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Why Do We Suffer?

suffering

by Dennis Pollock

Practically since the beginning of man's existence people have wondered why we must suffer. Of course if you see things from a purely secular perspective, the answer is easy – bad luck. But for those who strongly believe there is an all-powerful God who controls all things on the earth, it gets a lot more complicated. One particular form of this question has to do with why good people suffer. This presupposes our own view of things: good people should prosper and live comfortably and bad people should suffer and be miserable. It doesn't take much of an observer to note that it doesn't always work out this way.

The unique and ancient book of Job reveals that the question of suffering is ultimately bigger than we are – especially concerning specific questions of cause and effect. In this book Job is subject to great suffering and tragedy. His friends assume he must be a great sinner to incur such misfortune. Job gamely tries to defend himself, knowing that he is an upright man, far more so than most. The more he protests, the more frustrated at God he becomes. Finally God appears on the scene to question Job and demonstrate that he is too puny to question the justice of the Almighty. God asks Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7).

Notice that God does not bother to explain the reasons for Job's suffering; He simply reminds him that the issues are far bigger than his finite mind. No, we cannot know the specific reasons for our own or other people's specific struggles and miseries, but there are some general Scriptural guidelines to help us get a handle on this issue. We do not need to simply answer all questions with the pat reply, “You just have to save all your questions for heaven." The question, “Why am I suffering?” we cannot answer. The question, “Why is there suffering?” is one we can address, based on what we can know from the word of God.

Under a Curse

The first and one of the most Biblically obvious reasons for suffering has to do with the world in which we live. When we are born we find ourselves in what theologians call a "fallen world." What this means is that sin has entered what began as a pristine, spotless, sinless earth. From the moment Adam and Eve committed that first sin of eating the forbidden fruit, misery and suffering became inevitable. God announced to our original parents: "Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:17-19).

In our world, things are not the way they are supposed to be. Weeds, poison ivy, thorns, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, earthquakes, and plagues are not part of the original pattern. But it is not that the fall has only affected nature and weather. Worse than that it has affected people. Our bodies, which work so wonderfully and look so nice at twenty, show definite signs of wear by forty-five. And with every passing decade things only get worse.

In our fallen world everything visible will eventually wear out and fail, including us. And, despite our wishes, these things affect Christians and sinners alike. Mob bosses get wrinkles and tender-hearted prayer warriors do as well. When tornadoes descend upon a town and devastate buildings and families you do not normally find them hopping over Christian houses and destroying only the homes of the ungodly. Foul mouthed, blaspheming sinners get cancer, but so do godly Christian worship leaders who have never cursed in their lives. If a Christian and his ungodly neighbor both plant gardens in their back yards, they will both have to deal with the weeds. It might seem nice to us if weeds only appeared in the gardens of the wicked, but it just aint so.

One of my first times in Africa I was talking to an African pastor about malaria and what a scourge it is to the Africans. I asked him if he had ever had malaria. He began to laugh as though I had just said the funniest thing he had ever heard. When he stopped laughing he told me, "Everybody in Africa gets malaria. If you stay in Africa six months you'll get malaria." Like all the other miserable effects of our fallen world, malaria is an equal opportunity employer.

Free Will

The term "free will" is not used in the Bible, but the concept is found all over the place. Proverbs speaks of those who "hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord" (Proverbs 1:29). In Deuteronomy God tells Israel, "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live…" (Deuteronomy 30:19). God has put human beings on this planet in abundance in all sizes, shapes, and colors, and has given them the choice of life or death. Sadly most do not choose life. It would be neater if our choices only affected ourselves. If every man who decides to live his life in rebellion against God's holy commandments would lock himself in his house and refuse to interact with anyone else, the world might not be so bad. But of course that is not how it is.

God has created an inner-connected world, one in which the choices we make, bad or good, will have an effect on others around us. And in some cases one's choices can affect millions. Billy Graham's choice to receive Christ and his further choice to obey Christ's calling to be an evangelist have resulted in millions receiving the gift of eternal life. George Mueller's choice to found an orphanage by faith has been a source of inspiration for untold Christians. But wicked men have likewise affected millions by their choices. Adolf Hitler's choice to conquer Europe, Joseph Stalin's choice to purge Russia, Hugh Hefner's choice to go into the pornography business, and John Wilkes Booth's choice to kill Abraham Lincoln all had far reaching effects that touched huge numbers of people for evil.

