There is a prayer that prompts more questions than answers for me whenever I hear it. The prayer goes something like this ‘God we thank you for the gift of life, there are those who wished to be alive but are not’. Others would be about thanking God for health because there are those in hospital beds who are unwell or thanking God for waking up in the morning because there are others who did not wake up.
I believe that most people say these prayers from their hearts and not to exude an inflated sense of self-importance. It is said innocently, not putting much thought to the other side of the coin. But for some reason, I can’t help but think about that person who died, that person who was not able to wake up or the one who is sick. Does it mean that they are on the wrong side of God?
And then it makes me think about the different kinds of suffering that people go through in this world; accidents, natural disasters, wars, sickness and others. There are those who survive and those who don’t.
Even the current pandemic in the world tells the same story, there are people who are recovering from corona virus and others who don’t. This happens to Christians and non-Christians alike.
But also, all over the world there are reports of miraculous healing and salvation from disaster and other kinds of suffering. The hand of God is clearly at work in the lives of people.
All this begs the question: what happens when believers in Christ ‘lose’ the battle to pain and suffering, when they die or get disabled or suffer immeasurable pain?
What does it say about our faith? What does it say about our God?
I submit to you that the only way for a Christian to come to terms with pain and suffering in this world is by having an eternal perspective.
As much we know that God alleviates much suffering in this life through miracles and blessings, we also know that it doesn’t happen for everyone. Even Jesus, who went about healing and restoring people, could not have reached everyone. There was still death and much suffering in his time.
Even with the promise from Psalms 34: 18-19 that God is near the broke hearted and saves those with a contrite heart, for whatever reason it sometimes doesn’t seem so to the one suffering.
In our own small worlds, we know Christians who have been healed miraculously or delivered from much suffering, but we also know Christians who have suffered and lost battles to disease and other problems.
Even when we experience the miracles and blessings in our lives, it doesn’t seem cushion us from the next trouble. There seems to be no supernatural intervention to the natural earthly body that can be permanent. Even those who have lived their best lives on this earth have to eventually exit it through some kind of suffering.
There is a purpose to the miracles and blessings though – and that is to bring people’s attention to God, but these supernatural interventions in the natural world are not the ultimate answers to pain and suffering.
The ultimate answer must be universal, must apply to everyone who subscribes to it. Must serve justice, writing all the wrongs done in the history of humanity.
You know that question you have been asking, ‘Will there be justice in this world?’ That question should be answered.
The answer to us dealing with the problem of death, pain and suffering is to look to eternity. It is in the resurrection of Christ.
But what does that eternal perspective look like?
In 2nd Corinthians 5:1-8 Paul lays it down best:
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.
4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
Now I understand why Paul didn’t wallow in pity because of his suffering. He understood its finite nature and looked forward to the promise.
You know, deep down man craves immortality. We all want to be free from this body that endures suffering, gets tired, gets sick, gets weak, and gets old. Deep down you don’t want to be here, despite the success that you may be having here, you want to be where there is no weeping, no pain, no evil, no injustice and no death; where all pain and suffering is ultimately dealt with.
Your true desire is to go home, where you came from, where you belong, where Jesus went to prepare for you.
Revelation 21:4 sums it best:
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (NKJV).
There is an interesting passage of scripture in Luke 13:1-5 where Jesus talks about two events where many people died. One was in Galilee where Pilate ordered people to be killed while giving sacrifices. Their blood got mixed with the sacrifices they were giving. The other one is the eighteen people who died when a tower fell on them in Jerusalem.
Here is the text:
1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Now, do you think Jesus meant that the people he was talking to will die in the same way as those in Galilee and Jerusalem if they didn’t repent?
Jesus is using that situation to tell them about eternity. My understanding is that them perishing because of not repenting is the eternal separation from God for those who don’t accept him.
Jesus understood and identified with the suffering people had gone through in that time, just as he understands our suffering today. But he used that those tragedies to focus the people’s attention to a bigger tragedy that awaited them if they didn’t turn to God. He was more concerned about their eternity despite the current situation.
You know really, if you compare 50,60,70,80 years of life on earth with eternity, its like a drop of water in the ocean. It doesn’t compare. That’s why eternal perspective is very important.
If our understanding of God is only defined by the present life, then we are holding the shortest end of the stick.
This is where churches that preach prosperity and good life lose it and become irrelevant, especially in times like these when covid-19 is terrorising the whole world. Focusing too much on a comfortable life in this world is futile.
Those churches cannot answer the real questions because they don’t have the full picture. They only look at suffering from one angle, preaching hope that only goes as far as the ceiling.
The other thing they surely can’t do is give a reasoned answer to anyone who questions the hope in them.
But we have hope because we know that despite our present suffering, Jesus resurrected and because of that we shall resurrect too when we die in him.
God deals with suffering, in the present life by partially alleviating it and in eternity by ultimately dealing with it and serving true justice.
Check out my earlier articles on the topic of pain and suffering ‘Why do bad things happen to good people‘ part 1 and 2.