Shootings, earthquakes, bombings, hurricanes, fires, and terrorism – it never seems to end. Wars, sexual assaults, asteroids, threats, and falling space junk – is there an end to the suffering of mankind? Cancer, AIDS, epidemics, pneumonia, and dementia – why can’t we figure out how to solve diseases? Hunger, dysentery, pollution, expanding deserts, and unclean water – is anyone paying attention? Why does a loving God allow such pain to exist within the human condition?
One of the most beautiful statements on the human condition is the book of Job – part of the Hebrew Canon of scripture. Written in the prose of Hebrew poetry, the book of Job outlines some basic principles related to suffering. We see many of these principles repeated in the Psalms as many of the authors of these psalms try to understand the role of God in the midst of the human condition. A few of these principles address why God allows human suffering. A couple demonstrate our need for a Savior, a Redeemer, a Healer, and One who will establish justice. Ultimately, we see that Jesus is the fulfillment of this need – but not in its fullness.
First, why does suffering exist? Put most simply – sin. This is clearly from a theological perspective, but sin has corrupted God’s creation and brought it to its own destruction. Without sin there is no suffering in the world. Some suffering is the result of man’s sinful nature, while other suffering is the result of original sin. In other words, man’s sin and rebellion has thrown the world into an epoch of suffering. All of creation longs for and eagerly waits for the redemption of mankind. Sure, we have redemption now – but there will come a day when our redemption is fulfilled.
From a more philosophical position, suffering serves as a constant reminder that we are in need of something better. This cannot be as good as it gets. There must be something more than this. We cannot become satisfied with suffering. We cannot merely state that it must be God’s will or worse, smugly state that God works everything for the good of those who are special – who love Him and are loved by Him. The reality is this, suffering is horrible. Nobody – not even our worst enemies, should have to suffer. God doesn’t want it and we shouldn’t want it either. God wants something better for humanity and creation. We should want something better as well.
Suffering is not reserved for those who are bad. Jesus is described as “The Suffering Servant.” He was not exempt from the human condition in spite of His righteousness, goodness, holiness, or sheer awesomeness! Not only was He tempted in every way we are, but He endured suffering – even to the point of death on a cross. He was humiliated, denigrated, mocked, and severely beaten. I have heard some say that His physical suffering was probably the least of the suffering He endured. I am not certain what kind of suffering is the worst – but this is not for any of us to determine. Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. It all stinks.
My personal experience with suffering is that God uses pain as a tool to shape and mold me into the person He wants me to be. The most significant lessons in my life have been learned in the midst of suffering. Some of my personal pain has been brought on by my own stupidity, some by the sin and evil of others, and some of my suffering is just the result of living in a world corrupted by sin. (I hate colds – is there anything more useless than a cold? One isn’t sick enough to stay home, but too sick to enjoy life. Can we learn anything from a cold?)
Attitude and perspective help shape our response to the human condition that includes suffering. If our first response is, “Why me????” then we will probably wallow in self-pity and potentially fall into deep depression. If we live with a teachable and moldable spirit within us, then the suffering we endure will serve to produce perseverance, character, and hope – and hope does not disappoint us.
Suffering also serves to bring solidarity among humanity as it is a very real part of the human condition that cannot be avoided. It is what gives us a sense of solidarity with Jesus and what forever links us to Him as One who can understand our human condition. If He had not suffered, then how could He serve as our Advocate and place His hands on both God and man? (Job longed for an Advocate who could stand in the gap between God and himself.) If believers were exempt from human suffering, we would immediately lose all credibility and influence with those who are longing for something more. Suffering also serves to remind us that all of mankind, believers included, and all of creation is longing for the redemption of the sons of God. We have not arrived – though we have seen the other side through Jesus.
Please do not try and make excuses for God. He knows the trouble, pain, and suffering we are in. He knows it stinks and wants us to be delivered from it. God also knows that without suffering, we would not seek Him. He desires that none should face eternal suffering, so He continues to allow suffering and pain in the human condition in order that we might cry out for One to serve as an Advocate for mankind – Jesus is just such an Advocate who will deliver us from eternal suffering.