What About Suffering?

Posted: May 4, 2011 by Nathan in What About...
Tags: , , , , ,

People ask about suffering all the time. How can a God of love, a God who cares allow people to suffer? Either God doesn’t care and therefore allows suffering or God is not all powerful and therefore can’t do anything about it. I believe there is a third way!! Now, before we get too far into this let’s remember that people have been struggling with this question for thousands of years. So, let’s face it, no answer that I come up with is going to satisfy you. You’re not suddenly going to discover the complete answer and tick the box having dealt with the problem of suffering. However, hopefully I can give you a few things to think about.

When I consider suffering I look at it in three ways…

1. Suffering isn’t all bad.

OK it’s easy for me, who is not in pain, to say that. However, I believe it’s true in two areas. Firstly suffering can bring out the best in people, you refine who you are through suffering, it brings you to a better understanding of the human experience, it helps you understand others better, it is a major learning process and on a spiritual level it helps us to identify with the sufferings of Christ (not that I claim to really understand that – answers on a postcard please!).

Secondly, some areas of suffering are preserving and informing. When I lay my hand on the fully on hotplate and I experience suffering it informs me to remove my hand. When I fall and break something it is the suffering that tells me to go and get it treated. So, suffering plays a part in preserving our lives by informing us of potential dangers. The sufferings of others, for example hunger or war, informs us that all is not right with our world. It reminds us of our greed and our anger and our selfishness.

2. Would we allow it?

If you are, or were, a parent would you allow your child to play football? I’m assuming the vast majority of people would say yes. Does that make you a bad parent ? I imagine the vast majority of parents would answer resolutely NO! So as a parent you are happy for, if not encouraging, your child to participate in an activity that may cause him fairly serious injury? A sport where broken bones are not unheard of. Where dead legs, bruised arms, pulled muscles, strains, cuts and concussion are commonplace. An activity where not only they may get hurt they may also cause serious hurt to others. Yet with all that considered we would still say that as parents we are happy for our children to participate in it and hundreds of similar, if not more dangerous, activities. We even allow our children to partake in things that could result in major injury or death. For we know that with enjoyment comes risk and with some risk comes enjoyment. We can’t let our children live a full life without exposing them to some suffering. We would of course prefer them not to suffer but we understand the risk. We can’t smother our kids in cotton wool, after all they may choke on it!!

3. What causes suffering?

Well, in short, our wrongdoing!! Suffering is a result of men and women doing wrong things, making wrong choices or making mistakes. Our wrongdoings cause suffering to ourselves and others. Some of this is plain to see. If my anger overspills and I punch you the result of my wrongdoing is your blooded nose. However, that is just one side to it, the seen result of my wrongdoing. What is not seen usually has more far reaching consequences. The bloody nose that we can see may hide a broken bone or other internal injuries. You may have suffered a twist in your neck. In hitting you I may have strained a muscle or broken my hand. There is the fear I may have instilled in you or others that hear about my actions. There is the guilt that I may feel and your bitterness, hatred or a struggle with forgiveness. There’s the breakdown in relationship between us and so it goes on. The bloody nose is the observable, immediate consequence but the unseen ripples, perhaps, cause more suffering. So it is with much of people’s wrongdoing. The consequences of our actions ripple underneath the surface in the created seen world and the spiritual realm. We don’t know how it works but we understand that our wrongdoings cause suffering, directly and indirectly. The ripple from our actions continue to grow and have effects on those throughout this world. When Adam and Eve committed the very first act of wrongdoing something in the natural world broke as well. Man’s wrongdoing had a huge effect on the created world and our continuing sin now also has a huge effect.

Much of the suffering we see in the world today is a direct consequence of the wrongdoing of others. The hunger we see in the world is due to greed and selfishness of those that have plenty. There is more than enough food to go around, but billions of us choose to have far more of our fair share. God, in giving us freewill, in not creating us as robots, allows this. It doesn’t mean He likes the wrong doings that we do but just as we allow our children to make their own decisions so does God allow us to make our own choices and inevitably our own mistakes.

So, when we ask of God why he allows suffering we can also ask ourselves the very same question. In fact we not only allow suffering we are the cause of suffering. In some ways we need to take more responsibility for our actions. It is easy to point the finger at God when in reality it us us as individuals, communities, counties and indeed as a world who cause suffering and have the power to stop so much of it. Wars, famine, floods, deforestation, loneliness, alienation, racism, abuse, pollution, murder, rape, fear and the list goes on, are all man-made sufferings that we have the power to stop.

So, as you can see it’s nowhere near a complete answer but hopefully it may help us see that there is a third way. I believe in a God that does care and is all-powerful. However, I also believe in a God who allows in His wisdom that which he could prevent by His power.

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Comments
  1. darren says:

    Hey bro, couldn’t have put it better myself. I would even argue that suffering is essential, or perhaps pain. Think of leprosy. Also this quote from Rob Bell, highlights it’s gifting, ‘We plot. We plan. We assume things are going to go a certain way. And when they don’t, we find ourselves in a new place-a place we haven’t been before, a place we never would have imagined on our own.

    It is the difficult and the unexpected, and maybe even the tragic, that opens us up and frees us to see things in new ways.

    Many of the most significant moments in our lives come not because it all went right but because it all fell apart.

    Suffering does that. It hurts, but it also creates.’

    Grace and peace.

  2. Dee Welch says:

    Im in two minds. there are different kinds of suffering, loss and pain etc. Are you saying that when we lose a loved one then its our fault? We could have stopped it? I have asked this question many times and still cant find a valid answer, im a born again Christian and stand strong in my faith but thats one question that i just cant find an answer to, god, in time, will tell me :o)

    • Nathan says:

      Hi Dee. I’m not saying that we cause the loss of our loved ones or that we could have done something to stop it. What I am saying is that i believe that the wrong that we do in life has consequences that we don;t always appreciate. Some consequences are direct and some are very much indirect. When sin entered the world with Adam and Eve the whole earth fell. Their sin not only separated us all from God but had consequences in the physical realm as well. As people sinned more the started to live for fewer years on earth. Their sin had a consequence in both the spiritual and physical realm. We don;t understand the consequences of sin but I do believe there are serious consequences for all our wrongdoings, whether we see them or not. Does that make sense?

      • Dee Welch says:

        Hi Nathan
        Yes that makes perfect sense and I’m in total agreement with you. I know its a deep subject with many aspects to it and people have different views. Its great that your giving people the chance to discuss their opinions and views 🙂

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