Suffering definitely presents one of the greatest difficulties that Christians face when explaining their faith to other people. It’s difficult to imagine, for instance, how a God who is all-good and all-powerful could allow all so much suffering in the world. We only have to turn on the TV to see a constant stream of images of people caught up in tragedy, violence and starvation. We know our own experiences of suffering too, and those of loved ones around us. It all seems so unjust. There are few easy answers to this problem but the following points are worth considering:
Our lives in this world are not the be-all and end-all of our existence
The past 200 years have seen all kinds of onslaughts on the idea that there may be spiritual reality beyond this world. Interestingly, the main objections have not come from those enduring suffering the but, rather, thinkers in modern societies who have placed their trust in human capabilities instead of God. Ironically, the strongest Christian communities have arisen in places where persecution, deprivation and all other kinds of suffering have been at their worst. Christians believe that life in this world is only one chapter of a book that will be finished in eternity. We learn to trust, therefore, that what doesn’t make any sense at all in this world will make sense when the final chapter of history is written by God himself. This belief provides us with hope and the ability to carry on even in the darkest moments of life.
God doesn’t explain suffering but he does embrace it
You might expect that the Bible would provide some kind of definitive answer to the problem of suffering somewhere in its many pages. Sadly not. There are glimpses of insight here and there that explain certain instances of suffering, e.g. that resulting from sinful behaviour of selves or others, but otherwise the Bible is curiously silent on this question. Instead of offering explanation, the Bible instead paints a portrait of God who in deeply involved in our lives and who suffers intimately with us. It’s as if God chooses to enter our experience and draw us to himself through it rather than, necessarily, lift us out of it. We see this point demonstrated most dramatically in the life of Jesus Christ who entered humanity, suffered terribly under persecution and died brutally on a wooden cross. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he demonstrated his power over death and the reality of new life beyond the grave.
God will always do that which is absolutely right
Faith is at the heart of Christianity and another word for faith is ‘trust’. Trust can be very difficult when we face suffering in its many forms but the Bible teaches that God is entirely trustworthy. Many millions of Christians through the ages have found that promise to be true in their own lives. Christians suffer in life in the same ways that other people do and, often, for having a faith too. Nevertheless, we learn to trust that whatever God does in the world will turn out to be for the good, no matter how painful, frustrating and bewildering it feels to us now. That’s a hard thing to do but God promises to live in those who follow Jesus (i.e. ‘Christ-ians’) by the presence of his holy Spirit. It’s his Spirit within us that makes all the difference.
How do I make sense of all the suffering in the world?
Have a look at the following verses in the Bible: John 14 v 1; Matthew 27 v 27-38; Romans 6 v 5.
Am I willing to trust God who sent his own son, Jesus Christ, to die and live again so that I, too, could have eternal life?