Unfortunately, there has been a lot of sadness and tragedy that has occurred in my community lately, and it hasn’t been just one instance. Several people I know have suffered greatly over the past few weeks, and I don’t have the words to comfort them. Whether it be a devastating disease, a challenging circumstance, or an unthinkable loss, suffering has made it’s presence felt in the lives of many recently, and it can sometimes bring hard questions for us about what God is doing.
Now before I go any further I want to make three things clear: One is that I’ve never truly suffered the way many of you have and cannot relate to what you’re going through. Therefore, please don’t take this post as me telling you how “easy it is” to overcome suffering, because the truth is I haven’t yet experienced it and don’t know how I’ll react to it when I do someday. Secondly, I want to emphasize that I don’t have all the answers. God is much too big and mysterious for me to ever figure out, and I don’t understand why things are the way they are. Thirdly, books and books have been written on this topic by people who are much smarter than I am, which is why I’m going to be focusing my thoughts on only three brief points.
1) Why does suffering exist?
I think it’s important for us to understand that in the beginning, God created EVERYTHING perfectly–free of pain, suffering, and death. It was not in His will to bring suffering into this world (Lamentations 3: 31-33), for God created EVERYTHING and saw that it was GOOD (Genesis 1: 31). Suffering came into this world through sin (Genesis 3), which is any act we commit outside the will of God. Through sin, the world became broken; things fell apart from the perfection God created for us; and the harsh consequences of sin (pain, suffering, and death) came into this world. Now that’s not to say that if we suffer, it’s because of our own personal sin necessarily, but that all suffering is a result of humanity’s sin as a whole. Thus, suffering exists because it is a result of all the sin that humanity has committed throughout the course of history.
2) Why does God allow suffering to exist?
This is a question that is much more complex to answer for God is sovereign and in control of all things; therefore, if God really wanted to, He could wipe out all the suffering of this world at His will. Along with that, however, He’d have to wipe out all of the sin of this world since sin produces suffering. And along with that, He’d have to wipe out all the sinners of this world (which would mean all of us) since sinners produce sin and sin produces suffering. Thus, one possible reason God allows suffering to exist is because He doesn’t want to destroy us as would be required in order to destroy sin and suffering.
One thing the Bible makes clear is that God does all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8: 28). Therefore, we can infer that God uses suffering for our good. Romans 5 tells us that suffering builds our faith and makes us stronger–making us more capable to spread the Gospel to those who need it. The best way I can explain this concept is through an example from my own life…
When I was in high school, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her prognosis was so bad that she was even told she had but months to live. My mother could have succumb to the confusion and frustration that came with her suffering, but instead she chose to focus on God. And through Him, she found peace, courage, and hope, and miraculously, she overcame her suffering and is still with us to this day–cancer-free for 11 years now!
Through my mom’s suffering, she not only grew in her own faith, but she was able inspire many people through her amazing example. This even included myself, for her example showed me how through faith and trust in Jesus, we can overcome ANY obstacle in our lives in a powerful way. My mom uses her experience with cancer to minister to others who are battling with the disease, and she’s a great role model on how to deal with our suffering through faith and courage despite the most dire of circumstances.
3) Does God care about our suffering?
The great thing about the God of the Bible is that He loves us more than we can even fathom and He’s willing to do ANYTHING to save us from the destructive powers of sin and suffering. God loves us too much to leave us the way we are–stuck in a sinful, broken world with seemingly no way out. So to save us, God Himself became flesh, came down to earth, experienced the worst of sufferings and injustices this world has to offer, and overcame sin’s power so that we might likewise overcome its power and share in His eternal glory.
Being in the midst of suffering can be one of the loneliest places we can find ourselves in. It can seem like no one understands, no one relates, and no one has the words to make what you’re going through make sense.
But let me leave you with these words:
When you feel alone, know that Jesus also felt alone (Mark 15: 34).
When you feel betrayed, know that Jesus also felt betrayed (Matthew 26:33).
When you feel anxious, know that Jesus also felt anxious (Luke 22: 42-43).
When you feel great pain, know that Jesus also felt great pain (Luke 23).
When you grieve the loss of a loved one, know that Jesus also grieved (John 11: 33-36).
And when you lose a child, know that God also lost His child (John 3:16).
I don’t know all the answers to why God allows suffering to exist, but I do know that regardless of the reasons, Jesus knows our suffering, experiences our suffering, and longs to bring us out of our suffering in the most glorious of ways.
My prayers will continue to be with all of you who have suffered greatly the past few weeks. May the strength of Christ comfort and sustain you as you go through these difficult times.