we don’t experience some pain and suffering ourselves.

Until we are in the presence of Christ, we cannot know how wonderful life will be… and without the hope of Christ, the hope of His resurrection, we doom ourselves to fear of the unknown, fear of that which we cannot understand. My hope in Him and in His resurrection gives me comfort that, while I may experience pain and suffering in this temporal life, I can look past that to a better life far beyond my ability to understand.

We cannot begin to understand the incredible wisdom of God, nor can we understand the incredible perfect love He has for us. Without that understanding, we cannot convict God of apathy nor of any malevolence. And we cannot assume that He does not exist because He doesn’t act in ways that we think He should.

The first and foremost reality is that suffering and death are not only enemies of life, but a means of reminding us of  life’s twin realities, love and hate. – Ravi Zacharias

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