One of the great promises of the gospel is that God guarantees to His people a life to come which is one of perfection, joy, peace, no pain, no death, no suffering or bereavement. (Revelation 21:4) However, our current life of course can often be nothing like that. The reality is that we often experience lives of varying degrees of trouble and sorrow, and Christians and church communities don’t escape them. The situation for many Christians in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan and many other places being examples. People may ask why? Particularly why me? if we are personally afflicted in some way; or why does God allow this? as a young cancer victim I recently saw on T.V. did.
One thing that Christians do have, which others generally don’t, is the ability to give a reasoned response to, and an explanation for, the suffering in the world and even for what appears to be ‘pure evil’ of the type currently being seen in Iraq.
* Firstly, and very importantly, we can say that the world we live in is not the one God planned. The Bible tells us that we actually live in a world gone seriously wrong, a world groaning in its own pain (Romans 8:18-21), because it is suffering the spiritual consequences of its rebellion against God. The result of this is that the world is ‘sick’ because it is infected with a spiritual ‘virus’ that the Bible calls sin. The news headlines of suffering, brutality and events of pure evil that we see, and the personal tragedies many experience, are symptoms of this sickness.
I have a friend who, while still only in her 50’s, had experienced almost the full range of sickness and suffering that any human can, including recurring cancer, but she did not lose her faith in God. She has said that, at the worst times, far the most helpful part of the Bible to read were the Psalms.
This is not surprising, because the Psalms are cries to God from the human heart, and reflect the full range of human emotions including the pain and suffering often experienced in our broken world. The writers of the Psalms do not deny the reality of pain, but rather they reflect that pain in their own experience, while still trusting God to
ultimately bring them through to a better place (eg. Psalm 6, 13, 22,
23, 46, 73,121, 130). It may be that someone reading this now might be helped by reading those same “cries from the wounded human heart”.
* Secondly, it should be remembered that no-one has suffered more than God, in His Son on the Cross. So he can truly empathise with our pain.
* Thirdly. It should also be remembered that it was out of that suffering, more than we can possibly understand, that God won for us the greatest good of eternal life. Indeed, this fact can be used to connect with and introduce the gospel.
* Fourthly, and paradoxically, it is in suffering that many Christians become more useful in pastoral ministry, being far more able to empathise with another’s pain because of their own experience. This is actually the principle of the Cross, that it is in all things including suffering (especially that of Jesus) that God “works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28)
* Fifthly, in the midst of even the most extreme personal distress, God gives us two promises to hang onto. One is that he is with us every step of the way even when the world (our world) itself seems to be falling apart (Psalm 46 and Matthew 28:20). Then there is the promise of a perfect eternity (an inheritance that can never perish) which we are encouraged to focus upon in our attitude to, and living of, this life, by rejoicing even in grief and in all kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:3-6).
God’s purpose for His people is to bring Him glory in this limited life, even in suffering in this broken world, and ‘to enjoy Him in heaven forever’. That is the Christian certainty, even in the worst world, national or personal tragedy.
Praise be to God!