Suffering and catastrophe, even outright evil, has been an ongoing reality for all of written history. It has happened to every ethnic and socioeconomic group, and has happened to religious and non-religious people. So the first thing we must clarify is that suffering is not just reserved for you or me. It happens without prejudice. So the right questions revolve around a more selfless question: Does a good God control both the good and the bad, and if so, does He have a purpose for it?
THE REASON WE ASK QUESTIONS
We feel alone, lost, hurt, empty, confused, or numerous other feelings when our lives abruptly turn upside down. This is normal. It also causes us to ask a myriad of questions. Why did the drunken thief escape a storm unscathed when a young mother who is a faithful wife and community volunteer has her life taken by the same storm? Why is a war veteran mistreated in a nursing home while a drug dealer receives prescriptions for pills he will sell to teenagers? These seem like injustices that demand justice, yet we often find no justice doled out on earth. We then turn to the reality that if there is a God, He must know, but either does not care, cannot control the vile circumstances, or He IS in control of the circumstances (in which case we question why He would send such calamity).
FINDING THE RIGHT ANSWERS
There are questions that we can ask that will help us understand why there is suffering in a world controlled by a God who is both just and good.
Is there justice in suffering and tragedy?
From a Biblical point of view, the entire reason for the things that cause us to suffer through sickness and loss and hurricanes is the reality of sin. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 13:24-30 that suffering may not be because of the victim’s sin, for all people are sinners. Human suffering is rooted in the very first sin when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and as a result, were driven out of a perfect creation. Now, we live as people born in sin, and into a world cursed because of sin.
The whole creation groans to be restored (Romans 8:19-22). God has promised that through sending His Son Jesus into the world to suffer death He would save sinners who would place their faith and trust in Him. By raising Him from the dead, God defeated the sting of death and assured a restored creation (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). This is good news, but it also reminds us that God is bringing all people to judgment and has a plan to restore a new creation to a state of perfection wherein no catastrophes exists. He has offered all of this even though people have, through the ages, willfully disobeyed Him and even declared that He does not exist!
In this great redemption story wherein sinners are offered hope, we see that God is just to serve out justice, which He will do. He will condemn men for their sinful rebellion unless they have been saved from judgment through their faith in Jesus’ death for their sin and resurrection for their own victory over death. Those who have trusted Jesus will live in a world without suffering in a new creation forever. God offers this to every person who will believe. The suffering on the earth upon which we live is temporary and God can strengthen us to get through it. Isaiah 43:2 promises, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
God’s grace is also demonstrated in that although we deserve judgment, we may escape it because of the grace He offers through Jesus.
Does God know and care about my suffering?
He does both know and care. Psalm 10:17, “You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” God loves people, has their best interest in mind, and although everyone suffers tragedies in varying degrees, God offers comfort and strength to each person who calls upon Him with a heart that truly desires to know Him. His care for us in the midst of horrific situations is often found in such ways as the sparing of our lives or the lives of loved one’s or in the means of other people (maybe even strangers) helping us in incredibly gracious ways. His care for us during our times of hardship may also be seen as churches reach out, neighbors offer help, and many other tangible ways.
God’s care for us is most demonstrated in the fact that He shows us our need for Him, and gives us an opportunity to call on Him to deliver us not only from our present circumstance, but to a new and better state that will last forever when Christ returns and mercifully rewards those found forgiven of their sin through His own death. As Jesus promised, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22)
Does God control all things, even the bad things that happen to me?
The Bible’s teachings proclaim a sovereign God. Job 23:13 tells us, “But He stands alone, and who can oppose Him? He does whatever He pleases.” Sovereignty is complete control. The Creator rules over the creation. Either God has some control, in which case we have no confidence in His ability to keep us within His care, or the Bible is right and all things are in God’s hands. Job, after losing all he had, said it best when he stated that we should not be so willing to accept the good from God, but not the bad. In God’s plan, we can trust He both cares for us and controls those things through which we go.
He uses the hardships in our lives to teach us to depend on nothing but Him. If we had nothing but easy times, we would never understand our need for God’s grace and a close relationship with Him. If we find ourselves in tragedy, loss, or suffering, we can be confident that God is working in our circumstances to call our attention to look to Him, worship Him through the good and the bad, and find all that He offers. Our lives and situations change, but God and His promises remains the same.
Where do I go from here?
Isaiah 55:6 tells us, “Seek the Lord while you can find Him. Call on Him while He is near.”God has invited the thirsty to drink from a well He has provided. What will you do in your time of thirst?
Responding Biblically includes:
1. Trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord
2. Professing your faith in Him publicly and being baptized in a local church
3. Praying and Reading God’s Word
4. Growing through learning and fellowshipping with other Christians
5. Helping others who have been affected by tragedy
6. Showing others how God has blessed you despite your personal affliction.
“Yet I am always with you; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, And afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all of your deeds.” (Psalm 73:23-28, NIV)
To God be the glory! Amen!