Understanding Suffering

April 16, 2013
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Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.  Psalm 119:67


When you are warm, it is hard for you to understand how you feel when you are cold; and when you are healthy it is difficult to understand how someone feels who is in pain. Those who have never experienced the devastation of suffering are little qualified to pass judgment on the emotions and feelings of those who hurt, yet from the days of Job to the present, the healthy excoriate the sick and suffering, pointing out exactly why they hurt–from being overweight, to having indulged in the wrong food.  Hence, they know exactly what needs to be done to effect a cure.  They advise, “Try this new diet I read about,” or, “There is a Chinese medicine which has been around for centuries.  It will fix you up!”  Or, “You should go to this Mexican doctor who is using a new medicine which can be found only in that country.”

When Job suffered, his three friends knew exactly why he was in pain, and they also knew what he needed to do to get rid of it.  The only problem is that they were self-appointed experts who spoke neither from personal experience nor from knowledge.

The stark reality is that there are no easy answers to one of humanity’s oldest questions, “Why pain?  Why do good people suffer, especially when some who are evil and debauched seem to avoid suffering?”

More than forty years ago I confronted that issue, or, at least, was a spectator to it.  Within a few weeks I encountered two situations for which I had no answers.  As a young pastor I went to Veteran’s hospital to visit an old gentleman, 87 years of age.  His skin was wrinkled and weathered, his brow knit with the pain of suffering.  Looking up into my face he cried, “Why doesn’t God just let me die?  Why does He let me just lie here and suffer?”

A few days before that I had walked the halls of a children’s hospital where a little girl had been born with five tiny holes in her heart.  “Why does my baby have to suffer?” asked the mother with tears filling her eyes and overflowing.

Today I am downstream a considerable distance from my first encounter with the reality of pain in our world, and I am still perplexed with the issue; however–and that is where I turn the corner–I have learned that some issues will never be resolved until we cross heaven’s threshold.  The issue of pain and suffering is one of them; however, my perspective is different today.  I have lived long enough to understand that trusting is more important than understanding, and tasting of the grace of God which can take you through the dark valley is better than wondering if God is sufficient to meet you in the time of need.

I have also learned that suffering is not punishment, nor health a reward for the righteous, that the sun which hardens clay also melts the wax candle, and that the trials which make some bitter and hateful only humble and strengthen others.  The fact is that some waste their dose of suffering and others profit greatly from the same thing.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray,” said the psalmist, quickly adding, “but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67).  Far better is it to know that God is with you in the dark hour and that He will sustain you and be your comfort and help than to know exactly why He has allowed something to happen.

Can good come out of difficulty?  Answer that one yourself by asking, “Does fire burn the dross and leave the gold?” and “If pain is the megaphone of God,” as C. S. Lewis contended, “then why are some deaf and others get the message loud and clear?”

Resource reading: Job 1-2


Bible References

  • Psalm 119:67