Chances are… you wonder why suffering exists

We live in a culture that tries to avoid suffering at any cost. And yet it is an undeniable aspect of human existence. It informs us that something is amiss—that things are not right. It could be the painful struggle with cancer or a chaotic refugee crisis.

Some view suffering as a karmic event—justly deserved by a person or a community. But we should not jump too quickly to equate suffering with punishment. There are thugs and thieves who seem to be exempt from suffering and there are humanitarians who are afflicted with ailments. It doesn’t always make sense.

At its core, suffering is the physical or emotional response to loss: Loss of health, finances, or relationships. However, it’s the prospect of suffering or experiencing loss that actually helps to foster a greater appreciation for those things. Suffering tells us that we matter. We share a sense of the way things should be and we are let down when they are not.

Suffering rips our lives apart. It breaks our hearts when we see others suffer, especially those whom we love. So the question is asked repeatedly, “Why would a good God allow suffering?” That’s an especially important question given that suffering is such an obstacle to faith for so many people.

One might retort, “If there is no God, what does it matter?” If human worth does not go beyond that which we arbitrarily bestow on one another, suffering, and the evil behind it, can be treated as flippantly or as seriously as one chooses.Suffering tells us that we matter. We share a sense of the way things should be and we are let down when they are not. Click To Tweet

Suffering can be used as an excuse to push God out or as an avenue to invite God in. The Bible teaches that God is well acquainted with suffering. When the prophet Isaiah painted the picture of the coming Messiah, he called him a “man of suffering and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3). Even before Jesus’ life on Earth, he was linked to suffering. Jesus came to the aid of those who suffered. God doesn’t shy away from suffering, and if you’re in that place, God won’t shy away from you.

Suffering itself accomplishes nothing. Jesus’ suffering on its own would have been inconsequential had God not purposed it for the redemption of the world. The author of Hebrews writes, “For the joy awaiting him [Jesus] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). This joy was not limited to Jesus’ return to heaven. His joy came from knowing that many would gain entrance to God’s world because of what Jesus accomplished. Suffering on its own is disheartening and even useless, but when you allow God into it—to use it—it can change your life.

In the face of suffering God pours out grace and compassion. And in the same way God shows compassion to us, we should do likewise to others. Compassion must be our response to the suffering of others. A lack of compassion is indicative of a callous heart.

The Christian message would lack credibility if it did not confront suffering. It does not deny that suffering exists, nor does it try to make excuses for it. It does, however, offer the ultimate cure. One day, the book of Revelation reads, “There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). While our present reality is still ‘the old order of things’, the gospel holds out incredible hope.

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Margaret Manning Shull is currently part of the speaking and writing team at RZIM. She has served in pastoral roles focusing on teaching, discipleship, spiritual formation, and pastoral care. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with honors, from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, before earning her Masters of Divinity degree, summa cum laude, from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Margaret is an ordained minister and is passionate about communicating the gospel in ways that engage both heart and mind. Her warm and relational teaching style, highlighted by her unique emphasis on conversational apologetics, are huge assets as she addresses the critical intersection between Christian faith and life. Margaret lives with her husband, David, in Bellingham, Washington.