A better response to suffering


Unbelievers and skeptics of theism often cite the reality of seemingly gratuitous suffering in the world as grounds for rejecting the notion of a good, all-powerful God. But what if it could be argued that they are actually responsible for it? And don’t look now, but…you and I as well.

I have a friend who suffers and has suffered more than most of us every will. Three of her four children died young, two of them struggled with health issues for years, and she suffers from multiple, complex physical conditions and ailments that have her in constant pain and struggling just to have some semblance of a semblance of a normal life. Her faith in God has been tested but has withstood and even been strengthened by her trials.

Yet though she tries not to, she finds herself at times questioning why he would allow so much pain in her life. I also wonder about it, as I think of and pray for her. Though we both know we may never have that answer, we believe there is one. The most reasonable inference from all the evidence we have is that God is perfectly good and loving and nothing is impossible for him. So it follows that he has good reasons for allowing suffering in the world. It may be punishment on account of the sufferer’s sin or to call attention to his need to turn to and trust in God. But it also may instead be meant to impact the lives of those observing the suffering.

You may have heard it said that some virtues, like compassion, would never be developed apart from suffering. Were there no one to feel “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of,” so the definition of compassion, we would all be lacking this superlative virtue. As I considered my friend and her love for and devotion to God and how she has only wanted to spend her life in service to him, yet she like righteous Job is continually getting clobbered with misfortune and pain, I wondered whether I and others might actually be the target of God’s training. Perhaps her suffering has as its intended objective the development of our character and Christ-likeness. And I grieved over how our obtuseness may be prolonging her pain.

Could I and others in my friend’s circle relieve much of her suffering by attending to what God may be wanting to teach us through it? When a parent’s discipline of a child achieves its intended result, doesn’t that parent put an end to it? If God’s purpose in afflicting the undeserving is to move those around them to action and character development, then it seems to me the sooner we act and develop the sooner the affliction will be removed.

I am firmly convinced that God has good reasons for allowing suffering in the world. Most of it does not concern us but some of it certainly does, whether we are the ones having to endure a trial or are being confronted with pain and suffering in the lives of others. And what doesn’t concern us concerns someone…somewhere. Perhaps if instead of bemoaning the reality of suffering we did our darnedest to learn, grow, and act in response to it, we’d see much of it end.