Many questions I have received revolve around the topic of suffering. Why would God allow suffering? Why is life so unfair? How can I endure this?
There is no easy answer to these questions, and they can hardly be answered in a simple blog post. Even an entire book on the subject would leave questions unanswered. But that does not mean we cannot speak into this subject.
I plan to share several posts on this topic. And this will hopefully give some guidance for further exploration for those who have asked questions.
Today, I consider some of the possible reasons for suffering in this world. As long as we walk in this world, there will be suffering. No one gets through life without enduring multiple hardships. Even those who seem to have the best things in life will have struggles.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of reasons for suffering. But I hope to show some possible explanations. Some possible explanations include:
1. The Consequence of Your Choice
Sometimes your suffering is the consequence of your choice. When you chose a diet of fatty foods that are high in sodium, you will reap the consequence of that choice with your health and well-being. When you frivolously spend your money and fail to live with a budget, you will discover financial challenges in your life. You reap what you sow.
God gives us the Commandments. They are not the 10 suggestions. When we think we know better and chose differently than God instructed us, it should not surprise us when we fall upon hardship. He gives us the Commandments not to be a tyrant. He gives us the Commandments for our welfare.
2. The Consequence of Other’s Choices
We can suffer because of the choices of others. Last week, I stepped out of my car and onto a piece of gum someone decided to spit out into the parking lot. This other person had decided it was too inconvenient for them to dispose of their gum properly. They took the lazy approach and just spat it out on the ground without concern for the possibility of someone stepping in it. They figured it would not be their problem, so why worry about it. Because of their choice, I had to suffer a sticky mess on the bottom of my shoe.
Gum on the bottom of the shoe is a small matter, but there are choices of greater magnitude that affect many. A wife suffers because of the substance abuse of her husband. An unborn child suffers because of the choice of his mother to have an abortion. A family suffers a loss of a loved one because a person chose to drive drunk.
3. Failing to Depend On God and Others
Americans pride themselves in their independence. We spend much of our lives trying to live independently. We struggle when our independence is taken away. We do not want to rely upon anyone else. We consider it a failure when we are not self-sufficient.
The problem is that God did not design us to live independent. He designed us to rely upon him and others. A newborn baby is dependent upon parents for survival. When we come to our later years, we often depend upon the children we once cared for. Most of us living in urban or suburban settings are dependent upon farmers in rural areas to provide food. Employees are dependent upon the owner of the business to provide continued employment. We could go on about the complex interdependence of this world, but the point is that God did not create us to go through this journey of life alone. We lean on each other. Our suffering is sometimes the result of our failing to ask for help. Maybe there is help provided for your trouble, but you are too embarrassed to ask to receive the aid you need.
It is not just asking other people for help, but it is also asking God for help. We are dependent upon God for everything we have in this life. Maybe the trouble you are struggling with is because you have failed to ask God for help. As a pastor, I am amazed at the number of people who tell me that they went to the doctor or they had surgery but never asked me to pray with them. Of course, I offer to pray with them. But the point is that we often seek to handle our problems without asking God. A potential blessing of suffering is that it often drives us to prayer and leads us to reconnect with God.
4. Doing the Right Thing
There are many times when doing the right thing will cause you to suffer. It is not easy to be a person of integrity. There are plenty of times where the Psalmist wrestles with the idea of the ungodly prospering while the righteous suffer. The way to “get ahead” in this world sometimes comes by compromising your integrity, taking short-cuts, or taking advantage of others.
Doing the right thing may cause you to miss out. You may lose friends, be despised, or be passed by. In fact, Jesus says this will happen if you follow him. But this is the very essence of what it means to take up your cross. There is a wide road and a narrow road. The wide road is the easier road with fewer hardships. But it is the narrow road that is more satisfying in the end.
Sometimes there seems to be no explanation. I think about the child who has a rare and debilitating disease. Or the person who never smoked a cigarette in her life who develops lung cancer. Or the helpless refugee who driven from their home because of warfare or disaster. We can do everything right and still suffer.
It is not always for us to know the answer. It is for us to trust. That is to trust in God. I am not going to pretend I have the answers. God is God. We are not him. There are times we will plead and plead, but God seems silent.
Still, you need to know that God is bigger than our troubles. The Bible tells us that his ways are higher than our ways. He is more mysterious, more awesome, more holy, and more incomparable than anything else. We easily presume to know everything about things which we know nothing about. Think about the child who presumes to know better than a parent. The child thinks they know so much when they know so little. The role of the child is not to question the parent but simply trust and obey.
God is far more glorious and beyond any experience of ours. Yet, it is in the trials and the sufferings of this world that he chooses to meet us in ordinary ways. Jesus is not found on a throne in the lap of luxury but on the cross. That is his throne. It is the emblem of suffering and shame. God does not promise to spare us from suffering in this world. Rather he promises to meet us in our suffering and to help us through it.