It seems ironic (and honestly, illogical) to me that the reality of pain and suffering is often laid at God’s feet as an argument against His very existence. The argument is: if God is real and God is good, then bad things shouldn’t happen. So, since there is evil and pain and suffering in the world, then either a) God is not real or b) God is not good or c) God is not powerful enough to do something about it. But these assertions miss some important truths: God did not author evil, nor did He open the door that let suffering and pain into our world. We did that. We continue to do that. But God gets blamed for either starting or not stopping all of it. And to prevent all evil and pain in the world would have required that no one could have made a choice that resulted in pain or hurt- to themselves or another. No choice = no true freedom. No choice to choose wrong = no choice to choose love or kindness either.
I don’t pretend that this is a simple problem, and it is certainly one that we need to continue to wrestle through. But we can also become over-simplistic in our thinking, or simply choose not to think much about this important topic at all. As Ajith Fernando has said, those of us in the West tend to have an under-developed theology of suffering. I won’t be correcting that with a simple blog post, but let me prompt our thinking a bit. Where does suffering come from? I see seven different sources. (Am I missing anything?)
- Because we live in a fallen/broken world (natural disasters, disease, aging/death, accidents, etc)
- Satanic Opposition/Oppression (Satan has been given ability to cause harm- see the book of Job)
- Other People’s Sin (Crime, violence, abuse, gossip, all forms of ugliness we do to one another)
- My Own Sin (Ex- cheating and getting caught, hurting someone else and the consequences)
- My “Stupidity” (EX- I didn’t study and got a bad grade, I didn’t pay my bills on time)
- Opposition/Persecution because of my faith in Christ
There’s one more, and it’s a big one. God did cause suffering in one significant situation. Isaiah 53:10 reads, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer”. “Him” is Jesus- the one God crushed and brought pain to unlike any other before or since. And the “why” immediately follows:
“the Lord makes his life an offering for sin”. God brought suffering on Himself- in order to free us from sin. He does not stand idly by, indifferent to our pain and self-created havoc. He enters in. Comes near. Takes the weight. For us.
Where does suffering come from? Lots of places- many directions. But let’s be clear and careful about how easily we point fingers in God’s direction. And let’s be ever so grateful that He didn’t spare Himself- for our sake.