Why do we suffer?
Life in this world can be difficult and cruel. All around us we see a suffering world – a world full of war, violence and abuse, starvation and poverty, homelessness, and natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. We have all personally experienced suffering and pain in our own lives – physically and emotionally. Life is often painful. Something in all of us says that this isn’t how things should be.
This can lead us to question God’s character, and even his existence. Perhaps you have heard the saying that ‘God is love’ but you find it difficult to apply this concept to the cruel world around you, and to your own painful experiences.
The God revealed to us in the Bible agrees that this is not the way things should be. When God created the world, he said that it was ‘good’ – but that world was very different to the one that we live in now. Something has gone wrong – and in reality, people are responsible for this.
Humanity has rebelled against the God who created us, and the consequence of our rebellion is that everything is ruined. When the first man refused to listen to God the relationship was broken between them, and as a result, sin, pain and problems entered the world – God said ‘the earth is cursed because of you’. We are the same people today, and we have the same rebellion in our hearts. That is why the Bible says that the creation is ‘groaning together in the pains of childbirth’ - the perfect description of our experience today.
It’s important to point out that individuals do not suffer as a consequence of doing something bad – the Bible says that people don’t necessarily suffer any more or less than another person because they’ve lived a better or worse life compared with them. But suffering and pain remind us that things are not as they should be in the world and in our lives. They also remind us of the root cause of the problem – our relationship with God, our creator, is broken.
C.S. Lewis, the author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, compared suffering and pain with a megaphone used by God to rouse a deaf world. We are reminded as we see the evil in this world that things are not right, and that God will end it all one day by judging all rebellion against him in hell.
Although things are not as they should be, God does care. The state of this world, and our state, breaks his heart.
God has compassion for us in our suffering. How do we know this? Because he was willing to do something about it.
It’s easy for us to look at our circumstances and judge God’s character accordingly. But in reality we should judge our circumstances based on who God is – and we see this clearly when we look at Jesus Christ. Jesus came to this cruel and broken world, and experienced all kinds of pain – from day to day tiredness, hard work and feeling hungry, to the pain of grief and the shame of being mocked and betrayed. He was executed in the most painful way, being crucified on a Roman cross. But the physical pain on the cross was nothing compared with the pain of being separated from his Father. This is the pain that each one of us deserves for our rebellion against God – but Jesus suffered this pain in our place so that we don’t have to.
This is not an unfeeling God, but a God who sees us in our pain and brokenness, and was willing to step into the situation to deal with the root cause of the problem and paid the price in full for our rebellion. He calls us to be reconciled with him through trusting in Jesus Christ.
We read in the Bible ‘but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. We turned our backs on God, but the cross demonstrates that God did not turn his back on us! He loves us and wants to put an end to the suffering through saving us from our rebellion.
God is a father who is waiting for his children with his arms open wide, longing to wipe away our tears and take away our pain. He longs for this broken relationship to be renewed and healed. And this can happen through Jesus’ death - ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’. You can become a child of God when you turn to God, admit your rebellion, and trust that Jesus has taken the punishment in your place.
In the end, God will wipe every tear from his children’s eyes - ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore’. He can do this because of Jesus’ victory on the cross and the Christian can look forward to that day. Death is nothing to be afraid of for anyone who has trusted in Jesus, because they know that death means the end of pain, and being with their heavenly Father.
But God longs to comfort you in your pain today. He is a God who longs to ‘Heal the brokenhearted’ and ‘bind up your wounds’. He longs to give you ‘refuge under his wings’.
Jesus never philosophised or offered cold and distant theoretical explanations in the face of suffering and pain. Jesus had compassion and invited broken people, in the pain of their lives, to trust in him, so that he could shoulder their burdens. Therefore in your pain, go to this Jesus, because he said ‘come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest’.
As a Christian I can rest in knowing that my Father is in control. This doesn’t mean that I find it easy to understand why painful things happen to me in this broken world. But I can read my own personal circumstances in the light of God’s character – the God who ‘loved me and gave himself for me’. When I’m in the midst of a storm I can run to his arms for shelter, knowing that he loves me and that one day I will be with him forever.
– Lowri Havard