Of course it happens on a smaller level as well. A husband's choice to leave his wife, a boss's choice to make life miserable for his employees, an official's choice to take a bribe, a bully's choice to pick on the weak can all lead to misery for others that they do not deserve. These people suffer because of sin – not their own sin, but the sin of others.

Suppose that rather than pay the $25 fee for garbage service, I decide to save money by simply throwing my garbage out into my back yard. I put up a five foot fence around the yard so that none of my garbage will get into my neighbor's yard, thinking myself very magnanimous. As the garbage piles up day by day, my neighbor comes over to complain. In my defense I proudly point to the fence, letting him know that not a trace of my garbage has entered his yard. Strangely this does not satisfy him. He points out that the stench of my garbage-filled yard permeates the entire neighborhood. The huge rat infestation that has been produced by the garbage is not limited only to my yard; the rats are wondering all through the area. And the mosquitoes that breed in the standing pools of water pay no attention to the fence. Many of the neighbors are experiencing all sorts of misery as a result of my little personal garbage dump. So it is with the wrong exercise of the gift of free will. The negative consequences of sin are never limited to the wicked alone.

Of course God could bring all this suffering to a screeching halt. He could easily suspend our free will and force us about like puppets doing everything He pleases. But this He will not do. In His perfect wisdom He has granted men and women the ability to choose. He uses His word, our consciences, the Holy Spirit, and other factors to influence us to choose rightly, but He will never overwhelm us and force us to do His will. And because of this innocent and decent people will suffer.

Necessary Randomness

Another reason God must allow good people to suffer is to preserve the appearance of randomness. In Ecclesiastes Solomon writes, "There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve" (Ecclesiastes 8:14). Like all the rest of us, Solomon felt this just wasn't quite right. Jesus made reference to this, saying, "(God) makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). In this life both good and bad things happen to good and bad men and women.

Job complained, "The tents of robbers prosper, and those who provoke God are secure --- in what God provides by His hand" (Job 12:6). We would not do it this way. If we had our say in the matter all the suffering would be reserved for the wicked and all the blessings for the good. Christians would never lose their jobs, never get sick, never have car wrecks, never lose their hair, and never die young. Sinners would have nothing but bad luck from the beginning of their mornings to the end of every day. Their businesses would always fail, they would live in perpetually bad health and die young, their cars would quit working the day after the warranty expires, their yards would produce nothing but weeds, and their roofs would never stop leaking.

What we fail to realize is that if God showed this kind of favoritism toward His children, everyone in the world would soon profess Christ, not out of conviction, but purely for selfish reasons. The Bible tells us that we live by faith and not by sight. We serve God and follow Christ, not because it is obvious that He will bless us far more than the ungodly, but because it is the right thing to do. We do believe there is a reward for our service but most of it will never be seen in this life; it will appear on the Day when we stand before our righteous Judge.

Just passing through

There is no getting away from suffering, but one insight given us through the Scriptures makes it a whole lot easier to bear. We who belong to Jesus Christ are not "permanent residents" of this world. We are here on temporary assignment, and any suffering we experience is miniscule in comparison to the world that awaits us. Paul writes, "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…" (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Imagine that you have been living in abject poverty, when suddenly you receive word that a distant relative has died and left you his fortune. You will receive more money that you would ever need for a thousand lifetimes. Your woes are over and your worries are past. You quickly head for your car to go to the bank where the money will be transferred into your account. On the way to the car you stub your toe on sidewalk. You wince in pain, sit down and bemoan what a miserable day you are having.

Well, of course you wouldn't do that. What is a stubbed toe in comparison to an inheritance that makes you one of the wealthiest people on earth? So it is with the amazing inheritance that Jesus has purchased for us on the cross. We are wealthy; we are blessed. Our future is secure and our hope is sure. Any stubbed toes we have to experience in this short life of seventy or eighty years cannot compare with the glory that awaits us in the presence of Christ. Knowing this let us go forth bravely through this world, enduring what must be endured, bearing what must be born, and rejoicing in that which lies ahead.

 

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Missions Outreach


A major part of Spirit of Grace Ministries is our ministry in the great continent of Africa. There is a tremendous harvest going on in the world these days, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Above is a brief music video featuring video clips and pics from our recent mission in Mateka, Kenya.

Audio Devo: "Why is there suffering?"

People have debated this question for millennia. And we cannot speak concerning specific individual questions of suffering, but the Bible clearly speaks as to why suffering has always been a part of the human experience.