Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Suffering

The following passage on suffering was posted on Facebook (The Teachings of Jesus Christ).  It's a cut and paste of an article from Matthew Gene Santos, and a very thoughtful read on Suffering. 

The reasons for our suffering are very simple, I'm sure, yet as self-centered, surviving humans we need it to "make sense". Lucky for us, God is patient enough to rephrase the concept of suffering in multiple ways until we understand it.  Once we do (if ever) understand it, we circle back to ourselves and our own needs soon enough so as to forget it and start looking at suffering from a new angle.   
If we're lucky, we start "getting it". We quit using our heads, start using our hearts, and obeying God's wisdom in all it's sophistication.

Of all the challenges thrown at Christianity in modern times, perhaps the most sinister is explaining the problem of suffering. How can a loving God allow suffering to continue to occur in the world which He created? For those who have endured massive suffering themselves, this is much more than a philosophical issue, but often becomes a very deep-seated personal and emotional issue. How does the Bible attempt to address this issue? Does the Bible give us any examples of suffering and some indicators on how to deal with it?

The Bible is startlingly realistic when it comes to the problem of endured suffering. For one thing, the Bible devotes an entire book to dealing with the problem. This book concerns a man named Job. It begins with a scene in heaven which provides the reader with the background to Job’s suffering. Job suffers because God contested with Satan. As far as we know, this was never known by Job, nor by any of his friends. It is therefore not surprising that they all struggle to explain Job’s suffering from the perspective of their ignorance, until Job finally rests in nothing but the faithfulness of God and the hope of His redemption. Neither Job nor his friends understood at the time the reasons for his suffering. In fact, when Job is finally confronted by the Lord, Job is silent. Job’s silent response does not in any way trivialise the intense pain and loss he had so patiently endured. Rather, it underscores the importance of trusting God’s purposes in the midst of suffering, even when we don’t know that those purposes are. Suffering, like all other human experiences, is directed by the sovereign wisdom of God. In the end, we learn the lesson that we may never know the specific reason for our suffering, but we must trust in our sovereign God. That is the real answer to suffering.

Another example of suffering in the Bible is Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, where he was ultimately indicted on false charges and thereby thrown into prison. As a result of Joseph’s suffering and endurance, by God’s grace and power, he is later promoted to governor of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself, where he finds himself in a position to make provision to the nations of the world during a time of famine, including his own family and the brothers who sold him into slavery! The message of this story is summarized in Joseph’s address to his brothers in Genesis 50:19-21: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”

Romans 8:28 contains some comforting words for those enduring hardship and suffering: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In His providence, God orchestrates every event in our lives—even suffering, temptation and sin—to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit.

The psalmist David endured much suffering in his time, and this is reflected in many of his poems collected in the book of Psalms. In Psalm 22, we hear the sound of David’s anguish: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry out by day but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 'He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.'”

It remains an unfathomable mystery to David why God does not intervene in the midst of his suffering and pain. He sees God as the one who is enthroned as the Holy One, the praise of Israel. After all, doesn’t God lead a pretty sheltered life? Isn’t God lucky to live in heaven where all is sweetness and light, where there is no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred? What does God know of all that humans go through? David goes on to complain that “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

Did God ever answer David? Sure enough, many centuries later, David received his answer. Roughly one millennium later, a descendent of David named Christ Jesus was killed on a hill called Calvary. On the cross, God endured the suffering and shame of his forefather. Christ’s hands and feet were pierced. Christ’s garments were divided among his enemies. Christ was stared at and gloated over and derided. In fact, Christ uttered the words with which David opens this Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” thus identifying himself with the suffering of his forefather.

Because Christ, the eternal Son of God in whom the fullness of God dwells, has lived on earth as a human being and has endured hunger, thirst, temptation, shame, persecution, nakedness, bereavement, betrayal, mockery, injustice and death, He is in a position to fulfil the longing of Job, “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot” (Job 9:33).

Christian theism is, in fact, the only worldview which can consistently make sense of the problem of evil and suffering. Apart from the fact that Christians serve a God who has lived on this earth and been through trauma, temptation, bereavement, torture, hunger, thirst, persecution and even execution, the cross of Christ can be regarded as the ultimate manifestation of God’s justice. When asked how much God cares about the problem of evil and suffering, the Christian God is the only God who can point to the cross, and say “that much.” Christ experienced rejection from God, saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He experienced just the same suffering as many people do in many parts of the world today who are feeling isolated from God’s favor and love.

The Christian worldview is thus the only worldview which even makes an attempt at addressing this paradox. How can God be just and still forgive wicked men such as ourselves? The answer lies in the cross of Christ and that alone.

Matthew Gene Santos- Global Scope Ministries


  1. The welcoming of the souls of the faithful into eternal heavenly life is the ultimate cessation of earthly suffering. We who expect everything this instant often lose sight of the long view.

    We mistakenly conflate all forms of suffering into one and demand God provide relief for all. Suffering we bring upon ourselves through our own wrongful actions - drugs, alcohol, infidelity, financial excess, etc., are not God's to cure; they are our own. God can show us the path; we choose whether to walk that path.

    Suffering we don't bring upon ourselves - congenital disease, pain, poverty of place, the suffering of innocents during war, etc. - are what causes us to seek eternal relief at the end of our days.

    And those not suffering are called to help all who are.

  2. Suffering comes from the curse of our sin and Satan's mischief. God chooses to let time spin out completely to allow every possible saint to be saved. Jesus is with us in our (inevitable) earthly suffering, moment to moment.
    thanks for this post

  3. Thank you for the beautiful reminder that God is still with us in times of sorrow and pain. One of the greatest gifts God has given to his children is the gift of free agency,. However, we should also remember that while free agency allows us to choose for ourselves, it also requires us to accept the consequences of our actions, be they good or evil.

    Sometimes, our earthly suffering is brought about by our own choices. It can have a humbling effect that can help us return to God. But what about the innocent who suffer because of the actions of others?

    God often allows the innocent to suffer in order to pass righteous judgement upon the wicked. For example, God may have the power to stop a bullet, but if he does so, justice might be robbed and the laws of God would become worthless. Certainly there are times when miracles like this do take place so that God can demonstrate his power, but more often, the miracle is in the form of strength given to the innocent party to allow them to endure or understand the burden that has been unfairly placed upon them by the actions of others.