In the grand questions of how a good God can permit suffering, sometimes we forget that man can stop or help relieve the suffering of his fellow man. In all suffering, God is present if we will seek Him.
It is easy to see how man, through his greed for power and material wealth, ignorance, or acting based on “acceptable risks” creates situations that brings suffering upon himself and others. Some suffer terrible diseases or physical problems because they do not exercise, eat properly, or continue in other bad habits that have been proved to hurt the body. Man clearly has a hand in much of the suffering in this world.
Where Were You When Others Suffered?
However, man also can be a power to relieve suffering or provide comfort in a time of need. In the face of disasters some ask “Where was God?” but a question equal, or perhaps of greater significance is “Where is man?” In every suffering there is an opportunity to be compassionate and responsive. During the Judean famine of the first century churches throughout the world who were not suffering famine were able to provide assistance. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, 13-15, the wealthy brethren helped their needy brethren to provide food during this time of deprivation. Involved in this action is the understanding that the Judean Christians would have the opportunity to repay that kindness when they helped other Christians during their suffering.
I have forgotten the source of this great quote: “In some kind of suffering that befalls man, I am afraid to ask ‘Why didn’t God do anything about it’ for fear that he will ask the same thing of me!” A story told by Stanley Jones illustrates this well:
A wealthy farmer prayed in his family circle that his unfortunate neighbors might not starve. When they arose from their knees, his little girl said to him, ‘Daddy, you needn’t have bothered God with that, for you can quite easily keep them from starving’
The question is less about what can the church, government, or society do to address a problem to the practical “what can I do to address this need?” He who curses the darkness could light a candle
Be Careful Not To Blame God
We have to be careful about the role we assign to God. Unless He explicitly states through His word what He has done, we are only speculating–and often terribly–about His actions. Sometimes people try to account for God during sufferin in a way that opens up more criticism. For example, an email that circulated after the September 11th attacks said that God “held up the towers while the people escaped.” If your loved one was one of the 2,830 who died, would you not be angry and wonder why God held it up long enough for many to escape but did not continue holding it up until all could escape? Why did He let it go when He did? Why not create obstacles for all the people (cancelled flights, etc.) so no one had to die? When we begin down this road, we come to some illogical and unscriptural conclusions.
I see this type of ignorance when people try to explain the death of a child. A well-meaning person tries to comfort the sibling by saying God wanted his little brother so much that He took him to heaven. In a misguided effort to provide comfort they terrify a kid and make him scared of God. Who knows when He’ll be back to get another one of us? Good intent; terrible approach. Better to understand that death is just a part of life and enjoy the comfort that while the death of the child was unfortunate, that God is comforting and caring for the child now.
Similarly, we must not assume that suffering on an individual or national level is the result of the judgment of God. We do “reap what we sow” and “our sins will find us out.” However, sometimes we suffer as a consequence of the action of others or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. God allowed Job to suffer many things as the devil sought to lure him away, but Job’s friends falsely claimed that he was suffering as a result of some sin. When Jesus and the apostles discussed some Jews killed by Pilate and eighteen people killed when a tower collapsed He did not blame their fate on sin, but told them that the dead were no worse sinners than anyone else (Luke 13:1-5). In John 9:1-3, Jesus rebuked the foolish question of whether the sin of a man or his parents led to his blindness. It is better not to blame God for suffering that may be simply the result of chance or natural consequences of one’s actions.
Where is God When Others Suffer?
It is easy to find God during suffering if we will open our eyes. He has entered the suffering with us and can strengthen us. God in the flesh had compassion on the lepers, forgave the immoral who repented with broken spirits, groaned in His spirit at the sorrow of Lazarus’ loved ones and wept with them, suffered rejection and violence at the hands of wicked men, was spat upon, beaten, and mocked, abandoned by his friends, and died a slow agonizing death on a cross of shame. Hebrews 5:5-9 tells us that Jesus learned obedience through suffering and is sympathetic to our pain.God can make “all things work together for good” for those who love Him, Romans 8:28. People find strength in suffering. Some learn compassion and become selfless. Some learn humility. Sometimes a small tragedy energizes a community to create laws or systems that prevent greater tragedies in the future. All suffering helps us to look forward to an eternal home where suffering is absent.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Where is God? He has entered into our suffering and grief and can give us strength to endure and use us to relieve the suffering of others until the day when we rise to live with Him in a world without suffering.