top of page

Why all the Suffering? part two

In my last blog post I looked at the root cause of suffering in the world; human sin. Whilst individual suffering is not necessarily due to specific individual sin, the suffering in the world as a whole is a result of sin, generally. Human beings are not essentially good; at heart we are selfish, we don’t want God to tell us what to do. We have been given free will, but most of us don’t use it for the common good. God has given us moral absolutes, and showed us what love is, but we refuse to return that love, or to love our neighbour as ourselves. The ultimate answer to “Why doesn’t God do something about suffering?” would have been for God to pull the plug or reboot the program. He could have erased humanity, or he could have made us in a way that we never did evil. He could have forced us to do good, taken away our free will, our autonomy. Doubtless that would have resulted in a world without suffering. But God doesn’t want puppets; he designed us so that true human flourishing occurs when we can willingly choose good over evil and lovingly submit to what he knows is best for us.

So, taking up where we left off, I want to show that God is not at arm’s length from our suffering, even the suffering that seems completely senseless, the suffering of innocents. We will see what God has done about suffering, what he is doing now, and why those who hope in the counter-cultural Gospel suffer differently from those who do not, and finally, how it will all end. God’s plan for humanity is not a quick fix, but it is a good plan and it’s already in place. From God’s timeless perspective it’s actually complete, but we are living in the outworking of it. We are not God and we can’t see the end from the beginning, we can only see the mess we’re in and the reality of our present suffering, which for so many is significant. We want to know, if God is so good, and he has promised to deal with sin and suffering, why doesn’t he get on with it? Why is he dragging it out? The basic answer is, we don’t know what God’s time frame is, because we are not God. It doesn’t mean he isn’t good or powerful, it just means we don’t see the whole picture. Remember that an individual lifespan is like one dot on a piece of paper, in a whole ream of paper, in a warehouse full of reams of paper, in a universe full of warehouses. That’s eternity and that’s God’s perspective. He absolutely guarantees it will all work out in the end.

Toward the end of the first century, the Christians of Asia Minor were suffering. The apostle Peter wrote two letters to them about their suffering and about God’s eternal plan for them, to put things in perspective. If you have the time, you should read 1st and 2nd Peter. In chapter 3 of the second letter, Peter predicts that scoffers would mock the idea of God having a plan and making everything right. “They will say, ‘where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation’” (2 Pet 3:3–4). In other words, Nothing has changed, so much for God’s promises of an end to suffering! Peter responds, “Don’t overlook the fact that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8–9). What human beings see as delay, Peter explains is God’s patience. In the intervening verses he wrote about how close God came to destroying the wicked world once before. If that had been the end of it, only eight people would have been saved. Every day that God patiently waits for more people to accept his gracious gift of life, brings more suffering, true, but also sees more salvation.

That’s all very well, but for many people, one day of suffering feels like an eternity. It’s all very well for God, sitting up there in heaven, looking down on us and judging us. What would he know about suffering? Has he ever experienced rejection and loss? Has he ever been persecuted, discriminated against, bullied, spat upon? Has he been tortured, unfairly accused, robbed, betrayed by his friends or murdered? God needs to try a bit of suffering and see how it feels!!!!

Well, actually, God did just that. God the Father sent his own Son to earth to live life as a full human being, as the man we know as Jesus Christ. Jesus was born in humble circumstances, grew up probably as the breadwinner for his widowed mother and many siblings, worked hard, experienced all the trials of life under Roman occupation, knew loss, deprivation, hunger and thirst. He grew exhausted giving of himself, he wept. He was mocked, plotted against, betrayed, whipped, punched and finally subjected to the most evil, excruciating and humiliating death devised; crucifixion. And he wasn’t even guilty. Not just innocent of any crime, but actually sinless. The only sinless man who ever lived, the only Son of his Father, the only human being with whom God could unequivocally say he was “well pleased.” But there’s more. Jesus didn’t carry his own sin and failure to the cross, because he had none. He carried ours, all of it. Every thought, word and deed that was offensive to God and humanity, he took it all on himself and bore it. Imagine the burden of that! But even more, he bore the wrath of God against our sin, crying out to the Father who had, for that dreadful few hours of excruciating pain and unimaginable mental anguish, forsaken him, rather than forsake us (Matthew 27:35–46). Jesus did all this willingly, suffering beyond anything anyone had ever suffered before or since, knowing it was the only way to deal with the root cause of all suffering and death. It was his destiny from eternity, as spoken of time and again in the scriptures.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:3–6).

Christ’s death and his vindication in resurrection changed everything. By it he conquered sin in the very humanity in which it normally reigned and destroyed the power of death, not just for himself but for all who would join with him by faith. Peter wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Through Jesus’ death we too can die to sin, and through his resurrection be born again to a living hope, a guaranteed destiny. In Jesus we are guarded through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time, at the culmination of God’s saving plan. This is cause for rejoicing, says Peter, even if you are suffering now (1 Peter 1:3–7). Being a Christian does not mean an end to suffering here and now; that will need to wait for that final culmination. In fact, Christians can expect additional suffering because of their faith. We don’t really see this in the “tolerant” west, but it is real and terrible for many Christians around the world. Take a look at Open Doors World Watch List to see what life is like for followers of Jesus in North Korea or China or Eritrea or in some Muslim majority countries. Also, take the time to read the testimonials of these Christians and how they respond to their suffering.

