2011-11-02 - Suffering
Romans 12:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Question to Consider: Are there times when you wonder why God is allowing certain things to happen to you? What would you say to someone who said a good God would never permit so much suffering?
This year did not start out well for me. I went through a painful relationship loss in early January. Then, at the beginning of February, I came down with the flu. Next thing I knew, I was in ICU with pneumonia and doctors were talking about intubating me. There were needles, tests, and a lot of uncertainty about my prognosis for a few days. I was in the hospital for a little over a week, out of work for about six weeks, and am still dealing with the physical and emotional fallout of getting so sick so fast.
There was suffering involved in this experience. It was a tough time. In some religious circles, it would have been referred to as a "time of trials and tribulations." Many people say they cannot believe a good God would allow suffering and, for this reason, cannot believe in God. It does seem to be a contradiction that a supposedly good and loving God would allow such things as terminal illness, natural disasters, violent acts such as rape, and other "terrible" or "unfair" things to happen to "innocent" people. Obviously, there is a great deal of emotion surrounding this topic. It is not a subject to be addressed with flippant answers but there are some factors we can try to consider.
First, we must understand that God did not create us to suffer. He originally created a beautiful world with no suffering, in which people were perfect and lived in uninterrupted harmony with Him. Suffering is the product of living in a fallen world. Before humans chose to sin, Satan had no power here. Now, he prowls around seeking to devour, to kill, steal, and destroy.
Suffering did not begin until after the first humans chose to do wrong. Satan tempted them, and they made their choices. God gave us the ability to know right from wrong, and to make decisions about what we will do with the options before us. That's how the forces of evil became involved. After that, the sin that affected those two spread to their family, and then to the entire human race - and with it came suffering. Many times, "innocent" people are affected by the wrong actions of total strangers. In either case, the origin of suffering can be traced to people's choices, not to God.
God helps us handle the realities of living in this compromised world and, ultimately, He delivers all of us from suffering. Our time here is limited, but Satan's time here is limited, as well. God does not want people to have to deal with suffering forever. He wants us to live eternally with Him in a place of no suffering. This is why we were originally created, and it is still God's ultimate plan for us.
To make it possible for us to live there, He sent His own Son to go through unspeakable suffering for us. He had to watch His beloved Son be beaten, spit on, and hung on a cross. He understands suffering. God hurts when we hurt. Jesus had tremendous compassion on those who were hurting when He walked this Earth, and that is still true.
The purpose of Jesus' suffering was to bring us to God, and this is also one purpose of suffering in the world today. Hard times lead to growth and valuable lessons. Suffering forces us to depend on God for our needs - and to admit our vulnerabilities. Suffering shows us how imperfect the world we live in is. God uses suffering to make us discontented with this world, so we long for more than what is here. Suffering also shows us that we cannot control things. We cannot stop bad things from ever happening to us or our loved ones, no matter what we do. Suffering also helps us not to take good things for granted.
Once we have a desire for more than what's here, and an understanding that we cannot control what happens to us, we see more clearly our need for Someone who can both give us something better and take care of us. This is how a good God uses suffering - to get our attention and make us want to accept His offer of a better place and of comfort in our suffering. He did not usher in suffering, but He does use it now to teach us and draw us to Himself. He is a good God, and He knows what is good for us.
We'll never be able to understand all this fully, while we live here on Earth. We can trust in what we know, to get us through what we don't know. We can look for the lessons and the blessings. That isn't easy, but it can help us make some sense of the hard things we go through. I'm trying my best to do that around the things that have happened to me this year. I see a lot of good that has come from all this. That doesn't mean I'm glad it all happened, but I do see how God is working in the circumstances of my life. I know He will continue to do so, in good times and in harder times