Mick’s CV Memo—Suffering, Current and Age-Old Dilemma

The problem of human suffering has been contemplated, discussed and debated for millennia as evidenced by the account of Job, one of the oldest records of the Scriptures. When we experience or observe pain, we want to know why.  We want to be able to integrate it with our philosophy of life; whatever that world view might be.  Eastern thought tends to explain it through either karma or stoicism.  Atheism offers no real answers, just the inevitability of suffering.  Some atheists are genuine in their attempt to reconcile suffering and theism, while others go to it as their prime reason for repudiating theism or any world view that posits a metaphysical realm.

As the Corona virus progresses, suffering will increase far beyond what we have observed so far, short of divine intervention.  More will be infected, more wealth will be lost in the crippled economy, and more unknowns will cause more anxiety.  For example, as I type this, Betsy has just informed me that the virus is now found on the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt. The faith of Jesus’ followers will be tested and the unbelief of skeptics will be affirmed.

If we are to fulfill our responsibilities as representatives of Jesus to those stuck in unbelief, we will need to come to grips with this problem of suffering. We will need to help others examine the philosophical alternatives and the truths of Scripture that give us a framework for honestly facing suffering without compromising our integrity or ignoring reality.  This is complicated by the fact that our generation and our culture exalt in pleasures and seek to avoid pain.  We cannot remove the reality of suffering, nor should we be callous to it. God has created all in His image and has placed intrinsic worth and dignity in every human being.  Nevertheless, we have reasons for believing that God is real, good, powerful, and compassionate; even when confronted with this longstanding dilemma. Given the long history of this dialogue, I can’t pretend to give a comprehensive solution to the problem in a few short paragraphs.  But I hope you will find reasons to trust God and help others trust Him at this challenging time in our lives.

Looking back at the case of Job we find some helpful truth.  At the outset of the account, we find that there is another, spiritual realm that influences the realm in which we live.  I can’t say I fully understand it, but God has allowed evil.  Angelic beings, before our earthly existence were led in rebellion by the evil one.  They were judged and banished to the earthly realm. God then created humanity in His image with the opportunity to exercise authority over the creation.  The evil one deceived the first humans into a similar rebellion, resulting in decay, destruction, disease and disruption of nature’s perfection. The image of God in them and in all of us was degraded (not erased) so that we are born with that tendency to rebel against God’s authority over us and a tendency to value ourselves above all others.  Job is an example of a God-fearing human.  He was not perfect or sinless, but He submitted to and worshipped God.  But Job also represented all that the evil one despised and thus wanted to harm.  So suffering has it’s origins in a rebellious angel, the choice of our original human parents and the continuing tendencies of our fallen nature.

History and the Scripture show us that there is a divine plan for eradicating the suffering and destruction caused by the virus of rebellion—sin.  We have archeological and written evidence of God communicating the nature of right and wrong to us so that we could see a dilemma greater than any other suffering—our disconnection from Him.  It also reveals that He was not content to have us estranged from Him.  He chose (as His plan before time!) to incarnate divinity in human flesh in Jesus Christ and to allow Him to suffer death as the only innocent One to redeem all fallen ones who would trust Him.  Jesus and other prophetic communicators have revealed that a time is coming when all suffering will be past, all tears of sadness gone and those who have chosen to trust Him will never be estranged from Him again.

Our present reality is an interim period when the solution has been designed and paid for by Jesus’ sacrifice; but its culmination has not yet come to pass.  We find the reason for delay in this passage written by the Apostle Peter who was martyred for his faith after writing these words…

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)

As you communicate with people about suffering.  Help them understand where we are in the timeline of God’s purposes.  Help them understand that the ultimate suffering is not just physical, but eternal estrangement from God where the suffering never ends.  Help them understand that there is a free offer from Him that takes that eternal suffering away immediately by faith in Jesus.

There are far brighter minds and far better responses to the problem of suffering than I have given here.  I want to encourage you to pursue these thinkers.  Writers like C.S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain); Lee Strobel (The Case for Faith); and the many writings and lectures by Ravi Zacharias are representative.  In fact, today is Ravi Zacharias’ 74th birthday.  I was watching one of his videos about suffering and was curious about his age.  I was struck by the coincidence when I saw it was his birthday.  Then I was surprised by the recent disclosure that he has been diagnosed with a sarcoma tumor in his back discovered when he went in for corrective surgery.  The link below is a recent interview with him about his diagnosis and about the COVID 19 crisis.  Is all that random coincidence?  Not to me.

As we seek God and ways to serve His Kingdom we can be assured that He is at work and will empower us to be His ambassadors.

With you in Him,