Why Is There Suffering?
In the previous session, we explored the idea of God’s promises and how it is only through faith that we can ever really see and/or experience those promises.
That said, the reality on the ground is that sometimes, no matter how much faith we have, it can be hard to trust and believe in the promises of God.
This is especially true when we suffer, which causes many people to wonder:
If God is so loving, why is there suffering in the world?
Take a few minutes to watch this video to see how different people respond to the reality of suffering in the world and what it may or may not say about God.
- What do you think about the reasons/thoughts offered in response to why there is suffering in the world?
- With which ones do you agree? With which ones do you disagree?
Regardless of your answer to these questions, it is pretty telling that when asked, “If you could ask God any one question, what would it be?” that the answer was, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?”
It is a big question. It is a question with which we will all struggle to some degree. It is also a question for which we will not likely find any clear or completely satisfying answers.
Our task today is not to provide such an answer. It’s not even to ask all the questions surrounding this topic. Our hope is to share with you some resources that may help you along the journey.
With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper.
This next video is a collection of thoughts from authors, theologians, philosophers, and other people of faith who try and address the issue of suffering in our world. At 8 minutes, its a bit long, but it is absolutely worth your time.
- What did you hear in this video that struck a chord of comfort for you?
- Did anything strike you as troubling?
Take a moment to read this article that takes what they talked about a bit further.
One of the great challenges of this question is the notion the article refers to as “No Pain, No Gain.”
The danger of that notion is that it can create the idea that God causes pain in order that we might learn a lesson. That God is teaching us something.
For some, the following scripture indicates this is indeed how God works:
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. Romans 5:3-5
While we may never really know the full answer to this one, the broader witness of scripture seems to offer a correction to the idea that God causes suffering to teach us something. That witness instead argues this:
While God does not cause suffering to teach us a lesson,
God can leverage even the worst of suffering
to bring hope and restoration into our lives.
Do you get the subtlety?
God does not cause the sufferring, but God redeems the suffering. This is ultimately the story of the cross. God redeemed the suffering death of Christ through the resurrection.
Watch this amazing testimony about a man who suffered a terrible injury – one that almost cost him his life. Yet, God’s grace ultimately took hold of his life and gave him a perspective about life that few of us have in spite of our comparatively easy life.
It really is a beautiful story about God’s ability to break through into even the most devastating of realities and restore hope.
Of all the scriptures that speak to suffering and evil in this world, perhaps the most important is this passage from Romans 8:38-39:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The promise of scripture is not that everything is going to be easy or that we will avoid suffering. The promise is that we will never be alone, because nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.
Author Gavin Ortlund begins an article on God and suffering by addressing God’s response to suffering this way:
In his book “The View from a Hearse”, Joe Bayly tells the story of two men who came to comfort him after the death of his three sons. The first came with answers. He said that God had a plan, that God could work it out for good, and that God would give Joe strength. The second man came simply to sit with Joe. He did not speak unless spoken to, but he prayed with Joe and sat in silence with him. Joe writes that though both men had good intentions, he couldn’t wait for the first man to leave and he couldn’t bear to see the second man go.
The Bible has many things to say about pain and suffering. But ultimately, it is more like the man who gives his presence than the man who gives his answers. The Bible leaves many of our questions about suffering unanswered. However, what it does do is tell us the story of a God who has come close to us in the midst of our suffering, who actually suffered for us, who will one day destroy suffering forever.
You can read the entire article by clicking here. It is rather lengthy, but it dives both deeply and meaningfully into our topic for today.
Okay, this lesson could go on for a long time, but we are going to draw it to a close at this point. Our guess is that the above materials probably caused as many questions as answers. If you want to dig a little deeper, we provide additional resources at the bottom of this lesson - including one written by a member of our church.
Whether you decide to use those resources or not, consider these questions:
1. Why do you think there is suffering in the world?
2. Where do you believe God is when it comes to that suffering?
3. If you could ask God any one question, would it be about this topic? If so, what in particular would you like to ask? If not, what would be your question?
f you want to dig a bit deeper into this topic, consider the following resources:
In Touchstone, First Christian Church member Denise Park Parsons tells the story of her daughter’s life with Aicardi syndrome, which becomes the lens through which the reader views the author’s life over thirty years. The book tells how Park Parsons encountered the “three Ds”—death, disability, and divorce—and remained on her feet. (text from website). You can learn more about the book and/or order a copy here.
One of the most well-regarded books ever written on this topic is, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner. It is a classic for a reason! You can learn more and/or purchase a copy here.
The web-site that provided much of our materials for today is a site called exploregod.com They have an entire section of materials that cover this topic but some of those materials come from a theological perspective quite different from ours. If you use these materials and have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Brian. You can find the materials here.
If you have a thought to share or question to ask, feel free to post a comment below. We'd love to hear from you!