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How do we respond to Suffering? - a very real problem, two comforting reflections

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

Suffering is a real problem. You only have to look at the news... earthquakes, famine, war, abuse and injustice. It seems wherever you look you will find somebody suffering. It’s also very close to all of us as our lives can easily be devastated by illness, uncertainty, broken relationships and death – it all seems so unfair.

How do we respond?

Some people get angry, others get sad, others are indifferent and yet others grit their teeth and try to make the best of it. Many responses – all are understandable.

Something’s wrong

Most of us want to live our lives and not have to think too much about the problems that we and others will face. We’ll try and help others, especially those who are close to us who are in difficulty, but our main aim will be to enjoy the good times while they roll. If we’re honest, we struggle to handle the devastation and surprise that hits us when something goes wrong.

It’s a natural way to live and respond if you believe that we’re just animals living on this planet without rhyme or reason drifting through space. Life is what we make of it – it’s to be lived and enjoyed.

I’ll be honest, I’ve found it very difficult to live like this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great way to live when life is fine and dandy, but it’s a different story when things start to unravel. Once we start to struggle and the bubble bursts, we start looking for answers:

What’s going on? Why has this happened? Or dare I say it... why did God allow this?

There’s clearly something wrong with this world. Suffering is not an unfortunate consequence, it’s a sign that there’s a real problem with the world we live in. Don’t we all have this deep sense in our souls that life should be good? There’s so much to enjoy in this world, but we can’t ignore the fact of suffering. When we are confronted by suffering in our own lives or in others, it is good to acknowledge that it’s wrong. It shouldn’t be this way and it’s not meaningless. It’s pointing us to look for something deeper.

There’s an answer

I want to be understood properly here – it would be unrealistic and cruel to offer easy answers to one of life’s deepest and most complex problems. No person can give an explanation why one suffers more than another or why God allows a particular suffering to enter a person’s life. Having said all that, as a Christian I know that there’s a deeper truth and reality that makes sense of the suffering that we see in the world and in our own lives.

God is good and the world wasn’t always this way, it was once good... better than good, it was perfect. We all know this to some extent – don’t we all have a conscience that speaks to us when we do something wrong? But what went wrong with the world?

God didn’t create humans as robots to follow him blindly, he showed us dignity and gave us a choice.

Humanity chose to ignore God and we continue to do so. So much of the suffering in this world is caused by us. Wars are started by people. There’s enough food in the world to feed everyone, yet people remain hungry and dying. Broken relationships, social inequality, pollution and abuse are all caused by humans. We can’t blame God for the suffering we cause ourselves. But what about illness, natural disasters and tragic accidents that are not caused by people? The Bible clearly tells us that not all suffering is a direct result of someone’s wrongdoing. The consequences of humanity’s rebellion are to be seen in a general way in the broken world that we inhabit. When the first humans decided to turn their backs on God and follow their own path, illness and destruction entered this world. So much suffering happens today because we live in a fallen world. And then, of course, there’s death – something that will happen to all of us. There’s a crack running through this world and through the heart of each one of us.

Are you ever tempted to think that God doesn’t care or that he doesn’t exist? Many people forget that we live in a world that has turned its back on God and see suffering and evil as a sign that he can’t exist, otherwise he’d stop it all. The Bible teaches the complete opposite – evil and suffering exists in the world because we’ve turned our backs on God.

So does God not care? Although we can’t say why God doesn’t always stop our suffering, we can say that he cares. The amazing thing is that he also suffered.

God hasn’t left us. God came to this broken world – Jesus became one of us – a real human to live the perfect life that we couldn’t live. He suffered and died to take the punishment that we deserve for our rebellion. Let that sink in for a minute – God looked at our suffering and didn’t turn his back, but came to suffer in our place. Jesus not only died, but he came back to life, conquering death, leading a way to a new life. Jesus clearly said that one day this world will come to an end and he will re-make it. All the brokenness will have gone, there will be no more illness, no tears and no evil. That is why he also speaks of hell – a place where he will punish all that is wrong.

The Christian message is that Jesus offers hope. When we confess that we too have rebelled against God and trust in Jesus, God’s son, he will forgive us and make us new. C.S. Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia) once wrote “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Will you listen?

Written by Steffan Job

First published in Ask Magazine August 2019

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