Why does God allow suffering
He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the camping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace, and thought it well worthwhile.
Dorthy Sayers (in Alex McFarland the 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity, an apolegetics book for young christians, teens, and college students)
“He has graciously disclosed enough information to help us proces our grief appropriate;y. God has told us where win came from, its unfortunate result and how evil will finally and fully be banished one day. Christ’s empty grave is an incredibly comforting promise from God that essentially reminds us that He is in control. We can safely trust Him.
Not only has God given us knowledge of our pain and a reminded of His sovereignty, but He has also given us hope and purpose.”
Alex McFarland the 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity, p. 201
Others have pointed to the educational and developmental role of suffering–that in any human endeavor a degree of pain and suffering is necessary to push through to “our next self” or a “better self”
20 Reasons God Allows Suffering in the World
1) Suffering uncovers what is really inside our hearts.
2) Suffering breaks us of our pride
3) Suffering can deepen our desire for God
4) Suffering can mature us
5) Suffering can breed humility
6) Suffering may be a warning of something potentially worse.
7) Suffering can jump-start our prayer life.
8] Suffering may prompt a lost person to receive Christ
9) Suffering may lead a Christian to confess sin.
10) Suffering can help us deepen our trust in God.
11) Suffering can help us deepen our appreciation for Scripture
12) Suffering can help us appreciate other Christians who were victorious
13) Suffering can take our eyes off this world and ourselves.
14) Suffering can teach us first hand that God truly is sufficient
15) Suffering can connect us with other people
16) Suffering can create an opportunity for witness.
17) Suffering can lead a person into Christian ministry
18] Suffering can make us grateful for what we had or still have
19) Suffering can position our lives to bring more glory to God
20) Suffering, properly handled, will result in rewards in heaven.
Which of these 20 strikes a chord with your experience or those around you?
Here is CS Lewis, played by Anthony Hopkins in the movie “Shadowlands”:
“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”
Scripture reverses some of our understandings, assumptions, and preconceptions (we inherit from culture) about pain and suffering. It suggests that pain is an opportunity to test our faith and character. Pain serves as a proving ground. We see this in the Isrealites and Job.
So how do we deal with the problem of pain that CS Lewis spoke to? I recently saw two videos which address suffering from a Christian worldview–one from Os Guiness and the other from three artists speaking on the issue of suffering (both from the Veritas Forum).
Pain, trials, and tribulation often builds us into better people. I would check out two other books on the issue–I also like the insight that Don Miller brings to the issue in his book “One Million Miles” in relation to narrative/story. Rob Bell also took this issue up in “Drops Like Stars” Bell’s book makes virtually the same point, but with reference to “life as art.” (for a philosophical approach to the topic, Timothy Keller in “A Reason for God” also deals with this issue and has a free iTunes podcast on this theme) For instance here are a couple Donald Miller insights on our role in Gods story & in turn his role in our’s:
Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you.
We are all like spoiled children no longer impressed by the gifts we’re given–it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over th mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.
Nobody really remembers easy stories. Characters have to face their greatest fears with courage. Thats what makes a story good. If you think about the stories you like most, they probably have lots of conflict. There is probably death at stake, inner death or actual death, you know. These polar changes, these happy and sad things in life, are like colors God uses to draw the world.
Finally, the notion that life would be Candy Land or 100% without pain might not be desirable. Perhaps later, that encounter with less suffering in heaven will be all the more significant, valuable, and meaningful in light of trials and tribulations on Earth.
What does God give us if we live by his Word and ask for forgiveness? Well grace, forgiveness, and eternal life with him. In comparison, earthly pain is miniscule in comparison.
Pain puts us in a position to choose between optimist and pessimist–when we work through it while simulaneously honestly working through it. We can’t always do away with suffering–as its part of the human condition, but:
1) the Word gives us a way to think about suffering in a meaningful way. it gives us Hope for the future.
2) God loves us through (or rather in the midst of) our suffering.
3) The heros of the Bible all dealt with suffering–they became heros by their very suffering. (Noah, Moses, Daniel, Joseph, Shadrack, Meshach, & Abendigo, the Apostles, Jesus, etc…Note some were more ridicule and others were more the risk of suffering and death)
4) If life was Candyland our faith wouldn’t mean anything
5) If life was Candyland our achievements would’t mean as much.
6) If life was Candyland our happiness and joy wouldn’t be meaningful.
7) The earth is temporary and fleeting. (this obviously has a bit of tension with #5)
8] Suffering is a rather perplexing way of coming face to face with reality (gritty reality if you will). It can create reflective “mirror moments” which alter our motivations and trajectory in life. It can serve as a wake up call to re-calibrate our priorities and what is most important to us and what is truly meaningful for us. (by analogy–perhaps we get sent storms to avoid an eternal hurricane)
Obviously the insights of Romans 8:28 are helpful too:
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”
Echoing some of the seniment in Romans 8:28 in terms of Gods purpose for you in His Universe Max Lucado suggests:
God owns everything and gives us all things to enjoy. He is a good shephard to us, his little flock. Trust him, not stuff. Move from the fear of scarcity to the comfort of provision. Less hoarding, more sharing.
And most of all, replace fear of the coming winter with faith in the living God. After all, it’s just Monopoly money. It all goes back in the box when the game is over.
What are your thoughts or quote on the topic of suffering?
1) the Romans 8:28 reference and CS Lewis reference were borrowed from McFarland as well.
2) Max Lucado is from Fearless, p. 112. I have a handful of other quotes from fearless on Compassion in Politics
3) I believe I also have quotes from “A Million Miles” as well (I’ll try to provide a link later)