Suffering

Hilo, Hawaii April 1 1946

John 9:1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Let’s break down the sources of suffering. There is your own sin, the sin of others (we can call these moral sins or evils), and then there are natural disasters or biological unfairness, which as Jesus mentions above is unsourced, i.e., no one is to blame, no punishment imparted. Clearly it’s God’s will, however, since everything is, or so says my insurance which calls Tornados and Lightning “Acts of God.”

The response to suffering in John 9, in my interpretation, is that suffering is what creates or is the impetus of human compassion. For many people the spiritual growth or imparting compassion argument is just not a good enough justification of suffering because it does not compute with the idea of a loving God who has his hand in things. Here are a couple different Christian responses:

Natural Evil = Satan

Natural Evil = Original Sin

Natural evil = God’s Judgment

Natural Evil = God’s Design

This last one fascinates me and is argued in crazy detail here:

In summation, the argument claims that earth was created to adhere to physical laws and scientific principles and these require ebb and flow of all things within the creation. I kind of read it as “don’t take that earthquake personally.” They go on to argue that there is a scientific benefit and purpose to all natural things that cause suffering — earthquakes (tectonic activity has purpose) and fires (remove deadwood, distribute and/or germinate seed) and viruses (inspiring vaccinations, gene therapy, maintaining healthy bacteria growth healthy ecosystems and populations). So the fact that people fall in harms way as these things play out is not a reflection of an unloving God, but simply a result of living within an amazing, huge, boundless, god-created world.

What do you think of that? I like it but want to know, where is the love in this explanation?

I don’t have the answers, obviously, but I am tempted to see suffering on two planes — the impersonal (natural) and the personal (moral) — viewing one with acceptance and humility and the other with outrage and action. Then I see that, in the end, it all becomes personal suffering. In other words, no matter the suffering source, I still have the same response. So again, I am driven back to Jesus’ lesson of compassion and enhancing my connection to humanity when suffering happens.

For some reason, this explanation and course of action is enough for me to manage suffering without complete despair. Is it enough for you or is suffering a roadblock?

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for weighing in Jennifer! I appreciate your insight.

  2. Rocky,
    This is a great post, and discusses a topic that I doubt we will ever understand this side of heaven. Any time we try to ask “why” questions, we are merely bringing human speculation to spiritual things.

    The one thing I think we forget, when we read Romans 8, it tells us that our world is under a curse. I know scientifically speaking, hurricanes do a tremendous work of restoration, and of distributing nutrients, etc. and I agree with many of the other things you mentioned. But if we live along the coast and our house is destroyed by a tsunami, we really house much of the blame. No one told 80% of the world population to live along the coast.

    We lived in California for some time, near the San Andreas fault line. I happened to be taking a geology class and remember my professor talking about the work he did on the side evaluating land structures for building. He frequently talked about all the effort humans went to in order to overcome the natural land-slide tendencies. They’d put rods in ground, etc. But he was always baffled why they didn’t just move somewhere else. Why? Because the view was spectacular!

    I also think we have a false notion that earth and this present time is our home. We often quote Romans 8:28, “And God will turn all things to good for those who love Him and have been called according to His will.” But if you read this verse in context, it doesn’t apply to getting that promotion, or receiving a free car. It applies to heaven, when God has promised to make all things new.

    As to why good people suffer, there are so many reasons! A great book that goes into great detail, from someone who experienced a great deal of personal suffering, is Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong. I often hear this argument, but it’s normally from onlookers, not those suffering themselves.

    About a decade ago, my grandmother died of cancer (which I believe is the result of genetic mutations which began at the fall and environment which is caused by man). She was not a believer, and I felt very, very strongly God calling me to witness to her. Needless to say, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as she was fairly oposed to Christianity. I felt God’s love burn so strongly for her in my heart, but she refused it again and again.

    That afternoon I left and told God if it would bring the rest of my family to Him, I would go through it. If, through my cancer, and His steadfast presence and love for me through it, would lead even one to salvation and prevent them from an eternity in hell, I’d give up my life gladly.

    I don’t have cancer, and for those who do, please don’t take my comments as flippant. That is so not my intention! But what I am saying, is in that moment, knowing my grandmother no longer had time to change her mind, knowing unless (which is my prayer) she turned to him on her moment of death, she is spending her life in hell, eternally separated from God, I was willing to give up my brief time on this sin-infested planet if it might bring someone else one step closer to eternal pleasure.

    And in response to those who say, “But why would a loving God sentence people to hell?” He doesn’t. He provided a way out–an escape route, but many won’t take it. And I’ve felt His love burn in me for others so many times–one person in particular that God has been reaching out to consistently and patiently for over 15 years, yet this individual rejects God at every turn. At times, I’ve become frustrated, and thought, “Fine, if you don’t want God, what do I care,” wanting to throw my hands up in defeat, yet God continually reaches out day after day after day. Those are the times I am amazed at His patience.

    It is then that I shake my head in amazement, understanding the deep love and peace that comes from fellowship with God, wondering what could ever keep others from receiving such a healing gift.

  3. Your posts cause me to instantly get outside of day-to-day life. Suffering – I am a little bitter with God that he would allow so much suffering to go on. Yeah… we messed up. We are sinners to the core. But it isn’t that we are all vile creatures. The vast number of us are just trying to do good.

    There are such amazing moments of human greatness.

    And of all the people who have to suffer the most… why is it always the weak, meek, young and old? I can take the suffering, but he often gives it to people that shouldn’t have to take it.

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