No one likes suffering.
Several personal friends are packing their bags for an unexpected journey down the road of suffering. Call it chemotherapy. Court dates. Chronic pain. Single parenting. Spousal adultery. Child disabilities. Whatever venue of suffering, they didn’t ask for it, and they’re not liking it. I wouldn’t either.
Suffering redirects us toward a path not of our choosing. We wanted something else. We wanted life’s journey to be easier and more in our control. We fear not being able to live up to the challenge.
Why does God allow suffering? It’s an age old question that has destroyed the faith of some and befuddled many.
If God prevented the hard times in our lives, he would have to restrict the free will of others. Human choice carries consequences. Those consequences aren’t always a tit for tat, direct connection to the individual. I’ve often used this example: I touch a hot stove, I get burned. Yet it’s not that single focused. My need for medical care may set off a domino effect of events. My burn might require a trip to the doctor or hospital. Someone has to drop what they are doing to tend to my burn. Money—somebody’s money—must be spent to pay for services rendered. The person taking me to the doctor could be late for a meeting which could have a negative outcome because they weren’t there.
The domino effect is in full tilt. Just because I was dumb and touched a hot stove.
That list of bad things might sound more over-dramatized than a fiction writer on steroids, but my point is this. As independent and free spirited as I would like to be, my choices can and will impact others. We have denied that truth for too long, shrouding it with the lie that if my action hurts you, you are the one with the problem for getting hurt or being in the way. The brutal truth is this: suffering happens because we live in a fallen world where evil choices breed uncomfortable, destructive consequences not only to ourselves but also to innocent bystanders. Why am I visually impaired? It’s called war. My grandfather suffered genetic decomposition from mustard gas poisoning in World War One. I would say war is not a very nice thing that invokes a generational ripple effect of human suffering.
Where is God in the world of suffering?
How does God respond to our cries for help and deliverance? Can He use the mess of our lives for our good and His glory? Will there be times that, out of His mercy and grace, He steps in and prevent the natural law of suffering?
God reacts to our cries for help during times of suffering in three different ways.
1. God prevents. We may not even see how God stops the tide of evil. Yet we have his assurance that he will do this. Psalm 91:7,8 says,
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
Have you seen God protect you from harm? A car collision that should have happened but didn’t? A wobble of a hurricane out to sea keeps the roof over your head? A fear of a positive result on a mammogram turns out to be nothing? I’m convinced that God prevents catastrophe for the righteous far more than we ever know.
But not always.
2. God intervenes. Psalm 91 also talks about God’s deliverance.
“When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him (v. 15).”
Look at the number of times Jesus healed people. He couldn’t have healed them if they weren’t sick. The woman with the issue of blood suffered years of pain and social banishment before Jesus came on the scene.
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” – Psalm 40:2
Rescue from the pit of suffering means there has to be a pit and someone has to be in that pit.
Yes, God could have prevented the suffering. Often however, He chooses to rescues us from the peril. Sometimes He saves His rescue for the end of life. What happens in the meantime?
3. God participates. He walks with us. He is present, providing our needs, and taking care of those little details that make the journey more bearable. He shows His presence in the every day. He walks beside His people to help carry the load. He uses his people to share the burden of the sufferer, demonstrating to the world His grace and love.
Remember my story of God’s provision of my favorite foods during my eye surgery? God allowed me to go through the discomfort of recovery, but He gave me provisions for the journey, making it easier to bear the suffering. He used a lot of His faithful followers to be conduits of His mercy, impressing my non-churched friends and family at how much Christians care for each other.
Joshua 1:9 says,
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Matthew 28:20 says,
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
For His good reasons, God does not always prevent suffering or rescue us from suffering. He does promise to always be with us. Always! That includes medical facilities, an empty house, a courtroom, or a war zone. If we cry out, He is there, holding us and protecting us from the worst sin and evil has to throw at us.
The next time you find yourself in turmoil over an uncomfortable or painful twist of life, instead of demanding God take the trial from you or asking why God allowed it in the first place, do this. Ask Him to show you how to get through the difficulty with poise, serenity, compassion and with your faith intact. In fact, ask Him to do the really difficult thing. Invite Him to use this season of suffering to make you stronger. Ask Him to use this incidence to enhance your growth as a Christian and shine His glory to the bystanders lining your path. He longs to do that very thing in ways you can only begin to imagine!