Men are often plagued by the question of why bad things happen to evenly seemingly good people. Why would a loving God allow such pain and suffering on the part of those He cares about.
The Bible provides several answers to this difficult question; giving us multiple passages which illuminate some of the Lord’s reasoning. Notably, the entire book of Job wrestles with this issue, from the perspective of a man whom God Himself declares to be righteous, but whom God allows to suffer greatly.
Space precludes a full discussion of the manifold passages dealing with suffering, but let us take a moment to think upon one of the answers God provides in His word: namely, that suffering is sometimes a vehicle for good rather than evil. That is, we do a disservice to the usefulness of pain when we make the unfounded assumption that pain, discomfort and sorrow is always and necessarily intrinsically bad.
The classic example is, of course, the use of pain as a warning system preventing greater injury. The nerve centers on our bodies will sometimes indicate pain so as to make us aware of danger. Even medically, sometimes pain is an early indication of potentially more severe problems awaiting us down the road. If we heed the initial pain, visit the doctor, and allow him to treat us, we can often avoid truly debilitating problems.
Spiritually speaking, earthly pain and suffering caused by our foolish choices reminds us that there are consequences for our actions, and should serve to warn us that we need to make choices, because if we do not repent there is something worse waiting for us down the road (cf. Luke 13:3; John 5:14).
But even more than this, sometimes suffering creates opportunities for good.
Paul, writing to the Galatians, reminded them of how they had met him for the first time, saying, “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 4:13-14; ESV)
We don’t know all the details, but if it had not been for some illness or ailment Paul had been suffering from, would not have had the opportunity he had been given, to preach the gospel to the Galatians, and they would not only have not had an opportunity to hear it preached, but they would have missed out on the chance to show Paul love. The apostles predicament not only resulted in the salvation of souls, but also the chance for those saved to imitate the love and kindness commanded by Christ.
In the Gospel of John, John recounts an episode in which the apostles had been questioning Jesus about a man born blind. They wanted to know the reason behind it; just as men today still question such problems. So they asked, saying, ““Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:2b-3; ESV)
Jesus saw pain as something that provoked sympathy, but more importantly as an opportunity for good to manifest itself.
Sorrow and suffering is a fact of life and there are many reasons why a particular sorrow may occur. Sometimes they are a result of our own bad choices. Sometimes they are a consequence of another’s sin or foolishness. Sometimes it is God punishing us. Sometimes it is the devil tempting us. Regardless of the cause of the sorrow or pain, the response God teaches is always the same. Use the situation as an opportunity to draw near to Him. Look for the manner in which God can be glorified through your weakness. (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1-10)
Likewise, when we see another suffering; let each of us look for ways in which we can use the situation to do the work that God commands us: showing love, kindness, compassion, empathy and doing whatever we can to lift that person up into a better place. After all, when we were lost in sin, suffering, that is what Jesus did for us. He, in love, came to lift us up to a better place.
The church of Christ invites you to seek that place that Christ offers to those who follow Him; and ask you to come and worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.