This is the next topic in my series of blogs entitled "If Christianity is True Then Why...?" Nowhere is this question asked more than when we, or others experience suffering.
I have to admit, there have been times in my own life l've asked this question, If God is sovereign over everything and all powerful, then it's within his power to stop, or lessen senseless suffering. So why doesn't he?
Here's my honest answer. I don't know. And some Christians, in their zeal to act as God's Public Relations Department have tried too hard to put the best spin on suffering and death, so God doesn't appear to be unloving, indifferent, or the source of our suffering. I've stood in line at funerals, wincing at the comments made by people right off bumper stickers, God knows best. God's timing is always perfect. Remember, all things work together for the good." All these statements are true. I just don't think they're helpful at that momment to people who are sad and suffering.
But we do have the right to ask God, "Why?" David, Job and many other great leaders of the faith have asked God, "Why? Why is this happening to me?" Some like David were downright angry with God. Others questioned his fairness. So, rather than give pat answers, it might be helpful to think about some possible sources for suffering to frame our conversation.
The five primary sources of suffering
1. God can and does cause suffering. Many Christians don't like to think that a loving God would actually cause suffering, so they say he allows it, but doesn't cause it. That view simply doesn't square with the Bible. The flood wasn't just a really bad rain that God allowed to get out of control. He caused it.
"So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surly going to destroy both them and the earth." Genesis 6:13
And likewise the ten plagues in Egypt weren't just a string of terrible events God allowed to happen. God commanded them. Clearly, God has caused and is likely to still be causing suffering, death and other events for reasons known only to him to bring about his purposes.
2. Satan can and does cause suffering. Satan caused Job's suffering. Yes, in this case God allowed Satan to test him, but nevertheless Satan was the cause. It's also clear from scripture that for reasons known only to God, he has allowed Satan to have a kingdom and within that kingdom Satan has the power to cause suffering for Christians and non-Christians alike. Satan can't make believers sin, but he can tempt us, causing us to suffer.
"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." I Peter 5:8
"We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one." I John 5:19
3. We suffer because of the sinful and foolish choices we make. I've sat with men and women who've made terrible, sinful choices that have caused them to suffer the consequences of their own sin. They drank too much and lost their job. They gossiped and lost their friends. An investment fails because they were greedy or simply too optimistic. Much of our mental anguish comes directly from our own sinful or foolish decisions.
4. We suffer because of the sinful or foolish choices made by others. We are often the victims of other people's sinful choices and actions through no fault of our own. A drunk crosses the road and hits an innocent person. A child runs away from home and causes his good parents anguish. A plane crashes because someone was lazy or incompetent and didn't tighten a bolt properly on an engine mount.
5. We suffer at the hands of natural forces. When Adam and Eve sinned, not only did humans fall, but nature fell as well. "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God." Romans 8:18-21
I don't think God always sits in heaven and says, "Okay, it's Monday. I think I'll order up two tornados, a flood and 12,000 cases of cancer." Has God done that before? Yes, of course, l've already conceded that he has ordered natural disasters, and physical illnesses. But that doesn't mean that all natural disasters, cancer, or bodily pain and sickness is caused by God. He certainly can and does do that for reasons known only to him. But pain, suffering and death are the natural consequences of the Fall, both in our bodies, and in nature.
"To the woman he said, 'I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. 'To Adam he said, 'Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the true about which I commanded you, you must not eat from it, Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:15-19
So, which one is it?
Here's the question we really want to know about our own suffering, or that of someone close to us. Which of these five causes is the reason for my own suffering? Sometimes it's obvious, and we know exactly what we or someone else has done to cause our suffering. We can "pin the tail on the donkey". My father died at age 46 from lung cancer because he smoked. He never blamed God for the 100,000+ small, foolish choices that caused his death. I've met men who lost their marriages due to adultery and drunks who've ended up in jail and they know exactly why.
But the honest answer to the reason for most senseless suffering is that we don't always know why. And, who's to say if it is senseless? Senseless to God, to me, to whom? Most children consider almost any punishment from a parent to be senseless. It's been my experience that spending a lot of time trying to figure out the cause of every painful experience is a waste of time, unless it's an obvious sin in my life, or another person's that needs correction. The Bible doesn't tell us Job ever discovered the reason for his suffering. Ironically, he suffered only because he was so righteous. That was truly senseless to him, but billions of Christians and Jews have a deeper reverence for God because of the way he bore up to his "senseless suffering" recorded in Scriptures.
Next week we'll get right into how Christians ought to think about suffering in specific areas of their lives.