The problem of thinking and writing about suffering is that you begin to notice it everywhere. The last few weeks have particularly been heavy for me. It is like my ‘suffering antennas’ have been elevated and now I see it more than before. Most news on TV have elements of pain and injustice, newspapers are filled with sensational headlines screaming about worsening conditions almost everywhere, it is as if the media outlets are measured by how much emotion they can stir up from the audience.
But still the question doesn’t go away; suffering still remains one of the most difficult and complicated life questions that anyone can pose. In part 1 (which you can read here) we looked at ‘reasons for suffering’, justification for goodness and how atheism has exploited suffering to skew many to their side.
One question still needs to be answered, what is the response of Christianity to suffering? If we call our God good, just and righteous; if Jesus is our saviour and redeemer, then what does he have to say about suffering.
Does he even know what I am going through? Does he care enough to feel what I feel? Is he powerful enough to do something about it?
The Christian response
There are no simple answers to questions about God because we only know in part since we still live in mortal bodies, but God has pulled the curtain just enough for us to have a glance and perceive some truths, most of which are recorded in His word – the Bible.
When it comes to suffering, I don’t think there is a religion out there that handles it better than Christianity.
Because of one simple fact: we believe in a God who became man (like us), lived in the human body, experienced life like we do and walked the path of suffering more than any of us ever will.
Jesus endured extreme suffering; he was extremely sorrowful, sorrow that no man has ever experienced. He was ridiculed, embarrassed, abandoned, betrayed, mocked, beaten, unfairly convicted and nailed to die on a shameful cross.
‘We call it a wonderful cross but there was nothing wonderful about the cross in the days of Jesus …… it was the worst kind of death anyone would undergo’ Prof. Bellon, from his sermon ‘Following Jesus to the cross ’preached at CITAM Woodley on 25th march 2018.
But how else could Jesus become our high priest, how else could he intercede on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25), how else could he never leave us nor forsake, how else could he always be near those who are hurting, how else can he be our strength in weakness, how else unless he went through it himself?
I obviously find better counsel about marriage from older ‘well’ married men who have gone through and overcome what I am going through now. In the same light I know that I can find comfort, peace and sufficiency in Christ because he knows what I go through.
David records this is Psalms 34: 17-18
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears,
And Delivers them from all their troubles.
The lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
God is near those who are hurting, Jesus is always with us even when no one else is. This should encourage many who have been abandoned when suffering struck.
Jesus also delivers us from suffering. Jesus went around delivering people from evil and suffering, and still does it now. Jesus heals diseases, Jesus restores relationships, Jesus cleanses, Jesus breaks chains of addictions, and Jesus binds wounds. If you don’t hear testimonies of the amazing things that God is doing in people, then you should evaluate your associations.
These are not just bible stories, they are happening right in front of our eyes. The hand of God is fully at work among us.
One day I will share my testimony about how God healed me of deep family wounds. It was a process but when God did it, I had no shadow of doubt about what had happened. I knew it was gone.
We conclude that apart from the encouragement, the comfort, the understanding, apart from the strength and the hope he gives, Jesus also deals with our suffering by alleviating it and even removing it all together.
But doesn’t it seem selective, why are some delivered and others not? There seems to be an inconsistency that has bugged me for a long time. Again, no simple answers to such difficult questions but let’s see if we can get some insight.
God’s bird eye view
I am convinced by Isaiah 55:8 that God’s thoughts are not like ours and his ways likewise. I think this is true about suffering as well. I should not even call this God’s bird eye view because God created birds but it’s all about trying to bring it to my level of understating.
The contrast between the suffering of Stephen and Paul in the bible is very striking. Stephen was persecuted and killed by stoning in the first instance that he suffered for Christ as recorded in the bible. On the other hand, Paul’s hardship is a catalogue; he was stoned, flogged severally, imprisoned frequently, shipwrecked, beaten, went without sleep and many more stuff yet he survived and lived to old age.
Was God more with Paul than Stephen? Of course not; we know that God was there when Stephen was being killed, in fact Stephen’s vision of Jesus at the right hand of God was the ‘last nail in the coffin’ for his executors. The irony of this comparison is that Paul, then Saul, is the one who consented to Stephen’s killing.
Why then would God allow it to happen like that? Some making it, others not, some dying young, others living to old age. Well, a good place to begin is 2nd Corinthians 5:1-8.
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.
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, no death, no waking up early in the morning (that’s for me).
Your true desire is to go home, where you came from, where you belong, where Jesus went to prepare for you.
Now, if heaven is the best place ever and our deeply desired destination, does it matter when we reach there? Does it matter if we go as children, middle aged or old?
In the passage above, Paul wanted to go as early as possible, he was only kept back for the purpose that God had for him.
I think that from God’s point of view, death is just a transition from this world to his place, where we desire to be anyways. For most people that transition means going through some kind of suffering.
But there is a twist. And it sits deep in us. Many of us are not confident like Paul, because we are not sure that God will accept us to his place, heaven.
‘Yes I know that I am saved, but do I really know that I will be in heaven if called today’
It is called the problem of guilt, which the cross dealt with. Paul says in verse 5 above that God’s spirit is the guarantee of our salvation, that spirit lives in you if you have accepted Jesus. We walk by faith not by sight; you receive salvation by faith not by works.
You better believe that you are saved!
Man’s solution to suffering
Think with me; is there suffering that we have control over? Is there suffering that God has given us power to solve? Could we be the solution to some (or most) problems around us?
When the Bible talks about being able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us, could some of those things be sorting some people out. When it talks about how in Acts people gave and ‘none lacked among them’, could that be a clue that our giving can alleviate much suffering around us?
What is this power that is working inside of you through which God is able to do ‘exceedingly abundantly above all things you can ask or imagine?’
..how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil Acts 10:38 (NKJV)
We can solve much suffering by simply obeying God and going as sent out by the Holy Spirit. When we heal the sick, cast out demons, cleanse lepers, raise the dead and do all kinds of good things, people are set free from pain and evil.
What is my role in dealing with suffering?
Maybe Jesus is near those who suffer, through me.
Christianity ultimately deals with suffering; some of it in this life and most of it in eternity.
I recently visited the Resurrection garden in Karen, a prayer centre that I would encourage everyone to visit. As I walked around I came to this plaque about ‘SILENCE OF GOD, THE MYSTERY OF EVIL AND SUFFERING’. Bible verses from Job, Psalms, Jeremiah, Luke, Hebrews and others are spread on either side of the centre, but just below the title is a verse that had me there for a while.
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)
It would help to read the entire chapter. There is a lot more that can be said, a lot more verses that can be quoted but the discussion continues…. Feel free to raise any contribution or questions in the comment section below.
You are welcome to like our Facebook page LIVING THINKING SHARING.