Last week, I wrote about God’s love. One of the most used counter-arguments to the existence of a loving God is human pain and suffering. The argument generally goes something like this: “why would a loving God allow suffering?”. This is one of the fundamental questions of human existence because most of us, at one point or another, have asked: “why me?”. I do not feel equipped to attempt an answer, and gratefully others have attempted to address that question with much more eloquence than I can muster [I recommend Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God and Where is God when it hurts?].
It is worth noting that there is suffering that is a consequence of our actions. For instance, a poor diet, excessive smoking and alcohol coupled with the lack of exercise will most likely lead to ill health. This is very different from the death of hundreds caused by an unexpected mudslide. The Bible thankfully deals extensively with the suffering of innocent people, the book of Job is exclusively dedicated to this. Job was an upright man [Job 1:1] praised in a way very few are in the Bible. Joseph and Daniel were two other men who are praised highly for their uprightness, interestingly, they also went through “why me?” seasons in their lives.
As I mentioned earlier, I do not intend an answer to the “why” question. However, I do have some observations about suffering. Firstly, bad things do happen to God’s children today. They experience situations where there is no healing, restoration or deliverance, only heartbreak. This does not always indicate a lack of faith or prayer. The experience of Paul confirms this [2 Corinthians 12:7-9]. Paul’s story is not unique, there are devout Christians dying in cancer wards throughout the country despite prayers. Christians suffer horrendous and unfortunate accidents on the road through no fault of their own. Sadly, there are too many examples to list here. No one is exempt from suffering.
Another observation is that suffering does not indicate that someone is a worse sinner than others. This is part of the argument made by Job’s friends. They essentially said: “you must have done something to deserve this”. In Job’s case, they were certainly wrong and God rebukes them for it [Job 42:7-8]. We too must heed this caution. I have heard stories of people who have said to children something like: “God took your mummy away because He wanted her in heaven” and to a parent: “your child would not have died if you just had enough faith”. I know people who lost their parents at a young age and were offered one of these explanations and it ruined their faith. Even when we mean well, it is advisable to avoid answering the “why” question.
These observations have changed my perspective significantly. Nowadays, I am filled with gratitude for every day I live through without a disaster. I do not take for granted that my children will go to school and come back safely every day or that I will be around for my next birthday and so on. The truth is we do not have a right to a calamity-free life. We live in a broken world and bad things will happen as a result. Furthermore, there is nothing in God’s word that promises us that we will not experience pain and suffering in this life but there is plenty that assures us that God is able to use even our pain and suffering to bring about His purposes.
It is clear to me that the answer to the “why” question remains firmly in God’s domain. Often as human beings, we struggle to accept this but God does not consult us on how He runs the universe. Whether we choose to accept it or not, God is God and we are not. It is interesting to me that at the end of the book when God responds to Job, God does not offer Job an apology or an explanation for his calamities. However, what is striking is that Job doesn’t ask for one instead he repents of what he had said about God [Job 42:1-6]. That said, suffering isn’t theoretical to God. He knows what it is like to lose a child. Jesus knows what it’s like to lose a friend, He experienced undeserved suffering, homelessness, hunger, thirst and so much more in His 33 years on this earth.
While answering the “why” question does not lie in our domain, empathy and comfort do. When we come across people in pain, sometimes our mournful silence, hugs and tears may offer more comfort than any supercilious theology. When we go through pain and suffering, God calls us to bring it to Him. Job proves to us that we can take our anger, bitterness and pain to God. We can tell God how we really feel, He can handle it. Faith doesn’t deny reality, it accepts it and takes it to God. There are several Psalms where others have done just that [See Psalm 56 or 137]. Ultimately, pain and suffering do not indicate the absence of God, they are guaranteed in this life [John 16:33]. However, they do not escape God’s notice. Indeed, God bottles our tears [Psalm 56:8]. He promises us that one day He will destroy pain and suffering forever [Isaiah 65:17-25, Revelation 21:1-4]. I personally hang my hope on that promise and look forward to that day.