One of the most challenging questions in life is the question of suffering. Why does suffering exist? Why do we have to go through seasons of challenge, disappointment and grief? People of all faiths and none wrestle with this question. But, for Christians, the question of suffering is uniquely challenging, as we believe in a God who is entirely good. When we worship a good God, we must ask, why does He allow suffering?
When we encounter suffering first-hand or when we see it outplayed on a global scale, it can challenge some of our conceptions of the goodness and the faithfulness of God. There may well have been times in your life when you have questioned why God has allowed certain circumstances to happen.
Its Ok To Ask Questions
As Christians, we can sometimes feel guilty about asking the question of why God allows suffering. Sometimes we can think that by asking the question we are in some way questioning God or betraying a lack of trust in Him. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Asking the question shows that we have a deep conviction about the goodness of God and that we have a real trust that the world isn’t meant to be this way. We are demonstrating an awareness that suffering is not part of God’s plan for our world.
Whatever our personal feelings, this remains one of the biggest questions in life. Countless books, essays and blog posts have been written about it. But here are three thoughts that will help you to reflect further on the meaning of suffering in our day-to-day lives.
1. Suffering Was Never A Part Of God’s Plan
The book of Genesis begins with an account of the creation of the world. It is a famous account which talks about the creation of the earth and all living things. In the first two chapters of the story there is no mention of any illness, suffering or death. Rather, it is a picture of health, of peace and of fullness in God.
As we read in Genesis 3, suffering enters the world as a result of the choices made by humanity, the rebellion of God’s creation.
“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:19
Therefore, we live in a world where suffering does exist, in all of its different forms. But this was never part of God’s original plan.
The God we serve is a good God and everything He creates is good. So, we can be assured that God intended for His creation to be entirely good and for suffering to not exist at all.
2. Suffering Is Something That God Has Experienced First-Hand
John 19:1-3 says:
“Then Pilate took Jesus and had Him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head. They clothed Him in a purple robe and went up to Him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped Him in the face.”
One of the great comforts of the Christian faith is the knowledge that suffering is not something that we go through on our own. God is actually with us through suffering and pain. He doesn’t run away from it nor does He distance Himself from us. Rather, He steps into our suffering and He walks with us through the hurt, every step of the way.
Through the example of Jesus we know that God has experienced suffering first-hand. He experienced physical torture, emotional betrayal, and the most horrific death that a human could experience. He knows what suffering feels like. He’s not a stranger to hurt and pain.
When we encounter suffering ourselves, we may not get a succinct answer that explains the pain. But we can know that God is with us through it all. The God of the Bible stepped into the mess and fragility of humanity and chose to walk with us through it all. You can know today that God understands your pain deeply and that He is with you throughout your personal experience.
3. Suffering Has An Expiry Date
Isaiah 65:17 says:
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”
The great promise of Scripture is that suffering will end. As we read here in Isaiah, there will come a point when suffering is no more. There will be a time where we live for eternity with God, with no crying, nor pain, nor death. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, our suffering on earth is a “momentary affliction” which will be outweighed by an eternity of wholeness and healing. This is an amazing promise!
However, knowing that we are promised an eternity free from suffering doesn’t mean that we have to simply wait for Jesus to return. God actually invites us to seek His kingdom now, and to pray for a world that is free of suffering. As Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:13, we are to pray to God and ask Him that He would “deliver us from evil.” God desires to relieve us from suffering even in this present age. We can and we should pray to God when we encounter suffering, trusting in His power and clinging to His promise of an eternity free from all pain.
So, What Now?
Suffering is in many ways a mystery. While we can wrestle with suffering and consider how it co-exists with the good God that we serve, ultimately we will never be able to fully understand the trials we face. The answer is complex and it requires a lifetime of searching and seeking God.
However, there are some things we can know with confidence. We can know that God is good, and that He desires a world without suffering. We can know that God is close, and that He has walked through suffering first-hand. And we can know that God promises us that there will one day be an end to all suffering. This is the good news of Jesus; not that everything goes perfectly when we become a Christian but that God is with us through every season, and that He has gone ahead of us.
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Photo by Camille Minouflet on Unsplash
Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash