I’ve taken awhile to write this blog post because I think it really is such a hard topic.
Suffering is such a difficult thing to understand.
It’s also a very sensitive topic because of the current pain you may be going through, as well as the suffering that we know people are experiencing around the world.
So I don’t want to give trite answers, and I also want to learn and express the truth as well as possible.
Why So Much Suffering?
Actually, one of the main objections people give for the existence of a loving God is the question of “why is there so much suffering?” or “why wouldn’t a loving God stop the suffering?”
I believe these questions are good to ask and seek answers to, if they come from a genuine place of wanting to know.
We could also ask in relation to this blog topic, “If God wants us to enjoy our lives, then why is there so much suffering?”
I have to be honest and say that I don’t know all the answers.
So I hope these points don’t seem simplistic, especially if you or someone you care about is going through a lot of suffering.
And I also hope these ideas can be a starting point for you as you seek answers on the subject of suffering.
Please let me know in the comments if you have any other thoughts on this.
(By the way, if you are looking for a deeper dive into this, have a look at the books listed at the bottom of this post).
Here are some of my current thoughts on suffering:
1. A Lot of Responsibility is in Human Hands
God has given tremendous responsibility to the human race.
Here’s one Bible verse that expresses that:
Genesis 1:28 (NLT) Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
This is a huge gift, which used rightly can create tremendous joy but used wrongly can bring tremendous pain.
Even though God commanded us to “love our neighbours as ourselves”, this is certainly not what often happens.
Parents, who are in charge of their children and influence their lives tremendously, can hurt and abuse their kids, causing incalculable pain.
Government officials can take advantage of their people and cause great suffering.
And strangers can step in and change other’s lives by doing horrible things.
Because humans often choose to act with hate and stupidity, there is tremendous pain in the world.
(Suffering also happens through natural disasters and other unexplainable reasons, which I believe is part of living in a broken world, though it’s a concept that is harder to understand.)
2. Accountability for Suffering
God is a very loving, merciful God, but He going to hold each person accountable for what he or she has done.
Because he loves the human race, people are not going to get away with hurting each other forever. This is a little scary, but can also be very comforting.
Christians believe that Jesus’ death payed for our wrong-doings so that we can have forgiveness and new life if we will accept it–but at the same time, all of us do reap the results of our actions in this life.
So, not only does that gives us even more incentive to treat others well, it’s comforting to know that people who continually harm others are all going to face Him and give an account for their actions one day ….and justice will be done.
Here’s a verse that expresses that:
“Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. ” Galatians 6:7-8 (MSG)
3. Redemption Makers
God wants us–His people– to be His hands and feet and bring love and joy and justice to the world now.
He wants us to help bring joy to others’ lives by using our time and talents to make the world a better place, including rescuing others from injustice.
So if we look around, wondering why God isn’t doing anything to relieve suffering, we should realize that He is asking us over and over again to reach out to help others and show His love to them.
Although God can and sometimes does intervene Himself, He wants to do it through us–through our prayers, words, and actions.
We need to prayerfully ask how we can help and then take those little steps to do so, trusting Him to help us.
Eph. 2:10 “In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would spend our lives doing the good things he had already planned for us to do.”
4. Helping Others Brings Great Joy
When we do use our time and talents to help others, this actually brings joy and tremendous enjoyment of our lives.
It’s true that we can be overly busy doing all kinds of good stuff that overwhelms us and brings stress and unhappiness.
But if we’ll ask God to lead us in the steps He wants us to take, and prioritize those things, we’ll likely find life so much more enjoyable.
5. Jesus Suffers with Us
Jesus chooses to feels our pain as if it were His own and this can be comforting.
He suffers with us and whenever “the least of these”–including ourselves– is hurting or in need physically or emotionally, it’s as if He is hurting or in need.
Even when it doesn’t seem like He cares, He is closer than we could ever imagine, encouraging us, comforting us, and suffering with us.
He will never leave us or forget our pain.
That’s also why He said that people who relieve others’ suffering, will be relieving His suffering. And this is a mark of a true follower of His (Matt. 25: 31- 46).
He also brings comfort to us in our suffering.
Perhaps through a friend, through something we read, a “coincidence” that happens, or an encouraging thought we have from him, the Lord doesn’t leave us comfortless.
2 Cor. 1: 3 says, “What a wonderful God we have –He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the one who so wonderfully comforts us in our hardships and trials…”
6. God will Use Our Pain for Good in Our Lives
God promises to give us “double for our trouble”.
This is something Joyce Meyers says and I love it. If we will trust Him to help us, He will eventually bring us so much more than we could imagine–redeeming our pain and giving us great joy.
This will definitely happen in heaven–where we will continually enjoy life to the max!
And we are also often promised something of this on earth–if we will trust Him to do so.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
7. Suffering Can Make Us Better People
Our pain can be used to refine us into something better.
If we use our painful times to lean in to God, and ask Him to help it draw us closer to Him and to refine our characters, we’ll come out better than before–like diamonds in the rough.
This will help us reflect His loving character and help others all the more.
Our pain also helps us to empathize with others and to desire to encourage and help them.
So again, God can redeem our suffering so that we are filled with joy and bring joy to others.
James 1: 2 -4 (NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
8. We can Find Joy even in the midst of Suffering
This is a difficult one.
Even when we are suffering, God wants to help us to have His joy on the inside.
This doesn’t mean we need to try to fake joy and pretend to be happy despite our pain.
But if we ask God to help us know His genuine joy in the midst of our own suffering, over time He can make that happen.
This is certainly something that I need to pray about, too.
It may take time, but we can learn this with His help.
Then, no matter what happens, we can be filled with His joy and peace and feel content.
Phil 4: 11 -13 “…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Some Summarizing Thoughts:
So those are some of the thoughts I’ve had about suffering. Again, I hope I don’t sound too flippant. Suffering is a serious topic to wrestle with and I think I will continue to wrestle with it. How about you?
When it comes to enjoying our lives, I guess the main point is that I believe: yes, God does want us to enjoy our lives.
But I think one of the main ways he wants us to do so is through the fulfillment of using our talents, time, resources and even our own painful experiences to help to make others’ lives better.
This can fill us with joy!
As I mentioned in the first post in this series, when we our use our lives unselfishly, not selfishly, it brings true joy and lasting enjoyment.
Here are some good books, if you want to explore this subject further:
Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey
Enjoying Where You Are on the Way to Where You Are Going: Learning How to Live a Joyful Spirit-Led Life by Joyce Meyers
In the next blog in this series, I’ll go into more detail about what enjoying your life would look like as you use your gifts and abilities to bring joy to others, having what Jesus described when He said, “I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest” (John 10:10 CEV).