The problem of pain and suffering is age old. It cuts across generations, classes and cultures. It is no respecter of status or religion. Through it we come into this world and without our consent it enters into a contract with every one of us, making impromptu visits at will.
It is in the cry of a baby, in pain of injury and sickness, separation, loneliness, abuse, overwhelming regrets, embarrassment, and hopeless situations. Some are visited too often; they know it too well, like an unwelcomed guest who refused to leave. You may call it trouble, problem, pain or evil but at the end of the day the result is the same, suffering to the visited.
Suffering ‘catches up’ with you one way or another; it can make you feel like the devil himself has left hell and pitched a tent in your house. Even when you are able to overcome it, one question always remains; why is this happening to me?
Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Often without answers to these questions, we quickly find out that many others are suffering out there including the young and innocent. The question, still personal, evolves to a more general one; why do bad things happen to good people? Of course with the assumption that we are among the many ‘good people’ who are asking the question.
Atheism and suffering
Suffering is the question whose answers or lack of them have made many people convert to atheism. This is the number one question that pops up in most discussions and debates with atheists; it is one among a handful of key questions that all prominent atheists have used to dismiss the existence of God. And it works; many people fall for those arguments because it touches them personally, since everyone has suffered one way or another.
But raising a problem and using it as a weapon is easy, dealing with the problem itself is another thing altogether, as we shall see later in this article. Let us tackle some assumptions first.
I have never met a person who openly admits that they are bad. Even when there is an evident wrong in them, it is somehow justified, ‘vindicated’ by the good they have done.
When people say they are good, what do they mean? Is it their actions or is it their good intentions? Is it the culturally acceptable ‘good’ or is it a deep sense of goodness they feel inside? You may have seen people being defended for their wicked action by saying it is not who they are, that the wicked action is a mere diversion from their real self. They are actually saying that the nature of that person is essentially good and their wrong action is simply ‘missing a step’.
But are humans intrinsically good?
It looks like that is not the case according to the bible. In Romans 7 Paul talks about his struggles with the flesh and in verse 18 says this
‘For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find’ (NKJV)
Paul here refers to the flesh which he talks about in Galatians 5:7 as being in constant opposition with the spirit, that we may not do the things that we want to.
Now, you may be thinking; but I am saved, I am free and redeemed from all sin. Yes you are brethren, hallelujah, but salvation doesn’t change the flesh.
In Romans 7 Paul is not talking about his former days but his struggles as an apostle of Jesus. Even with salvation, we cannot be entirely good until we leave these bodies and receive the heavenly bodies, prepared by the lord himself, guaranteed by the spirit in every believer.
In case you still think there is any good in the flesh, check out Galatians 6:8
For he who sows in the flesh will reap corruption, but he who sows in the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life
Take this as a side note and just my opinion; I think Jesus said he was not good because of the human body in which he was born in and lived in while on earth.
The evil in me
The conclusion is that there is evil in all of us. You may notice that am using the words evil, bad and wrong interchangeably, it is because they are synonyms in the dictionary together with sin, ungodly, foul, vile etc. Evil naturally begets pain and suffering, to self and to others.
So when people say that they are good, they really mean goodness by their own standards and relative to their surrounding or situation. The mistake that they make is considering that ‘goodness’ when asking God the question ‘why bad things are happening to them as good people’. They will go ahead and ask God why he doesn’t deal with all the evil and pain in the world.
Very important question, with simple answers that can sound complicated.
In verse 3 of his song Truth, Lecrae drops some profound lines about evil in the world, which can be missed easily. He says
But then some say “How can God exist when
All this evil stuff in the world keep persistin’?
Wrong question, ask again
“How come God ain’t let you feel the wrath from sin?”
What you thought last night deserved a first class flight
To Hell where God doesn’t dwell. You got that right
But He bought back life, on a cross that night
Christ died, you ain’t know that it cost that price?
If God is just, and He is, then he has to stop all evil in the world. It means stopping all of it, even the evil in me. That means doing away with everyone in the world. But God chose a different route; one that offers redemption despite that evil in me, that route is grace and mercy. The price hang on a cross more than two thousand years ago.
Atheism and suffering
Atheists have had a field day with this evil and suffering discussion. Adding to their numbers daily by appealing to many through a subject that resonates deeply with them. For we have all suffered, we have all witnessed evil, we have all felt pain.
But apart from raising the problem, what more does atheism do about suffering?
John Lennox, a professor of mathematics at Oxford University and a Christian apologist observes…
“Atheism does not solve the problem. It does it in a way intellectually — people will say ‘that is just the way the universe is and we have to face it’ — but it does not remove the suffering. It does remove all hope because by definition atheism is a hopeless faith.
“Many of my atheists friends ask me why God does not ‘solve evil’ and pain. Atheism not only does not solve the problem, it removes it completely and destroys all categories. Surely a good God could do this and that and he could have made a world in which there is no evil, of course he could, but we would not have been in it.”
Notice the last part ‘….but we would not have been in it’. John Lennox reiterates the point made above that dealing with evil means dealing with all of us. That world devoid of evil and pain is not ours, we cannot be in it.
But the biggest question that John’s statement raises is this; does Christianity solve the problem of evil and pain? I will make an assertion here that in great lengths Christianity does solve the problem of evil and pain. For the sake of not making this article too long I will discuss this more in part 2 of this article.
So why really do bad things happen
As much as suffering is a huge intellectual debate, the reality is that most of the people asking are not looking for intellectual answers. They are mostly looking for answers for personal pain, they look for comfort, for someone to hold their hand, for someone to encourage them and pray for them, for someone to walk with them.
Even in my attempt to answer this question, I am deeply aware that it is just for the sake of understanding and not things to be said to people who are suffering.
That aside, I think you always have to go to the beginning in order to answer this question. You need to understand that man fell, as in Adam and Eve ate the fruit and allowed sin into the world. As we saw up there, sin is synonymous with bad, evil, wickedness and the other bad words. Effectively man, not God, allowed suffering into the world. I believe that there was ‘necessary pain’ even before the fall but suffering came with sin.
Allowing sin into the world is like allowing cancer into your body (which no one does intentionally, I hope). Like cancer, sin spreads and wreaks havoc in the world. It evolves and becomes more complex with time, always finding new ways to kill and destroy. In its wake, sin leaves untold suffering.
Notice I am talking about the world, because sin took hold of nature, which was under man’s dominion. Romans 8:18-22 talks about how nature has suffered in bondage, how it groans and how it hopes to be brought to the freedom and glory of the children of God. Why is nature groaning? Who is making it suffer? Could natural disasters be a result of nature reacting to its suffering? Remember, sin always begets suffering, even in nature.
Even all animals were initially created herbivores according to Genesis 1.30; I bet killing and eating other animals came because of sin. I know that has caught some by surprise.
We also suffer because Jesus promised trouble in this world for those who follow him. If Jesus says something will happen, it happens, simple as that. If you believe in him, all you can do is to prepare for the trouble as you do the other things he commanded you to do. It is a privilege, only for the worthy, and comes with blessings for those who suffer for his sake.
I have to repeat here that to those facing injustices, evil and pain, most of my arguments above might not suffice. They need you, as a friend, neighbour or family, to be with them, to walk with them and to pray for them. They need you to show them the love of God, to be brings God’s light in their situation.
In part 2 we shall discuss the ways which Christianity deals with suffering, the problem of guilt which hinders many from receiving God’s comfort, God’s bird eye view in regards to suffering and what ultimate justice means.
Walk with me, won’t you?
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