‘If God exists, why is there suffering?’
In true Christianity, even pain has meaning and purpose on certain circumstances.
By JENSEN DG. MAÑEBOG
SOME EASTERN RELIGIONS typically put sorrow, pain, and suffering in the category of illusion—that “evil and suffering are real only as long as the ego believes them to be real” and that “they will fade away as one gains enlightenment about the illusory nature of the phenomenal world” (Passionate Conviction, pp. 147–148). The Bible, on the other hand, bluntly confronts these profound issues from the very first pages of its first book, Genesis.
Those commanded to write the Bible affirm the presence of these things (Jer. 15:18; Rom. 8:22), such as the Psalmist who pronounced, “I am surrounded by many troubles—too many to count!” (Ps. 40:12 Good News Bible)
The fact that one whole book in the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Job, was even dedicated to the questions concerning personal sufferings proves without a doubt that Christianity does not dismiss misery, agony, and grief as false impressions, but offers a sound perspective for coming to terms with their undeniable existence.
So how does the Bible depict and explain pains and sufferings? While not considering them as illusory, how do true Christians view the unpleasant events that they, too, experience? Are sufferings and evil compatible with the existence of a benevolent God?
God is not the author of evil
The Holy Scriptures inform us of various causes and reasons why awful things take place. For instance, as much of the sickness found in newly born babies can be caused by their parents’ dependence on alcohol, use of illegal drugs, or crooked lifestyles, it can be said that some sufferings are man-made or caused by man’s rebellion against God’s warnings. The same is true, obviously, in cases of people doing crimes against other people. The Book of Ecclesiastes states, “God made man upright, But they have sought out many schemes” (7:29 New King James Version). Man, therefore, has brought upon himself sufferings by selfishly choosing his own way apart from God’s will.
Suffering also comes about as a consequence of succumbing to the ploy of the “tempter.” The “serpent” tempted Adam and Eve to break God’s command, and their consequent violation cost them their right to reside in the Garden of Eden and their privilege to live a trouble-free life (Gen. 3:1–24). So some sufferings come about because of the undertakings of this “tempter” or “serpent” who delights in turning people away from God and in dragging them to miseries—Satan, the devil (Matt. 4:3; Gen. 3:1; Rev. 12:9).
Some forms of sufferings
But one must also recognize the difference between the suffering that is caused by evil and the pain that comes with achieving growth and reaching maturity. There is a certain amount of pain when a body builder, for instance, strives to lift heavier weights. But there is also a tremendous joy when one finally breaks through into a higher level of accomplishment and attains the ensuing progress. In more ways than one, the same is true in one’s struggle toward spiritual maturity and in achieving better outlook in life. As Apostle Paul exclaimed upon encountering a certain predicament, “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (II Cor. 1:9 New International Version).
Some sufferings exist so that the works of God should be revealed in certain people (John 9:1–12). Some miseries could also be significant for people to be drawn closer to God. There are those who have to suffer in order to realize the importance of returning to God. Not until they have their wealth or health or a loved one taken away from them, that they will have the desire to serve the Lord and be saved consequently. Proving that afflictions can be helpful for some to learn God’s statutes and keep His words, the Psalmist expressed:
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes. … Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” (Ps. 119:71, 67 NKJV)
Congruent with the Christian belief
Admittedly, Christians, too, are not spared from encountering troubles, sorrows, and pains as they take the journey through this imperfect world. But never is this fact incongruent with the Christian belief that gives emphasis on God’s saving power. The Bible explains that even faithful servants of the Lord, at times, do encounter tribulations, for “tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; And character, hope” (Rom. 5:3–4 NKJV).
On occasion, they also face trials, the result of which is “the ability to endure,” and their endurance “carries [them] all the way without failing,” so that they may be “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:3–4 GNB). For their faith to be tested and purified, they sometimes find themselves in grief and misery—so as to receive the goal or “end of [their] faith—the salvation of [their] souls” (I Pet. 1:6–9 NKJV).
Hence, some of the sufferings they experience and the unpleasant things they endure serve as tools that prepare them for divine functions and missions and mold them to be spiritually mature and holy before God. By making them learn from their mistakes, suffering trains them (Heb. 12:11). It is also there to manifest God’s grace in their lives (I Pet. 5:10).
God will get rid of evil
Atheists argue that if God is good and powerful, as Christians profess, then He will want to get rid of evil and He can do it. And since wickedness exists, they conclude that there cannot be God.
Now, while this argument may sound compelling, it is nonetheless utterly flawed. Just because God has not yet eradicated all evil does not mean that He will never destroy it. In fact, the Bible announces of the good news that one day soon, all forms of miseries and evil will be brought to an end!
In His just and benevolent will to abolish evil completely, the Almighty God “has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31 NKJV). This event includes not only “perdition of ungodly men” (II Pet. 3:7, 10 NKJV) ultimately “into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41 NKJV), but also the giving of ultimate reward to dwell in the blissful Holy City where there shall be no more death, sorrow, crying, and pain (Rev. 21:1–4). This reward will be given to those who, despite hindrances, entered the true Church Of Christ (John 10:9; Heb. 12:22–23 Remedy New Testament) and amidst pains and miseries, patiently endured, obeyed God’s commandments, and remained faithful until the end (Matt. 24:13; Rev. 14:12–13).
Our conviction as Christians
In true Christianity, even pain has meaning and purpose on certain circumstances. Advocating God’s omnipotence, the true Church believes that God is able to employ even the most sorrowful parts of our life for the good of “those who love [Him]” (Rom. 8:28 NKJV). Faith in Him gives meaning even to our most hurting suffering, as it provides us a sense of hope and purpose. It reminds us that although life is full of pain, but definitely, there is more to life than just the hurt!
So on our part as true Christians, worthy of imitation are Apostle Paul and his co-workers, who, in spite of extreme sufferings they went through, perceived the distressing experiences as teaching them a lesson coming from the Lord:
“We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.” (II Cor. 1:8–10 The Message)
When the misery we endure is dreadfully heartbreaking that the pain has seeped through the fabric of our faith, may we be able to imitate Job. During his sufferings, instead of doubting and distrusting God, he emphatically declared with conviction, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Job 19:25–26 NIV).
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