In Part 1, The Universal Problem of Pain, Sin and Death, we broadly sketched out the reality of our human condition as a result of sin. Here, we consider the existential reality of suffering as we live in this imperfect world marred by pain, sin and death.
- Suffering can come about because of our own bad choices. If I chose to live my life independent of God and His will, I will bear the consequences. If I choose to be unfaithful to my wife and sleep with a prostitute and contract HIV, then I suffer because I made that choice. By God’s mercy, the consequences may or may not be immediate and thus hopefully giving me a chance to repent. But make no mistake, we will reap what we sow.
- Suffering can also come about because of the wrong choices of others. I may well suffer because of the mistakes of others, such as when a doctor administers wrong medication to a patient. Or when Asians are beaten up because some people are fearful they may carry the coronavirus. Choice is real. God respects that so much – we choose to either trust Him or be separated from Him for all eternity and God takes us at our choice!
- Suffering can also come about as an effect of sin on Nature. Creation and its travails are tied in with the consequence of man’s Fall (Rom 8:20 – 22.) There is a part of suffering that results from natural disasters. There is also this part of our fallenness expressed in our DNA and passed on in the form of disease and sickness. Harmful pathogens like SARS, MERS and COVID-19 are all part of that fallenness.
- Suffering can also come from the dark side. The greatest world we live in is the unseen world, and in the unseen world we do have an enemy who is out to oppose God and therefore us also, as His children. Our real struggle is not against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12.) Let’s not fight the wrong enemy!
- Suffering can come about for the glory of God. This is one of the hardest things for many of us to accept. In the Gospel of John, Jesus heals a man born blind. When asked by His disciples whose sin had caused this man to be blind (it was a fault-finding culture), Jesus replied it was neither and “but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (Jn 9:3.) In that sense, the man suffered like Job did – it was for the glory of GOD.
- Suffering can be redemptive. God Himself choose the path of suffering for redemption. The Lord did not choose an easy way out. He did not stand apart from our suffering and dealt dispassionately with it. No, it cost Him dearly and personally! That Almighty Creator would send His Son as man to suffer the most ignominious death is beyond my comprehension! I would not give my children to die for any of you (and then neither would you for me right?) Why? Why would Almighty Creator God, who had every right to punish stiff-necked, selfish, vain, lazy, prideful ingrates like myself, do that for mankind? In response, I can only bow my knees in worship! My God is incredibly good and He is awesomely great!We must understand then, that if GOD did not spare His own Son of suffering, then suffering is part of the journey of discipleship. Our Lord made it clear Himself what it means to follow Him in Mark 8:34 – 35.
And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:34 – 35 (ESV)
This is a radical reframing of what it means for me to follow Jesus. I became a believer because I wanted my sins forgiven, perhaps a free ticket to heaven and to have a blessed life. No one told me about the suffering part! Now, it does not mean I go about looking for suffering. It calls me to follow my Master and as He sees fit, allow for all things to mould me into His image (Ro 8:28–29.) GOD loves me so much, He would do anything so that my life becomes the very best – reflecting the very nature and character of His Son! My idea of a blessed life and my Lord’s idea of a blessed life may not be the same thing! Suffering is very much a discipleship issue!
- Suffering is not the final end. God used death to destroy death itself. Jesus suffered and died on the Cross to destroy death itself. And glory of glories – He rose from the dead on the third day! That was the ultimate game-changer! Without the resurrection, death still reigned! But now – death cannot destroy any longer! The power of sin was broken! Death died! Hallelujah! That’s incredible news! God turned what was meant for evil for His purposes to give true life! Life does not end with death! For all who trust Jesus (Jn 3:16) and have that living relationship with GOD through Christ (Jn 17:3), where the Spirit indwells us as guarantee of that ultimate reality (2 Cor 1:22) – life does not end when we die physically.Current physical deaths tell us that the new heavens and new earth have yet to arrive! Our current state, however, will not be so forever! There will be resurrection to the new heavens and new earth (Rev 20:11 – 21:7.) This is our hope and that which gives us hope through any and every season of suffering! There is a greater, more wonderful reality coming! We live not merely for this world, but for our King and His world to come!
The matter of pain and suffering is really not so simple. The Book of Job reminds us that suffering is real, mysterious and not to be made light of. Mostly, it keeps us humble in our human experience to acknowledge that we do not have all the answers as to why some suffer and others do not. Again, it reminds us that only God is sovereign God and we are not.