Why We Suffer
I take the problem of suffering seriously because in the midst of pain and suffering, there are many questions that people ask that remain largely unanswered. On a day-to-day basis, millions of people in the world go through indescribable pain with no hope of relief. Yet, their religion has made them believe that there is an all-seeing, all-caring and all-loving God who is ever-present in their time of need. This begs the question; if He really is a God of love, then shouldn’t He be able to help people out of their pain and suffering in an instant? Is God really present during the trying periods in one’s life? This paper is going to discuss the cause of suffering and the role that God plays during such periods.
In the beginning, when God created the world, it was perfect, there was no sin or evil, there was no suffering and man lived in perfect harmony with God and nature. God intended for the world to be perfect. However, evil and sin entered the world through the Devil when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and from then on God allowed man to have free will. God also allowed sin, temptation and evil to come into the world for man to truly have free will over his actions. Whether to do right or wrong was entirely upon man. He allowed human beings to make their own decisions, and for them to be accountable for the decisions they make. (Hasker, 2008.) This is known as free will. This free will makes human beings sinful in nature because they are imperfect. Free-will makes the human being feel attached to the physical world, due to the weakness of the flesh. However, there are consequences to the gratification of the desires of the flesh, which cause man to suffer physically and psychologically.
God is not the cause of suffering, rather he allows it, and He allows human beings to suffer for various reasons. The truth is that human beings live in a world that abounds with evil and cruelty. Suffering is brought about by two kinds of evil; natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil cannot be controlled by human beings and includes natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, drought and disease. Moral evil on the other hand is caused by other human beings due to their moral decadence. These include murder, sexual abuse and racism among others. Moral evil occurs because of the free will that God has accorded to human beings. People have been given the free will to do right or to do wrong. Basically up to them, therefore those that are morally bankrupt cause suffering to other human beings through their negative actions.
In Elie Wiesel’s Night, he narrates his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during World War 1. The book narrates the gruesome ordeal of a 15-year-old Jew in a Nazi holocaust camp. He is a witness to the anguish and suffering all around him; truckloads of children being thrown into a fire, babies were being used as bullet targets and numerous other heartless killings. It is during this tumultuous time that he loses his faith in god and humanity, he repeatedly questions the presence of God and His awareness to people’s suffering. In modern times, it has been used to refer to the existence of the good and kindness of God in the face of suffering and pain in the world. Elie’s experiences during the holocaust are gruesome and painful, and while other Jews facing the same situation view it as a test to their faith, Elie is appalled by the fact that God, who he had believed in and prayed to all his life, did nothing to end the suffering. It is as though he was not there or was not listening to their cries during their most difficult periods. (Wiesel, 1982.) The kind pf suffering that is seen during the holocaust is caused by moral evil; that of human beings inflicting pain upon other human beings. These all comes down to the fact that God gives human being choice, and this He cannot interfere with. He does not compel human beings to act in one way or another, thus leading to the imperfect world that we have today. During the Holocaust the sins and wrongs of a group of individuals caused death, suffering and widespread destruction to many innocent people.
One of the reasons why people suffer is because they engage in actions that produce negative consequences. (Hasker, 2008.) For example; sexual promiscuity might result in broken marriages and families, driving recklessly might cause death, consuming alcohol excessively causes addiction, disease and death and so on. In this case, it is not God who causes the suffering and pain because when people do the wrong actions, they do it in full realization that for every wrong action there is a negative consequence, therefore they should control their actions in order to avoid suffering.
Sometimes the reason why we suffer is that God wants us to turn our attention to Him and to place our lives in His hands. An example of this in the Bible is Jonah who was running away from God when he was swallowed by a whale and God let him stay there for three days during which he reflected on his actions in the past and resolved to be more obedient to God. Therefore, in the same manner, God commands our attention through difficult and trying situations where one has no choice but to ask for His guidance and help.
There are times when God allows pain and suffering for a greater purpose. He demonstrated this when He allowed His own son, son Jesus Christ to face trial, torture and the pain of crucifixion in order for the human race to receive salvation and redemption from their sins and also to give them a hope for eternal life. Therefore, pain and suffering can be used to produce positive outcomes. In 2nd Corinthians 1:3-5, the Bible explains that God can use an individual’s suffering to increase his faith in Him, to make them more compassionate for others or make them better able to help others who are also suffering. (Yancey, Stafford, 2002.) Many people have come out of the most difficult situations of their lives stronger and better than they had been.
God also uses suffering and pain as a punishment for our sins. The Bible says that God is a Just God; this means that He lets everyone pay for his or her sins. An example in the Bible is in the book of 2nd Samuel God punishes his trusted servant, King David whom he even calls a man after his own heart. David had killed Uriah in order to steal his wife Bathsheba and we see God punishing him for this through the death of his child.
Although God allows human beings to suffer, He promises relief for whoever puts their trust in Him during their period of pain. Romans 8:37 says; “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” One has to believe that God is walking with him even during those times when one feels there is no one else in the world who would understand their pain or help them. (Yancey, Stafford, 2002.)
Though undesirable, suffering is a natural part of life and the Bible has explains this fact in numerous chapters. In 1st Peter 4:17 it says; “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you. But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.” In verse 19 of the same chapter, it encourages those who are suffering to “entrust their souls to a faithful creator.” Romans 8:17 says; “We must also share in his suffering, if we are to share in his glory.” John 16:33 says; “In this world you will have tribulation. But take courage for I have deprived it of its power to harm and conquer you.” All these verses and several others illustrate the fact that suffering occurs to all at different times in their lives, but God’s assurance is that if you place your faith and trust in Him, He will strengthen you. (Yancey, Stafford, 2002.)
Archibald McLeish in Sacred Quest in one of his responses to suffering, states that pain and suffering are part of being human, it is the cost of living. He is of the position that even though painful circumstances might not seem fair or cannot be explained, they are simply a part of the circle of life. Therefore one has to look for a way in which to triumph over his suffering and live the situation a better person.
Wiesel, E., Night, Bantam Books, 1982.
Hasker, W., The Triumph of God Over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering
Strategic initiatives in evangelical theology, InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Yancey, P., Stafford, T., NIV Student Bible: Compact Edition, Zondervan, 2002