The 'Problem' of Pain and Suffering - Part 2
Colin Lacey, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In a previous article 1 we explored the problem of pain and suffering, mainly from the believer’s standpoint. However, Christians also face the charge from unbelievers that the presence of suffering in the world proves that God is indifferent to it and/or powerless to do anything about it. They suggest that He does not care about our world and that He is always missing when He is most needed. It is important, therefore, that we are able to make a reasoned defence against such charges if we are to maintain the credibility of our faith in an increasingly sceptical society. There are a number of key foundation stones upon which we can build this defence.
First, it is important to stress that God is not the author of pain and suffering. The world is not as He intended it to be when He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They made the wrong choice and sin came into the world, Gen. 3. 6, and, from that point onward, Adam’s descendants have lived in a ‘broken’ world. Sin brought with it suffering, pain, sorrow and tears, Gen. 3. 16-19. Mankind has, therefore, struggled to understand, and cope with, these consequences of Adam’s sin ever since the fall. John Blanchard writes, ‘The word suffering would not exist if man had not shaken his fist in his Creator’s face’.2
Second, and following on from this, it is vital for Christians to emphasize that it is a pointless exercise for men to look around for someone to blame for the pain and suffering in the world. The Lord Jesus made it clear that the evil that is the cause of so much sorrow and tears, finds its origin within, i.e., in the hearts of men: ‘There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man . . . For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness’, Mark 7. 15, 21-22. The heart is, indeed, ‘deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’, Jer. 17. 9. Each man and woman is responsible for his/her own actions, no matter how much pressure they might face from external factors to act in an unacceptable manner and cause suffering to others. However, this does not explain all forms of suffering in the world.
Third, we need to point out to unbelievers that the whole of creation was affected by Adam’s fall. They point frequently to earthquakes, floods and famines as evidences of an uncaring and powerless God. Paul writes, ‘For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now’, Rom. 8. 22. God’s words to Adam following the fall underline this fact: ‘Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground’, Gen. 3. 17-19. Paul reminds us that, as far as the believer and creation are concerned, this is not for ever: ‘For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature [creation – NKJV] waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God’, Rom. 8. 18-19. When we appear in glory with Christ in a coming day, Col. 3. 4, all creation will be released from its present bondage and groaning.
Fourth, we must encourage unbelievers to ask the right question when they are faced with pain and suffering. The natural tendency for them is to ask the question, ‘Why?’ It would be more profitable for them were they to ask the question, ‘What?’ Hopefully, this might lead them to God and cause them to ask, ‘What is God seeking to say to us through our suffering?’ C. S. Lewis suggested that ‘pain is His [God's] megaphone to rouse a deaf world’.3
Fifth, and arguably the most important foundation stone upon which to build is the cross of Christ. All too often unbelievers turn on God and charge Him with indifference to their pain. They claim that He is remote from men and cannot possibly understand how they feel. Nothing could be further from the truth; indeed, this charge gives the believer the opportunity to ‘preach Christ crucified’, 1 Cor. 1. 23. The message of the gospel teaches us that God has stepped into this broken world and experienced the greatest suffering of all: ‘For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’, 1 Pet. 3. 18; and again, ‘Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh’, 4. 1. We hear His voice in the prophetic psalm: ‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax’, Ps. 22. 14. God has come so near to us, in the person of His Son, that He could not have come nearer. The lament of the city of Jerusalem in the Old Testament can be applied to Christ: ‘Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger’, Lam. 1. 12.
Sixth, the sovereignty of God is a key foundation stone that must be laid, and built upon, in our defence of the Christian faith. Even if we cannot always understand His ways, or answer every difficult question raised by unbelievers in relation to pain and suffering, we rest in the fact that He is always in control. We can use the words of Abraham, ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ Gen. 18. 25. We can confront them with God’s question to Job: ‘Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding’, Job 38. 4. Paul’s challenge is also applicable: ‘Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?’ Rom. 9. 20. The words of a blind Christian, who had both of his legs amputated, are truly remarkable and inspiring: ‘I have no complaint against God. These legs belonged to Him anyway. He is entitled to do what He likes with them’.
Seventh, and finally, we can conclude our defence of the Christian faith by affirming, with confidence, our belief that there is life after death, i.e., that suffering and pain are not for ever and they will not have the last word: ‘And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new’, Rev. 21. 4-5.
It is vital that we build upon these foundation stones in a humble, caring, and sensitive manner. A cold, hard and formal approach will only increase unbelievers’ hostility toward divine things and fail to have the impact we ought to desire, i.e., for them to turn in ‘repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’, Acts 20. 21. Paul’s words to Timothy are apposite: ‘And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth’, 2 Tim. 2. 24-25. We must guard against the temptation to give glib answers, or to become involved scoring points off others, when dealing with such a sensitive issue as pain and suffering. However, we ought not to feel weak and insecure in the face of the hostility of men toward divine truth. We can have confidence in the fact that we have all we need, with the scriptures and the indwelling Holy Spirit, ‘to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear’, 1 Pet. 3. 15. Herbert Carson writes, ‘There are many whose tragic reaction to suffering is bitterness and hatred to God. There are others in the darkness of their tears who see a light . . . the light is God’s mercy’.4 Let us pray that the Lord will help us to see this light and share it with others.
2 John Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? Evangelical Press, 2013.
3 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Centenary Press, 1940.
4 Herbert Carson, Facing Suffering: A Christian Response, Evangelical Press, 1978.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Colin Lacey is a retired secondary school headteacher. He travels extensively throughout the UK teaching the word of God. He has contributed to several Day by Day publications and has also written the commentaries on Judges, Nehemiah and 1 & 2 Kings for the What the Bible Teaches series published by John Ritchie Ltd.