If you begin to take a look around at the leaders of the atheistic/agnostic movement such as Richard Dawkins, Dan Barker and even Darwin himself, you will see a very interesting trend. The aforementioned men, as well as many of their constituents ,claim to have believed in God at one point during their life. When you ask these men how they came to the conclusion that God does not exist, you, will get various answers. However, the one answer which seems to be notably popular among this group is that of pain and suffering. The argument goes as follows “If God is truly all powerful and all loving, why does he allow people to suffer?” While the question is itself flawed, the topic of suffering is very deep and sometimes hard to understand. This study will not answer every question we may have about this topic. However, the following points have helped me gain a better understanding of pain and suffering.
- Suffering does not stem from God… Generally as Christians we understand and accept this point, but it does deserve our attention and consideration to clarify some confusion that may be present in the minds of some. The book of James states “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) Where in this passage does it say suffering and pain come from God? It doesn’t! In fact, it says the opposite. God is the originator of life, love and peace, not destruction, chaos and pain. Still the question arises “If God doesn’t cause suffering, who does?” Sometimes suffering is caused by our fellow man in cases such as murder. Other times we are just experiencing the natural laws of this world. For instance, in Luke 13:2-5 Christ spoke about eighteen men who died after the tower of Siloam fell on them. Did they die because they were especially sinful and God was punishing them? No, they died because a tower fell on them! Those are the natural laws of the world. The fact is, we are temporal beings. We will NOT live forever. Sickness, death and heartache come with the territory of being mortal. For some, this explanation is simply not enough. They still ask the question “Why doesn’t God just interfere to keep us from suffering?” The answer to that question is found in our next point.
- Suffering can be beneficial to us… Imagine a world with no pain, death or heartache, it sounds good, right? This “world” to which I am referring is called Heaven! One of the many reasons Heaven is so appealing to us is the absence of suffering. If we already experienced this perfect environment here on earth, many people would become too attached to this temporal home. Just like our bodies, this earth has an expiration date and will meet its end eventually. Suffering, while unpleasant, reminds us that there are greater things on the horizon for us. Not only does suffering cause us to long for Heaven but it also brings out the best in humanity. For every sick child in this world there is a doctor devoting his time to making that child’s life more comfortable. For every house fire, there is a fireman risking his life to pull the family out of the burning building. We certainly saw this exemplified in 2017 with all of the flooding and hurricanes which struck the southern part of the United States. While many lost their possessions and livelihoods, countless people reached out a helping hand to pick up the pieces of shattered communities. Suffering also teaches us to be thankful for the things we have. Whether it is spending time with our loved ones or simply being thankful we have a warm bed to sleep in, suffering reminds us to cherish our blessings. Finally, suffering teaches us how to pray. As a Christian when I struggle with sorrow, I can take it to the Lord in prayer. I am reminded of God’s servant David when He was suffering in Psalm 6. It was in this Psalm that David said he groaned all night long and caused his bed to swim with tears (Vs.6). Yet we see him praying to God asking for strength and guidance during troubling times. Unlike the men I mentioned at the outset of this study, the Psalmist knew where to turn in times of need.This short study simply cannot address every question we have about suffering but hopefully this has brought some clarity to the topic. At some point, we will all experience pain, it is my prayer that when you are faced with it, you will run to God and not from Him.