Some Examples of Suffering
There are several possible kinds of suffering:
1. Suffering from punishment we deserve: When I was five, I saw my mother wring a chicken’s neck for Sunday dinner. It was very entertaining to see the chicken run without its head. I said to myself, “I bet I can do that!” When my mother left with the first chicken, I took another chicken and wrung its neck. It was very funny to me. But then my mother took me inside and switched me three hard, stinging licks. It hurt! I learned not to wring chicken necks. Perhaps you would argue that I didn’t deserve that spanking, but I know in my heart that I did.
Sometimes we feel that things that happen to us are punishments from God for things we did wrong. We may feel we deserve the punishment. We might be wrong, but anyway, we feel we are guilty and deserve to suffer. Often we are very ashamed and get upset and angry when people hint that we might be deserving to suffer; but deep down, lots of times we secretly agree.
2. Suffering from the natural consequences of our own wrong behavior: This is in addition to the first type of suffering. If I killed all the remaining chickens, I would have to eat chicken for a long time. If I killed my mother, I would have to live without having a mother, because I killed her. If I beat my children and drove them away from me, I would have to live, not only with my conscience, but also with not having my children around. If I smoked and got lung cancer, I might have to die as a consequence of my own sinning against myself. People say, “I have no one to blame but myself.”
We are not going to spend any more time on these types of suffering. But let us look at some more types which we will spend time on:
3. Suffering from Satan and the evil wicked persons have done to you personally: This category includes your and my suffering as victims of all the criminal acts in the world, and from all the sins we commit against each other. It also includes suffering from all the evil social and political situations which exist because Satan succeeded in getting Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden so that sin entered the world. Racism, cruel political tyranny, and schoolyard bullies taking lunch money from innocent victims would all fit here. Murder, adultery, theft, and assault and battery fit here. All pain, suffered by victims of every wicked act, fits here.
Many people feel that all evil comes from the devil. They don’t blame God for any evil. They see Satan as very powerful. Others feel that it is more complicated than that. They feel that the Lord, for whatever reason, lets the devil do evil to us. Some people put all sickness in this category.
4. Suffering from random chance or accidental circumstances: This category includes little children run over accidentally by cars, people getting AIDS from blood transfusions, and stubbing our toe on the furniture going to the bathroom at night. All the accidental cuts and nicks we ever got come under this category. Some people put sickness here, instead of under the category of Satanic acts.
Some people feel that all accidental suffering comes from God. If a tornado strikes or if lightning strikes, they call that an “act of God,” implying that God is capricious He allows accidental evil to enter our lives without caring what happens to us, or if it happens to us. These people don’t see God as very loving at all. They don’t understand why God sends sun and rain on the good ones as well as the evil ones. Before Jesus came, the Jewish theology of the Sadducees taught that the good people are blessed, and the wicked people are cursed, in this life alone – they didn’t believe in an afterlife. They got this from Deuteronomy, chapters 28-30, which says God will bless those who obey Him and curse those who disobey. Then along came Job. Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar argued that God was punishing Job for some hidden wickedness. Job argued, “NO!” But Job did say that God sends evil as well as good (Job 2:10, “Shall we accept good from God and not accept evil?” Finally, concerning Job, there is an interesting passage in Job 19:25-27, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job’s sufferings, along with his awareness of the justice of God, caused him to have a clear understanding of the existence of heaven, where all our tears shall be wiped away.
5. Suffering from undeserved punishment: Parents sometimes punish a child mistakenly, and find out later that the child was innocent. Some people feel that God has done this to them, assuming that God is no more wise than an earthly parent. They feel that God owes them an apology.
People suffer when others commit suicide. A suicide punishes all those who loved them. When people are in deep despair, and confusion about the meaning of life, and kill themselves, this can rub off on those they love. The pain can be extremely severe.
When tragedy strikes, either because of wicked persons or because of accidental circumstances, we all tend to ask “Why me, Lord?” or, “Why them, Lord?” We tend to view God as being the cause of our suffering. (And we might be right in some sense.) Then we either blame ourselves unfairly, or we blame God unfairly, thinking He is unjust. That is why I am writing this essay to help you sort through your pain. You will find in the bibliography at the end of this essay some books. Their titles aptly describe the way we often feel; for example, “Where Is God When It Hurts?” and “When Will I Stop Hurting?”
6. Suffering from close hand experience with what evil people have done to others: Perhaps you have never met an evil person or known one of their victims. They exist. The Bible is clear that evil people do exist – their hearts are full of hatred of others, enmity, rejection of God, a satanic desire to rule over or hurt others, self-centeredness, and often a complete disregard for the suffering they cause others. Evil people usually do not suffer remorse, but instead have total contempt for their victims. You may know a victim slightly, or they may be someone you love very much. Evil was done to them so hideous that it has caused you to suffer. God Himself suffers with what evil people have done to others – and it makes Him angry. One of the reasons war is so terrible is that it unleashes evil in people, to do evil to others. Soldiers come home suffering from something we have named Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but civilians often have no comprehension of what it is like – the questioning about the very meaning of life that can be brought on by close contact with real evil. The deep upset. The stress that makes a person brittle and fragile, sometimes for the rest of their lives.
The Problem We Are Dealing With In This Essay
Our question, or problem, is this:
If God is totally good, and loves us perfectly, and if God is totally powerful, then why does God let evil people hurt us? And why does God let evil things happen to us?
Some Shallow Answers to the Problem
1. It is shallow to say evil is not so bad and doesn’t last. Evil can indeed be bad. It can completely demoralize and even destroy persons. Denying that evil can be evil is to deny the truth: evil people randomly picking on us, and evil accidents, can be crushing! Just think of burglaries, street crime, war, cancer, murder, rape, torture, snakebite, and airplane crashes killing children. Evil is really evil, and it really hurts. Evil does hit innocent people. There are evil people in the world who do evil to others. And sometimes people do not ever get over it. Sometimes people die at the hands of evil people. Knowing it hit them randomly doesn’t make it less painful, but rather it increases the pain. People turn to God and ask, “Why me?” Or, “Why the one I love?” Many people live in pain, dread, and anxiety as the direct result of evil deeds by others. You could never convince them that life is just a bowl of cherries. In fact they can feel overwhelmed by evil. I hope you are not one of these people, but if you are, this was written especially for you.
2. It is also shallow to think God is partly evil; the truth is that God is totally good. To say that God is just a little sadistic and doesn’t mind seeing us suffer is to slander God and deny the truth about Him. Job 34:12 says “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.” King David says in Psalm 5:4, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil.” James 1:13 says God cannot be tempted to do evil, nor does He tempt anyone to do evil. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” God is love. We will be developing this theme throughout the essay, raising questions about God’s righteousness and innocence. We will then affirm that God is indeed loving, innocent of evil doing, righteous, faithful, and in fact worthy of all praise.
3. It is shallow to think evil is stronger than God; it is not. Some would say that God means well, sure; but He doesn’t have the power to conquer evil, or else He would do so immediately. They think the devil is close to whipping God all the time. This is not so. In fact God is Almighty Sovereign of the universe and upholds it by His power; absolutely everything in reality exists, moves, and has being because of God. In fact God does have total power and total control over the devil and over evil. God is no wimp. He is firmly in control of His creation. The Bible firmly faces the paradoxical and controversial nature of the situation.
4. It is shallow to think that God doesn’t care. Evil deeds grieve and anger Him. He made Hell for evildoers. Evil people killed His Son, Jesus, causing God great suffering. God suffers from the evil that evil people do to those He loves – and He loves us all. Having said all the above, now let us see the issue as the Bible states it.