I am often confronted with the idea of suffering. Many are quite angry with God for the suffering we endure. They blame Him directly for the suffering we cause. The fact that we cause the suffering never enters into the equation for these persons. Personal responsibility is the last thing we want to accept when confronted by our own sin. Adam himself said "It was the woman YOU gave me"! Suffering and fear is always someone else' fault. We shun and and reject suffering of any kind, therefor because we have a serious and deep abhoration for any suffering we feel that suffering can not be our own responsibility. It must be someone else' fault. "How can I be the cause of the thing I despise and hate?"
There is something quite unfair about the suffering we endure. It is evil in nature and without justification in our hearts and minds. It seems that any justification will simply not do as it is completely without merit and wholly wrong. The child that stubs their toe ask mommy "why does it hurt so bad?' seeking justification for the pain. When the mother replies "it just does sweet heart" the child is somewhat let down by the injustice and unfairness. There seems to be no reason.
Suffering is equal in its power to destroy the will and happiness of humans. It does not matter if you are wealthy or poor, slave or free, one with power or or a child. We all suffer.
I am asked "Why does God allow suffering if He loves us so?" It appears contradictory in our hearts.
Lets unpack this a bit.
First of all I would ask this person the same question. "Did you have children knowing they will experience suffering in this life?" "Do you blame your parents for bringing you in a world full of pain?" They uniformly decline to place blame on themselves or their parents. The response I get is usually something about God being almighty and therefore can eliminate suffering altogether whereas we are not and can not therefore are without responsibility.
Very well, I would ask if we have any power at all to reduce suffering. The answer is in the affirmative, however how many of us actively seek to reduce the suffering of others? The children of the Sudan are dieing due to malnutrition and disease. A few dollars saves a child from this and yet we do not give. Slavery is rampant in South East Asia and yet we do not solve this either. We do not even pay attention to this. How is it that we can land men on the moon, genetically alter the genome, build 14 super aircraft carriers, but can not seem to feed starving children? Of course we can, we just choose not to.
Here the answer I get is another blame shift to the governments of the world or the immigration laws or some such nonsense. Anything other than accepting responsibility for the suffering we cause and allow.
You see how it is very easy to blame God but when we are placed in the same position only being held to what we have the ability to do, we fail the test. Christ told the rich ruler to "go sell all you own and come follow me". The ruler went away saddened of course. He loved his wealth more than he loved Christ. The lack of love here caused suffering in the form of sorrow. If we loved one another properly then suffering would diminish to a very great extent.
I remember my first exposure to the works of Oswald Chambers. I called him the "Christian drill instructor" as he is rather hard on the Christian and gives no room for self. He says that the suffering we endure is a holy and useful tool God uses for the will of God to accomplish His purpose. I am paraphrasing a bit here but only a bit. When we complain of suffering we have taken the entirety of the world and placed ourselves as the pinnacle of the importance of the situation. This is a direct inversion to the fact that God is the highest and the sinner being redeemed is the primary endeavor. Placing ourselves within this framework as the focus is evil. When pagans make this statement they are doing the very same thing. They will claim it is due to the suffering of others, especially what they refer to as needless and pointless suffering however they can not prove that such a thing exists, that drives their objection. This however is demonstrably false.
Suffering is intimate. It exists within us and the consequences are experienced inside our hearts and souls. Those that love each other the most do so when they have suffered together. It is said that war is the only place where men can openly love one another. In the many years of counseling after my 5 years of molestation and rape I was given a healing experience. I was speaking with a girl who had been locked in a closet and barely kept alive for many years. She was severely malnourished and frail both physically and mentally. We developed a bond that I have never experienced since. The true and deep understanding of what was endured is sacred. I am quite certain that this is the purpose of the sufferings of Christ. Isaiah 53:3 says "He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not." The suffering Jesus endured provides this bond.
So why all this suffering then?
