WHAT CHRISTIANS SHOULD KNOW (#WCSK) VOLUME ZERO PART IVA: WHY SUFFERING?

What Christians Should Know (#WCSK): Volume Zero takes a step back and investigates basic ideas about God, the Bible, and the Christian faith. This series provides crucial answers to critical questions about belief.

 

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:3–5, KJV)

“But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” (I Peter 5:10, KJV)

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:2–4, KJV)

“Why suffering?” is a fundamental question that begs for ultimate truth in the form of an ultimate answer.

Why? Because we live in a world filled with suffering and our conscience tells us that suffering is a deviation from the norm. We contract diseases, feel ill, and desire to be healthy again, and then we recover. We injure ourselves and long to return to normal, and then our pain disappears and our wounds heal. We look at the world around us and ask questions like, “Why did those innocent children have to die?” and “Why did that building have to burn down?” Asking why presupposes a reason and a purpose behind circumstances. We search for an answer and come up empty, yet we still have a sense that an answer exists somewhere. We are forced to deal with the striking paradox that while we—human beings—stand above and have dominion over the rest of creation, we also have the heightened ability to reflect on our own misery. Because of our grandeur, we experience the greatest suffering.

Explaining why suffering exists would in fact be effortless if God did not claim to be good. We could then say that suffering is the result of a cruel and heartless deity. Similarly, providing reasons for the existence of suffering would be effortless if God did not claim to be omnipotent. Then we could simply say, “There’s nothing God could do because it was beyond His control.” The answer to this lesson’s central question would also be basic if evil was an illusion or if real people didn’t have to endure so much grief. The Bible tells us that God is both good and all-powerful, so we must reconcile these revelations with the brutal facts about our reality.

What I hope to convey is that while the Bible may not give everyone specific answers regarding why they suffer in unique situations, it does abound in general principles that equip us to deal with our perilous situations and to grow our faith by directing us to the only legitimate source of eternal hope, Jesus Christ. If nothing else, He is the one who perfectly demonstrated that suffering has meaning, that it is not for nothing, and that the path to new life by the power of the resurrection always goes directly through the pain, anguish, and torment of the Cross. One of the unique truth claims of the Christians faith—and what separates it from other false religions and fad ideologies—is that it tells us the story of our real-life Savior, who dealt with real-life suffering and who now forever stands as a shining tower of real-life hope. What the model of Jesus and God’s revelation to us in the Bible demonstrates is that truly, we will never have a comprehensive answer for all of life’s trials, but what we do have matters more: an empathetic God who will stand by our side in time of strife,[1] never allowing us to experience more than we can handle.[2] In the end, what matters more for a weary mother mourning the loss of her child and the broken husband who must watch his wife endure grueling pain? A scientific or causal explanation for present circumstances or the felt presence of an Almightily God who will extend His hand to comfort them and pick them up when their bones are crushed and their souls have dropped into the depths of the abyss?

In this section (Part I), I begin by examining how evil and free will …

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