Suffering is different for those who belong to Christ, because we have hope, the sure knowledge that one day God will end not only our own suffering, but that of those we love, and the suffering of billions who are now reaping the dreadful consequences of the corporate sin of humanity. As Christians, we know that suffering is temporary, and not our final destiny. As Christians, suffering no longer feels like punishment, but as something that can make us stronger in the strength that God supplies, purify us, draw us nearer to him. As Christians we can see the work of Jesus in our sufferings and in turn have a greater heart for others. This is cause for rejoicing, writesPeter, even though you are grieved by various trials, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1Peter 1:6–7). Even when suffering is unjust, Christians have a different perspective. They know this is not the way things are meant to be, and God will ultimately bring justice to the world, even though humans certainly won’t. We remember what Christ, being innocent suffered for us, unjustly, to ensure that there will, ultimately be justice (1 Peter 2:19–25).

The counter-cultural Gospel changes everything about suffering. It reveals God’s plan to do away with the root cause of all suffering, human sin, not by wiping out all sinners, or taking away our free will and instantly striking evil-doers with lightning (although his intervention will come), but by taking our sin and suffering upon himself in his Son. It gives us hope and the knowledge that this life is not all there is; one day there will be justice and peace and no more suffering or death. But that’s not just pie in the sky, something to mindlessly grasp to keep us going as we ignore reality. The Gospel also changes us; it gives us a new heart. Knowing all that Christ has done for us, we respond in gratitude. Humbled, we determine to live as Christ would have us live and this means not just loving God but loving other people as ourselves. Christians are to weep with those who weep, entering into the suffering and trials of others, providing comfort and support as we have been comforted and supported by Christ. “Blessed be the God of all comfort,” writes Paul, “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God"(2 Corinthians 1:3–4).

It's not just “thoughts and prayers” however, as the current cynicism rightly contrasts with helpful action, but serving as Christ came to serve. As the apostle James say, faith is shown by good works, don’t just speak blessings to the needy, give them practical help (James 2:14–20). In its better moments, the Christian church has been, and still is, impelled by the love of Christ to feed the hungry, bring health to the sick, comfort and dignity to the dying, care for the poor, the orphans and widows, counselling to the lost, the addicted and the imprisoned (Matthew 25:31–40). The counter-cultural Gospel empowers us, as it did Corrie Ten Boom, to know that “there is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”

This does not mean that suffering becomes “easy” for Christians, of course not. It does mean that God gives us the strength to endure it and to grow, not whither, under it. The third century Christian writer Origen observed that the way God delivers us from afflictions not by removing them but by helping us so we are not crushed under them (On Prayer, 30). There will be times when we feel helpless, when we recoil at injustice and barbarity and cry out to God, “Why???” The Bible contains many instances of godly people doing just that, even angrily, because they do not understand why God seems silent and distance in the midst of suffering and evil. Read Psalm 88 as a distressing example of this. God doesn’t always give his reasons, nor does he magically appear. Sometimes we can look back and see good come out of bad, as I have done following a very difficult period in my life, but not always. We have to remember that eternal perspective, that the time has not yet come for all the answers, but it will.

What about people that don’t know God, have no access to the Gospel, particularly innocent children? How does God help them? What chance do they have? This is, of course, the hardest question of all, and the answer is, we do not know precisely for any individual victim of suffering. We know generally why those children suffer, why there is evil in the world. Why does God “allow” it to manifest in this way for these people? Because he is God and he sees more than we do. He alone knows what he is doing in the lives of such people. God actually does intervene; he sends people into such places to bring aid and support. He has, and continues to, provide guidance as to how we should treat others and what we, as fellow human beings, should be doing to alleviate the mess we’ve made. Before we blame God, let’s ask how much we ourselves are doing to love and care for and support people in those hell-holes so far removed from our experience.

Do we really think suffering is made any better, that there is more hope, that there is any sense to injustice, if we believe God doesn’t exist? People cite “the problem of suffering” or “the evil in the world,” as if that disproves the existence of a loving and powerful God. We fail to see where the source of evil and suffering lies; with ourselves in our determination to misuse our free will. How many people who curse God for his supposed vindictiveness and callous disregard actually want to see him directly intervene? To step in, physically and irresistibly, to destroy all wickedness and immorality (not just the bits we personally find offensive) to bring down corrupt governments, to distribute wealth equally, to put an end to greed and selfishness, to demote the powerful and lift up the weak? To destroy sin.... even our cherished “little” personal sins, for they are really no different from the “big” ones (Matt 5:21–22, 27–28)? To expose the secrets of every dark heart... including our own? But rest assured, God will. He has promised it will happen, and that sin and evil and injustice will finally be dealt with, leaving only what is good.

“And John 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.’

And he (Jesus) who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new’”

(Revelation 21:3–5).

It will all end well. God is in control and working in ways we can’t imagine. And he has left the door open for now, so as humanity continues to ignore him and drive itself and the planet toward destruction, there is still an opportunity to have hope in the midst of the mess we have made. God has delayed the final reckoning because he is patient... with you.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page