Suffering

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We were at an apologetics conference Saturday in Plano when we heard the terrible news. A woman had apparently driven her car through a crowd watching an OSU homecoming parade. The news hit us like a ton of cruel bricks. I remember the sequence of emotions that coursed through my mind in that moment. Sorrow for the stricken- although I didn’t know the details I knew that, as a Christ follower resonating with the pain of the innocent sufferer is always part of what I’m called to do. Sorrow for the striker- again lacking details, and assuming remorse on her part, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the driver. My thoughts weren’t always this gracious, but like a river bank which becomes shaped by the river passing by, in time my response to tragedy has been shaped by the gospel story.  I know that except for God’s grace I am capable of being either the driver or the one driven over. In the gospel, the Savior who least deserved to be struck, was stricken on behalf of those who had been driven over by sin, evil, pain and suffering.

What is our response to tragedies like the one we saw in Stillwater last week? As Christ followers we know the default response of the atheist or the agnostic, because we were once members of those groups of non-believers. We were once weighed down by our own willful blindness and stubborn suppression of the truth of the existence and oblivious to the Sovereignty of God. We know that a syllogism begins to germinate in our heart when tragedy, pain and suffering strikes.  We might even be tempted to begin to rail at the God of the Bible and our thought pattern goes something like this:

Proposition #1: If God is all powerful, He could do something about evil, pain and suffering

Proposition #2: If God is all loving, He would do something about evil, pain and suffering.

Proposition #3: Evil, pain and suffering still exist.

Conclusion: Therefore, God does not exist.

The problem is that we’re missing information which would help us deal with tragedy, pain and suffering in a more cogent, truthful, and realistic fashion. After all, it’s so easy to draw a false conclusion from true but partial information. If we aren’t careful we can land on the same logic that leads a 4 year old to assume that because his Mom allowed the temporary pain of his immunization that she was either too weak or too uncaring to intervene.  That’s the same faulty logic, if inverted, that led Adolph Hitler to assume, because he managed to avoid several assassination attempts, that Providence was actually on his side. When he said in ecstasy that, “It was Providence that spared me. This proves that I’m on the right track. I feel that this is the confirmation of all my work.” He actually sends the clothes he was wearing the day of the failed attempt and said, “I have sent you the uniform of that wretched day. Proof that Providence protects me and that we no longer have to fear our enemies.”

As revolting as this may seem, unless we’re tethered to God’s unchanging revelation of Himself in His word we are just as prone to jump to these faulty conclusions. Such that when things are going well we think, “God, if He is there, must be pleased with me”, or when tragedy strikes, “God if He exists, must be either too impotent or too unloving to do anything about it”.

The Bible does not give us full disclosure into all of the details of God’s purposes for the evil, pain and suffering which assail us on a daily basis. But it does give us hints. Could it be that a world which experiences these pains and overcomes them is greater than a world which is never plagued by them? Don’t we see a bit of that logic in John 11? When Jesus is out and about doing ministry and then hears about the death of Lazarus. He lingers there for 2 more days before the group goes back toward the hometown of Lazarus. When He reaches Bethany, he is met by Martha, and then Mary the sisters of Lazarus. They both relay their deep anguish to Jesus when they tell him on separate occasions, “Lord, if you would have been here, our brother would not have died”. Much like we do today when crises strike, the sisters are feeling the sting of death, and the questions that accompany suffering, evil, and pain. They don’t know why, but they both conclude that Jesus must be the answer. They both must have derived great comfort when Jesus told them: “Did I not tell you that if you believed that you would see the glory of God?” In other words, “don’t misinterpret the circumstances sisters; I AM the resurrection and the life.” This was the information that they had been missing.

The sisters, like the little boy getting his shot at the doctor’s office while his mom sits passively at his side, have to trust that God is up to something in allowing evil, pain and suffering to rule the day. For the little boy, it’s all about trusting his mom who allows pain now so that he doesn’t suffer greater pain by getting sick later. For the sisters it’s all about trusting that Jesus was allowing them to experience pain and suffering now, so that they might enjoy a bigger, more glorious reality of who Jesus is later. They were beginning to form a syllogism too. Here’s how the syllogism works:

Proposition #1: If God is all powerful, He could do something about evil, pain and suffering
Proposition #2: If God is all loving, He would do something about evil, pain and suffering.
Proposition #3: Evil, pain and suffering have not yet been destroyed
Conclusion: Therefore God will one day destroy evil, pain, and suffering.

Pain is to point, suffering is to sign, and evil to emphasize that on this side of eternity, God has His purposes in allowing these hard things, and that we are to trust Him while we wait for that Day when He makes all things right. In the words of Arthur Pink: “Instead of a river, God often gives us a brook, which may be running today and dried up tomorrow. Why? To teach us not to rest in our blessing, but in the Blesser Himself.”

What is the most loving thing we can do for our neighbor who is suffering? Weep with them? Yes. Mourn with them? Yes. Help them pick up the broken pieces of their lives? Yes. Jesus did all these things. We will not truly love them unless we do as Jesus did, by pointing to Himself as the ultimate answer. If they believe His words, their pain will be redeemed on that Day when Jesus steps out of the shadows and we see Him for the Sovereign Lord that He is. In other words, maybe, just maybe that Day will reveal that suffering, pain, and evil will serve as the black backdrop to showcase the marvelous mercy, and beautiful brilliance of Christ Jesus.

Jim Delver is an Elder at Trinity Chickasha and has worked for Comanche County Hospital in Lawton for 21 years in the field of Radiation Oncology. Jim says that the most important thing anyone could know about him is summed up in John Newton’s words: “I know two things, I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior”.


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