Suffering is the working of God in your life to produce fruit and make you more capable for greater work for the kingdom. Have you forgotten we are in a war for the hearts and souls of men? Do you really send in the new recruits for the special forces missions? Special forces suffer tremendously before they are allowed to even begin learning the skills required to achieve their objective. Why do we force this suffering on our warriors? Because war is suffering and one must operate in all manner of situations and hell while still being able to accomplish the objective. Does this sound familiar?
2 Corinthians 11:23b-29 "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?"
Read Foxes Book of Martyrs, go spend a few years in a third world country making disciples. Suffering is part of it and you see suffering all around you all the time. There is a falsehood here. You think that you go to ease the suffering and provide comfort for others. This is false. They provide comfort and teach you far more than you can ever do for those in these desperate situations. Those that decry God for the suffering we endure are focused not on the suffering but on their own emotional bearings. Just as boot camp or any other discipline requires suffering and work, sacrifice and commitment why would the workings of Christ be any different? Given that the entirety of human souls is at stake here why would it seem strange to you that the sufferings be part of your life?
1 Peter 4 tells us that trials are part of this life and dont think it strange when they come. Suffering gives us sympathy. Suffering builds character. Suffering bonds us together with other who suffer. Suffering shows us how strong we may become through endurance. Suffering can be quite holy and very much a requirement for being fit for the kingdoms work.
This would end the conversation if Christians were the only ones that suffer. This is not the case however. So why do pagans suffer?
Self = not others = suffering of others to promote self.
This is the primary reason for suffering and the initial cause of suffering. Man decided that his own ideas were greater than the commands of God and therefore we now suffer. Sin causes suffering. I am asked what sin causes tornadoes and earthquakes if this is so. What they mean to ask is very different than this question. What they mean to ask is "why do I suffer from things I have no control over". This is a bit like the stomach complaining that the cancer is hurting it when it was the brains choice to smoke a pack a day. Sin is like a fire or a cancer. It feeds itself and grow continually, consuming all it can and turning everything to the decrepit state, as a fire dries and consumes more material to grow and feed itself. As time progresses the fire grows and becomes stronger unless squelched. The cancer consumes unless removed. The virus replicates unless destroyed. The suffering from sin increases and pain and death along with it reaching those that had no initial cause for the suffering in the same way a fire will consume trees that were no where near the initial flame.
In all of this we are still left with a significant issue. At this point I am asked "why does God not limit our suffering, why does he allow the holocaust and the genocide to occur". "why do babies suffer so and God does nothing?"
How do you know God does nothing? When God prevents mankind from atrocities then the atrocity never occurs and we never have any evidence that God did anything. This would be considered an argument from silence meaning that there is no evidence and therefore we can not say what has or has not occurred except God is wise. You would be amazed and quite terrified if you knew how many times a false alarm has launched nuclear bombers into the skies and sent the United States to DEFCON. The miraculous and absolutely astounding accounts of adverted massacres from WWII alone would convince you of Gods direct intervention. Foxes book of martyrs tells of many interventions by God into the affairs of men. Time and again throughout the entirety of scripture we are shown Gods intervention. Theologians, those scientists who study Gods interaction with mankind, tell us repeatedly and often of Gods intervention into the affairs of men.
In fact Death is the ultimate intervention from God limiting mankind's suffering.
Genesis 2:22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” . This is the first act of redemption. God chose to allow us death so that our fallen state is not permanent. God allows us to die rather than to suffer endlessly. This is indeed a tender mercy. Redemption, resurrection, heaven and glory were the plan for mankind from before the foundations of the earth were established.
We suffer to learn and grow and become capable. We suffer because we lack the ability to love one another properly. We suffer because we are consumed with ourselves. We suffer as is common to mankind. We suffer until we die, and thank God we die! Thank God we may not exist eternally in this wretched state!
Consider Paul's words of encouragement.
Romans 8:18 tells us "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."
Go love someone in a state worse than your own. Then you will see the divine plan and the power of Christs in your life. You will see the purpose and reasoning of suffering. You will be comforted far more than those that you comfort.