In order to garner better understanding one must go all the way back to the beginning of time. Genesis 1 documents the origins of the physical universe. Notice very carefully the end of the first chapter, And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). God’s creation was perfect, it could not have been better. Clearly, God did not create pain and suffering at the inauguration of existence.
In chronicling God’s six days of creation, Moses reveals that humanity is His crowning jewel (Gen. 1:26). At this junction we should ask the age old question, the time-worn question of all the philosophers: “Why am I here?” What is God’s greatest desire for us? Jesus, God incarnate, said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Mt. 22:37-38). The very essence of our existence is to love God.
In order for humanity to express authentic love to Him, we were created with the ability to choose. Free will is our own unique ability to control our decisions. God did not create and program us to do precisely what He wants, for then we would be nothing more than robots. Instead, He allows us to express our love and emotion to Him. Lynn Gardner, in his work, Where Is God When We Suffer, wrote,
God made human beings in His image with the ability to understand, the ability to choose, and the ability to love. Without free will the concepts of morality and love lose their meaning. God did not create amoral programmed robots but persons made in His image. In giving human beings free will, God risked rejection. However He offered a choice so that love for Him would be genuine and not coerced.” Love that is not genuine is not love.
In answering the question, “Why did God create free-will creatures?” Cottrell explains,
The Bible does not give an explicit answer to this question. We infer from other teaching in Scripture that God’s chief purpose and desire were to have creatures who would love, serve and glorify him of their free choice and not by coercion or manipulation. We infer this, for example, from the fact that the first and greatest commandment is that we should love God with all our hearts and minds (Mt. 22:37). The fact that this is the most important thing that we can do suggests that it is what God desires from His creation more than anything else. Giving His creatures free will was a necessary means to this end.
In introducing the free will position, Jack Cottrell stated,
The most we can say is that in the world that God created, evil was a possibility but not a necessity. This is an old, old view in Christianity, the one Hick calls the Augustinian view. It is usually called the free-will defense. It says in essence that God created the world with neither moral evil nor natural evil existing in it. But He did create free-will beings for whom moral evil was a possibility. In the exercise of their freedom these beings introduced moral evil into the world, with natural evil following from it as its consequence.
Fulfilling God’s greatest desire requires that humans have the ability to independently think and choose. Thus, God did not create pain and suffering, rather, humanity, through an original bad choice, and afterwards a plethora of bad decisions in every generation, opens the door to suffering.
God provides the greatest response and assistance for our pain and suffering—His Son, Jesus Christ! Ironically, it is through the suffering of Christ from which we can be alleviated from all of ours. The prophets, in what seemed at the time to contradict the nature of the Messianic King, foretold the horrible pain, suffering and death Christ would endure.
In Psalm 22, an under-appreciated yet remarkable psalm, the psalmist paints a prophetic picture of the suffering of Christ. Consider the following passages: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” (v. 1). “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (v. 6.) “All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him” (vv. 7-8). “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet”(v. 16). “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (v. 18).
The familiar Messianic prophecies found in Isaiah 53 detail the rejection of Christ, the bodily pain He would suffer, and of His death among thieves:
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (v. 3) “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” …”and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (v. 12).
The New Testament affirms Jesus is the Suffering Servant of whom Isaiah prophesies. Phillip, in his conversation with the Ethiopian Eunuch, began teaching Christ from the very prophecies we have discussed, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.” (Act 8:32-33). A synoptic study of the gospels vividly presents Jesus in this light. Peter indicates the life Christ lived was in accordance with and fulfillment of the prophets,
Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Pet 1:10-11).
For over three decades, Jesus carried these thoughts with Him, knowing they would all culminate at Golgotha.
The suffering of Christ assures us that all will be well. The author of Hebrews said, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16). For a Christian, help in a time of need, can be found through the grace of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness of past sins and the hope of life eternal, where suffering is nonexistent, is the true beacon of light to help through life. It is all possible because Jesus faced the same trials we face. In his work on Hebrews, Mark Bailey writes, “…regardless of how high Christ is exalted, He still sympathizes with all Christians because He has experienced the same trials and the same temptations, the same desires and appetites, of all mankind. Jesus’ suffering and sinlessness is the ground of a Christian’s confidence in Him.”
The ultimate deliverance from suffering is found in eternal salvation. Jesus left the splendors of glory, occupied an earthly tabernacle of flesh, and willingly gave His life. Paul eloquently states,
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
Through Jesus, through His suffering, we can be delivered from ours. As the inspired writer states, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9).
Not only is the best guide for overcoming pain and suffering found in Jesus Christ, it is the only one. The agnostic and atheist have no explanation. They have no answer for the dilemma of pain and suffering. It is an understatement to say their view is one of despair. Jesus, His life and work, allows eternal joy and deliverance from pain and suffering. Although unpopular, John records Jesus speaking of His exclusive nature, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:6). It is in Jesus, and only Jesus, that true satisfaction is discovered. The only fountain of help and comfort in distress is found in our Savior. Paul wrote, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). As already noted, Paul mentions the anticipation of eternity, “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.” (Rom. 8:18). Perhaps the clincher, arguably the single greatest philosophical statement ever made, was penned by Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21).
Article by: Brad Shockley