Helping the Hurting Understand Pain and Suffering Part 1

Why do bad things happen to good people? This is a legitimate question. We have probably pondered it many times. An even more basic question suggests itself: why do bad things happen at all? Now, let’s make it personal: why me? This is a question we have all asked ourselves at some time. At this point, it is no longer an abstract philosophical issue concerning others but intensely personal, piercing our heart. How could God allow horrible things in my life? It is this very issue that drives more people to atheism than any other. Because this leaves people doubting, even destroying, their faith; it is critical we examine it.

Biblical Examples of Suffering

We are not alone. There are several examples, both biblical and contemporary, of God’s people suffering. God’s people are not immune from the problem of pain and suffering. Consider the following passages: “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7); “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1); “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33). Pain and suffering are part of the human experience. When the trial by fire comes our way the defining moment may not be the issue, instead it very well could be how we chose to respond.

Gideon questioned God, “…Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? But now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” (Jgs. 6:13). What a sincere question! If we are God’s faithful, striving each day to live for Him, serve Him and glorify His name, “…why then is all this befallen us?”  In this case the Israelites had sinned against God (6:1). God allowed the Midianites to impoverish Israel. This, however, is not the end of the story. With a mere three hundred men Gideon found victory.

There is no doubt that sin wreaks havoc in one’s life and in the wider world bad things happen because of sin. However, sin is not the only cause of tribulation. Consider the story of Job, a text book case of trials, pain and suffering. Job was not guilty of transgression, for he was “…perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” (Job 1:1). Job lost his cattle, sheep, camels and servants. In addition to this devastating economic loss, the unthinkable happened – Job’s children perished. Through this horrible tragedy he remained faithful to God. Then Job was struck with horrible skin boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. In the midst of his suffering, while scraping his sores with a piece of broken pottery, his wife pleaded with him to curse God and die. Job replied, “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (Job 2:10). Job’s response is classic, one which every person would do well to heed; it provides strength for one’s faith in difficult and troubling times.

The New Testament does not promise that God will shield us from problems. Instead, it speaks of the trials we will face. Paul penned the following to the Romans: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (8:18). Later in the epistle he encouraged them to be “…patient in tribulation…” (12:12). James counseled, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (Jam. 1:1-2). Later, he speaks of the great men of old: “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience” (5:10). Thus, we reach the inescapable conclusion – pain and suffering are a reality.

The Philosophical Problem

Philosophically it is called “the problem of evil.” Different philosophers throughout the centuries phrase it differently; however the basic outline is the same. The problem of evil is alleged to be inconsistent with Christian and Jewish doctrine. The dilemma of pain, suffering and evil is simply defined: “If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then pain, suffering and evil should not exist. An all-powerful and all loving God would not allow pain and suffering. Since pain and suffering exist then…

  1. God is not all-powerful. He cannot stop pain and suffering.
  2. God is not all-loving. He does not care enough to stop pain and suffering.
  3. God does not exist.

The philosopher Epicurus phrases it like this: “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to; or he cannot and does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, and does not want to, he is wicked. But, if God both can and wants to abolish evil, then how comes evil in the world?” Let us examine the tenants of the conundrum.

Is God all-powerful? The omnipotence of God is often questioned. Usually, Christian’s have no problem accepting the all-powerful nature of God, until something goes amiss in their life. For some, questioning the ability of God is the only way to reconcile faith and the tragedies which befall one’s life. However, denying God’s omnipotence creates a vacuum in one’s spiritual life, severely eroding the foundations of one’s faith over time.

The Bible is very clear on the omnipotence of God. God declared to Abraham, “…I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” (Gen. 17:1). God told Moses He “…appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty…” (Exod. 6:3). Isaiah stated, “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding” (Isa. 40:28). Jesus, describing how difficult it would be for a rich man to enter heaven, told His disciples, “…With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26). Denying the omnipotence of God is not an option for a believer; God is all-powerful!

Is God all-loving? Perhaps God does have the power to stop the horrible calamities of life but for some reason chooses not to. Perhaps, despite what we have been taught, God is not really a loving God.

Denying the all-loving nature of God makes a mockery of His grace, mercy and the grand scheme of redemption. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, wrote much about His love for us. Consider part of his first letter, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:16). The golden text of the Bible speaks volumes of God’s love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). Humanity, in the battles of life, may choose to no longer love, but such is not an option for God. God is love!

The question to be pondered now becomes, “Does God exist?”  For many, this is the only rationale they can accept. The deep and painful wounds from life’s tragedies are more than they can bear. Because of their anger toward God they cast Him aside. Instead of intellectually challenging themselves, they choose rejection. This position is foolish, for the psalmist wrote, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” (Psa. 14:1). It is also reckless, illogical and unscientific. A dismissal of God and embracement of atheism does nothing to answer the problem or fortify one to deal with life’s problems. It only paints a darker, bleaker picture and casts one into gloom.

Thus, according to Scripture, God is all-powerful, God is all-loving and God does exist! Since such is the case how can pain and suffering be explained?

In next month’s issue of The Visitor we will discuss the explanation and the answer for pain and suffering.


Article by: Brad Shockley