What Can We Tell Our Friends About Suffering?
One question men are asking these days is the question of suffering.
In less than three weeks time, tsunami has become a household word, eternally riveted into our brains. It rocks our sensibilities, and raises age-old questions about suffering. We can be certain it does for many people around us too.
What do Christians believe about suffering? What can we tell our family, friends, and co-workers to “disciple” them about suffering?
C. S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “If God where good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore, God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain in its simplest form.”
Of the many questions raised by suffering and evil, these four capture most of the heart issues….
- Does God care? (the issue of his benevolence and love)
- Does he know what’s happening? (the issue of his omniscience)
- Can he do anything about it? (the issue of his omnipotence)
- If he cares, knows, and can do something about it, why doesn’t he? (the issue of his purposes and will)
Biblical Christians do not use experience to interpret their Bibles. We use our Bibles to interpret our experience. And what we do not understand, we admit. This last point – admitting it – is important, because so much about suffering and evil remains opaque and impenetrable. On the other hand, a lot is knowable. Here’s the elevator speech:
Point: In this world we all will suffer.
Faithful Christians suffer (see 1 Peter 4:12, John 16:33). The perfection of Creation was corrupted by the Fall and, with it, human nature. So, because of the Fall, we must do our work while feeling the prick of thorns. Humans are not capable of not sinning in their own strength. Suffering would be a much larger problem for us if the Bible promised there would be none. As it is, suffering plays a large part in the Christian faith on the road to redemption.
Point: We are called to suffer.
We all must go through hardships (see Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 2:21; Acts 14:22; 1 John 3:13). Not only have we been given the privilege of trusting Christ, but also of suffering for him. He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Point: There is purpose to suffering.
We can handle anything if we think it is for a purpose (Romans 8:20-21; 2 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Peter 1:6-7; Romans 5:3-5). “Our light and momentary problems are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Point: There is comfort in suffering.
Because there is purpose to it (Psalm 119: 67, 71, 75, 92; Hebrews 12:7-11). We all like sheep go astray. Like David we all can say, “It was good for me to be afflicted. Now I obey your law.” God uses suffering to redirect us back to him.
He does know what’s happening, he does care, he can do something about it, and he is.
No elevator speech will ever console as much as sitting quietly and listening to someone pour out their hearts for an hour or two. Sometimes, though, an elevator speech is all you can do. For that reason, it’s good to have one.
For the glory of Christ and no other reason,