Without a doubt, and with plenty of data to support it, the problem of suffering is one of the biggest obstacles for those who are skeptical of an all-powerful, all-good God. We could even assume that you have had a big question about this topic yourself, or at least someone close to you has.
When it comes to such a massive question, it is helpful to first ground it within the greater story we are part of. Because part of the problem with the premise of the question of suffering is a (faulty) underlying assumption that “God created the world with suffering in it.” But that’s not the case.
In the beginning, God created a good universe beaming with potential. And with that potential for good and flourishing also came with it the potential for evil and suffering.
Long story short, humanity fell prey to evil and thus, suffering entered the world. But think about how good God is that he didn’t simply allow that trajectory of evil and suffering to go unchecked! The whole next movement of the Scriptural story shows God’s intent to rewrite the narrative and take humanity back toward the path of life, back to a relationship with himself. The covenants God makes with Noah, Abraham, and the subsequent people were precisely for the purpose of a master plan to redeem humanity and the world of suffering. All of this, though, would take time in the unfolding plan.
Flash forward to the cross of Christ, where we see the locus point of where the reality of suffering comes to a head with God’s righteousness. Jesus was the only person in history who was not a culprit of sin. He is God having come down as a genuine human to not only live the life we have failed to live, but to defeat the enigmatic enemy of Sin and Death that we never could.
Christ’s death and resurrection are the pinpointed solution to reverse the curse and put an expiration date on suffering. And that’s where the promise of new creation goes: to a future world without suffering and secure in the peace and reign of God.
All of this is encapsulated in the fact that our God is not tone-deaf to the suffering in the world, nor to the need for a solution. (We wrote about that angle of this question in a previous blog post HERE.) Our Lord Jesus showed us that he knew how to weep with us in our suffering, while also taking the brunt of suffering upon himself in order to resolve it, ultimately. In a far too simplistic survey of the Scriptural story, we see that suffering was not part of creation’s origin and it has no place in its destiny (as we discussed in this previous blog post HERE). It is, however, the present reality between the final turning of the page, when Jesus returns to set all things right and make all things new.
Yet, even in the thick of it, Scripture constantly refers to the ways in which suffering and painful circumstances are tools for our transformation (see Romans 5:1–5; 1 Peter 1:3–8; James 1:2–4). Sometimes we might think: “How could this situation ever be used for any good?” And while we might not have any good answers for you, we can consider how the death of Jesus–the worst torture for the only truly good person who ever lived–turned into the best thing that saved humanity! There is no way the disciples saw that coming.
Sometimes we don’t always see the purpose for our pain but we can rest assured that even though God is not the author of our suffering, He knows how to right it and write it into our story for something good and transformative.
And so… what? We are supposed to just buckle up and suffer for a while? That’s the real tension of the question. Answering the question of suffering in the world on a broad-scale is a question that can be addressed. It is objective. It can be addressed without being too subjective or personal. But that’s not what people are actually wondering. The tough question comes when suffering hits us directly and pierces our heart with the burning desire to want to know why. Why did this happen? Did it have to happen? Suppose there was a God, why didn’t he prevent this?
What if you never understand why you went through that unbearably painful circumstance?
Would never knowing “why” something happened undervalue everything else that you know to be true about God? It’s an honest question. And as for this writer, personally, one I have had to wrestle with. Because there are some things that have never and might never make sense. But that does not negate the overwhelming evidence for God: whether that be looking at arguments for him as the Creator; reasons that validate the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus; or the constant supernatural phenomena that perplex modern understanding.
Having faith in Jesus is not about having ALL the answers, but rather having ENOUGH answers to confirm that yielding your trust is the only sensible response.
It’s not about absolute certainty but rather about superior certainty over alternative options. It seems that God is an objective reality even if there are things in life that are awful and awfully hard to walk through. Consider David’s honest words.
My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:10-11, NIV)
But God invites us to bring these things to him. Your questions, doubts, frustrations, and fears are welcome to him! He wants to receive you where you are and as you are.
Bring them all on the journey–but the important thing is to take that first step in following him. Because you know the thing about those questions, doubts, and fears? They’ll never be resolved apart from Jesus. So, what if you never are privy to understand why certain personal hardships happen the way they do? This much remains true: God loves you. And even though he is not the author of suffering, he is so good that he takes the power of it and rewrites something transformative and enduring through it all. That we can trust! And that is worth yielding our surrender.
When pain or suffering hits, we are tempted to think of God being absent. But there is nothing that pushes God away from His people–not even the pain.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (Psalm 34:18, NLT)
You might need to highlight, circle, or underline the word “close” in your Bible and point it to the word “brokenhearted.” Because there we see God’s compasion on display. He is not like the “gods” of the ancient world who had no care whether their people suffered or not. The “gods” were known to be rather annoyed by the complaining of humans for their plight of suffering.
Rather than being dormant, distant, or disengaged–God is right there, standing with you in your pain.
And if we don’t believe it when we hear it, we ought to believe it because that’s what we see Jesus do in John 11, for example, when he weeps over the death of Lazarus, his friend. Jesus didn’t just tell everyone to not weep in light of the miracle that was going to happen, nor did he comfort them purely on the future promise of resurrection at the end of time–though both of those responses would have been great! First and foremost, Jesus had empathy, expressed in the shortest passage in all of Scripture: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
Jesus weeps with you and empathizes with you because He knows what it is to suffer. What kind of God is like that? He chose to enter our suffering–to solve it, yes–but as a result he knows it. He “understands our weaknesses” as Hebrews 4:15 says. Or to paraphrase it, you can picture Jesus looking you in the eyes and saying: “I’m right here with you, I have scars too.”