The Problem of Pain
Pain – We are all equally subject to it.
It is vitally important, therefore, to establish a view of pain, suffering and evil that does justice to God’s character, the witness of scripture and our experience of it.
I once heard someone make this comment in relation to our attempts to better understand the problem of suffering and pain in the world — “When you’re in the midst of pain, it really doesn’t matter what our opinions about it may be.”
For a moment, I agreed with the comment. That is, until I reflected on it. Because if we have a flawed view of the origin of suffering, such a misunderstanding can actually cause even more pain.
For example, if we hold to some form of deterministic model that maintains the idea that God determines and orchestrates all things, including evil, that will not make the journey through the pain any better. Pain can actually be intensified because one has come to believe that God’s hand was directly responsible for the suffering they are enduring. Misunderstanding can actually cause more pain and even abandonment of God. This becomes a significant reason why it is so important to take the time to reflect on our faith and the challenge of evil and suffering.
The Promises of Pain
1. We need to remember that Jesus isn’t behind the pain, but walks with us in it.
“When things went wrong in people’s lives, whether it was about their physical or spiritual condition or some tragedy that happened to them, I don’t recall Jesus ever looking for the hand of God in it. Instead, he had compassion on suffering people and treated them like causalities of war. He expressed God’s heart by bringing relief to people’s suffering” (Greg Boyd, Is God to Blame? Pg. 14).
2. Jesus’ public ministry reveals that God was against, not behind, all the evil in the world.
“The thief has come to steal, kill and destroy. But I have come to bring life, and to bring it to the full” (John 10:10).
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).
Jesus was and is expressly concerned with bringing healing, restoration and life to those afflicted by the evil one.
God’s kingdom (loving reign) is brought to earth with the coming of Jesus and revealed throughout his public ministry, death and resurrection.
“In the career of Jesus of Nazareth – in his words, his miracles, his encounters with all sorts of people, his model of service to others, his majestic superiority cloaked in kind humility – is the beachhead, the foothold, the first ground staked out in God’s great project to reclaim the cosmos from the evil that corrupts it” (John Stackhouse, Can God be Trusted? Pg. 113).
“In the public career of Jesus, as he touched people with gentleness and healing, as he spoke with unparalleled authority and aptness, as he moved with steadfast purpose toward his final confrontation with the powers of his day, we see flashes of God’s pure shalom amid the swirling murk of our world” (John Stackhouse, Can God be Trusted? Pg. 113).
3. God’s agenda has always been and will always be redemptive in nature.
Only God has the unique ability to take what was initially intentioned to bring harm, redeem it and bring good even from it.
This is what Jesus’ ministry was all about; taking what was broken and restoring it to reflect the goodness and wholeness of God’s coming kingdom.
4. God doesn’t need or require evil to bring about good, but can use even it to do just that.
If God required evil in any way, it would make evil good, which it clearly is not.
5. When God redeems our suffering, it can occasion personal growth
This has been my experience on more than one occasion.
A person can oftentimes learn patience when they have to wait.
A person can learn wisdom when they reflect on the good and bad times in life.
A person can become compassionate toward others when they endure challenge, difficulty and pain themselves.
In times of sorrow, God comforts us so we in turn can comfort others in their sorrow.
God doesn’t require evil and suffering in order to bring about good, but redeems it, changes its trajectory of harm and uses even it to occasion good.
6. When God redeems our suffering, it can occasion community growth
“Shared suffering can help build true community. Pulling together in a common crisis, setting aside petty differences in the service of a larger goal, turning ones attention from the neighbor to focus upon a larger threat – all of these aspects of coping together with a danger or disaster can form and strengthen communal ties” (John Stackhouse, Can God be Trusted? Pg. 62).
7. Our suffering is temporary
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:1b-3).
Remember, though, that this doesn’t happen automatically, but only when we surrender our pain over to God’s care.