One of the most disastrous questions for a Christian to encounter, even moreso than the questions of evolution, biblical inerrancy, and various other difficulties of the faith, is the question of suffering. Why do people suffer? Why does a good God allow bad things to happen to those who are His faithful? Why, for that matter, does God allow atrocities every day that shatter the hopes and dreams even of those who are not His by word and commitment, but are still His by creation? When the sobs of the heartbroken and painful mourning of those who weep reach the heights of Heaven seemingly unanswered or uncared for, where is this God who “neither slumbers nor sleeps?”
This question stops more Christians in their tracks, leaves more skeptics continually scoffing at the “love of God” and eats the faith of more people than any other question. Why do we suffer? Buddhists and other adherents to eastern religious philosophies maintain that suffering is but an illusion and only once we get past that illusion will we reach peace. Legalists in the Judeo-Christian background of faith can sometimes point at suffering as the result of something we have done. Stoics believed that suffering was “our fate” and only by letting go of our feelings can we reach peace.
What are Christians to make of suffering? How do we answer that question? Well, first and foremost, one way to counteract the idea that evil disproves the existence of a loving God is this fact: In order to evaluate something as “evil,” there must be some standard by which we evaluate what is “good.” By this I mean that without a standard, we can’t really evaluate evil as evil. How would we know what evil is if there was no good. There has to be some objective standard by which we measure “good” and “evil”. Hence, the argument can work equally well in reverse: Suffering proves the existence of God because if there is evil, there is good. Therefore, the presence of good in the world is evidence for the existence of God.
Another way to look at suffering is that, in some ways, humans ARE responsible for human suffering. Galatians 6:7 states that “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” Very logically, there are actions that we partake in that lead to our suffering. The unfaithful husband who is finally left lonely by his wife, love long dead from stupidity and selfishness, has rightfully reaped from the seeds which he has sown. The young unwed mother now contemplating the future that she has carved for herself and now a child through her irresponsibility in tandem with the irresponsibility of her young lover has reached this point due to her own actions. Indeed, some of the suffering we feel is due to our own behavior.
What do we do then, with suffering that is through no fault of our own? What do we do with the pains that people feel that they never brought upon themselves? The tragedy of starvation in Africa, the pain of the young mother holding a dying child in her arms, the grief stricken wife burying her husband, all her hopes and dreams dying along with the youthful man? What then? Where possibly can God be in that? Who do we lift our hands to in anger? Who do we scream to in the midst of all of this?
The easiest answer for the Christian to give and indeed, to hold onto in answer for their own faith is this: God took the question of suffering, laid it upon Himself on the blood-stained nails of the old rugged cross, and dashed suffering to the ground in defeat. You see, those who cry can know that Christ Himself, the living Lord and the God of Tears Himself stands waiting there. He meets you in your suffering, this God of pain, this one and only Messiah. Our suffering here, the death and despair, the agony and tears, are felt full force by that God-Man that lives for us, interceding moment by moment in front of our Father. He assures us daily that in the midst of our failings and tragedies He is there, weaping with us, waiting for the time of divine restoration right along beside us. Mother Teresa, the suffering saint of Calcutta, equated the awful sufferings of this world to no more than “a stay in an inconvenient hotel” when compared to the joys God’s saints will experience in heaven. It is for the reason that we have this hope in Christ, the suffering messiah, for resurrection and restoration, that Paul says that “you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
God created a perfect world. He created mankind in His own image of rationale, judgment, and the ability to choose for himself. Mankind chose to bring evil into the world. Despite our culpability in the problem of pain and suffering, God chose to insert Himself into this world, take all of the pain, suffering, and tears of our lives, take them upon Himself, and die with arms wide open. If nothing else comes out of pain and suffering, there is the loving God who offered Himself as a balm for our pain. How can you not love this God?
I don’t offer this as a pat answer. As Christians, it is our call to be the hands and feet of the living God here on earth to salve the pain and hurt of others. It is our responsibility to do the godly thing when it comes time to intervene in the lives of others. God has already done has job by accepting our suffering upon himself. That, I believe, is the only real answer necessary for the question of suffering.