We hardly need to read a dictionary to know what suffering is. Every single day of our lives shows us what it means. It's inescapable. It stares us in the face.
We hear about war in the Ukraine; the evil acts of the Islamic State, thousands dying at the hands of Boko Haram; corruption amidst governments, organisations and businesses. We experience natural disasters, disease and loved ones dying. Suffering is everywhere, but why?
Why is there suffering?
The simple answer is that suffering is a result of sin.
Originally God created everything and it was good. Then, our ancestors, Adam and Eve, rebelled against Him by disobeying His clear instruction. Ever since then we have followed in their footsteps, worshipping what is created rather than the Creator. They sinned against God. We still sin too!
The wages of sin is death
Sin is to break God's rules and fail to live up to His standards. It is so bad that death—physical and spiritual—is a just punishment: the consequences that we are all subject to naturally.
These consequences manifest themselves physically as bad things happening and people dying. Even the natural world suffers as a result of sin's entrance. It was 'subjected to futility' and is now under 'bondage to corruption' (Romans chapter 8, verses 20, 21).
Sin necessitates judgment
So, the Bible teaches that suffering is the general, inevitable result of our natural state of rebellion against God but it also shows that sometimes suffering is God's judgment upon a specific sin.
The flood and destruction of the entire earth, as recorded in Genesis chapter 6, happened because 'that every intention of the thoughts of his [man] heart was only evil continually'. The disobedience of Israel in ancient times was punished by exile. Ananias and Sapphira died immediately for lying to God (Acts chapter 5, verses 1–10).
These examples show how horrific sin is because it was just that God orchestrate punishment. Our perfect, holy and good Creator cannot commit injustice nor is He arbitrary. God is not inactive. He rules in power over all!
So, why do bad things happen?
It is important to note here that there is not always a direct sin-to-suffering relationship. Consider Jesus' interaction with the man born blind in John chapter 9. When asked whose sin was the cause of the man's suffering Jesus replies that it was neither the man, nor his parents. The man's suffering occurred so '...that the works of God might be displayed in him.'
Suffering shows us that something is desperately wrong with us—not God! It is a much needed indicator of our dire spiritual condition of rebellion against Him. Serving ourselves and denying God has, does and always will have negative repercussions. As sin results in suffering now so it will result in suffering eternally—hell.
A refining fire—suffering can be good
Suffering is the negative result of sin but it is also used by God to refine, strengthen, purify, train and transform Christians. Thus it is portrayed positively in the Bible too.
Therefore the writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers that God disciplines His children because He loves them. Peter writes that we can rejoice because we are sharing in Christ's sufferings. Paul writes to the Romans that suffering experienced now is as nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed to God's children.
Sin paved the way for suffering to occur but even bad things are being worked together for good, along with all things, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose!
Why does God let bad things happen if He is Love?
Ultimately, bad things happen because the Lord has a purpose. He is not the author of evil, temptation or sin. God is Love.
But, although God is Love, He also has many other characteristics. For one, He is totally good. He cannot even look upon sin because it is completely abhorrent to Him!
God is righteous, just and holy too. These traits demand that evil be punished.
Seek the Lord Jesus Christ
Suffering is hard to understand. When I tried to understand it by looking around me nothing satisfied my questions. The Bible illuminates the root cause of suffering—sin—but there is still so much we don't understand. Like the writer of Psalm 73, I lament the way the some people seem to suffer more than others, while evil prevails.
But thanks be to God because in infinite kindness He has graciously provided a refuge for us to cling to in our suffering—the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. God sent His own son as a suffering servant to live a perfect life and die, bearing God's wrath for sin. Jesus has defeated death! Therefore everyone who repents and believes in Him has eternal life and will one day have every tear wiped away.
Not only does Jesus rescue us from sin, but He is also our comfort and our stay as we endure suffering. He intercedes for us, and has sent His Holy Spirit to comfort us and give us strength until He returns again. Jesus shows us that God is Love, especially in suffering.
Jesus Christ is God's provision for suffering. We have no other hope.
Irenie How is young yet, by the grace of God, was saved while she was running away from and fighting against Him. God showed her that He is the Lord and she wants you to know this too. After becoming a Christian she finished studying to become a graphic designer and as this she currently works full-time in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Irenie How's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/irenie-how.html