THE PROBLEM OF PAIN
One of the first arguments against Christianity is the existence of pain and suffering in the world and it's often worded something like this...
"If God is a God of love how could He allow such great pain and suffering in this world?and this conclusion often follows....
"Since so much pain and suffering exists in this world, God therefore must not exist, as no loving God would allow this."I'm not going to try and get all philosophical here or wax poetic about the divine purposes of pain and suffering, but I do want to chime in with a few humble thoughts.
First of all, despite the fact that Christianity is often dismissed because of what many believe is an insufficient answer to this question - if you really think about it EVERY religion must deal with this difficult question. What is the purpose of pain and suffering within every walk of faith? Is it merely an illusion or is it real? Is there a purpose or is it random? Does it cycle ad infinitum or find a final resolution? So let's not pretend that Christianity is the only religion that must deal with it and give everyone else a free pass. It's a real problem and it's a real problem for every religion. That said, In the midst of intense pain and suffering I can see how someone might dismiss God - even hate Him - because of what they are having to endure. How could a loving God allow this to happen?
A REASON FOR EVERYTHING
I cannot tell you the divine purposes behind every pain and every suffering in this world or even for your specific pain. But let me tell you of a pattern I see in all of it. The Bible says that God is "always working for the good of those who love Him" (Romans 8:28) In other words, God has the sovereign power to make something eternally good come out of something horrifically bad. He can turn lemons into the ultimate lemonade (and I don't even like lemonade). Just look at the life of Joseph in Genesis. Despite the many sufferings he endured from his own brothers, in the end he has the wherewithal and perspective to tell them:
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." -Genesis 50:20And so, God has the ability to turn evil into good and sometimes we are forced to trust His heart when we cannot trace His hand.
A GREATER PURPOSE
When the Christian apologist William Lane Craig was challenged with the problem of pain and suffering he shared something I found interesting. He said, in the places where pain and suffering is greatest, he has found the gospel of Jesus Christ is being spread the fastest. We point to dire places and situations like Africa and Asia where physical suffering is so intense and shake our fists and ask "Where is God in all of this?", but ironically it is in these very places that so many are coming to faith on a daily basis and finding an eternal salvation. As C.S. Lewis wrote:
"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."Maybe. Just maybe God sometimes redeems great pain and suffering by using it to speak into the hearts of those He dearly loves and who have otherwise chosen not to hear Him. Maybe in His eternal wisdom, He thinks a little suffering on earth, will not compare to an eternity apart from Him.
It's hard for me to see my kids get shots from our pediatrician. Really hard. And even when they look up at me with their tear-filled and incredulous eyes, I still don't choose to shield them from that momentary pain, because I know in the end, it will save them from a far greater pain and the effects of a far greater disease. What kind of parent would not do this?
THE ULTIMATE PAIN
As I described in an earlier post (see HERE) while watching my wife suffer during our Code Blue episode, "there is nothing more humbling than seeing the one you love suffer so greatly....and being powerless to stop it. Nothing."
I have been so humbled by all of this that I would not wish this experience on my worst enemy. But here is the kicker: In the gospel we do not find a God who is aloof to pain. Nor do we see Him dismiss it as a mere illusion. We see the exact opposite. We see a God who recognizes that pain is very real and that it is horrific. In fact, He thought it was so horrific that the Bible says God Himself stepped into time and space, entered into our world and endured a pain and suffering none of us could dare to fathom. He chose to deal with the problem of pain and suffering head on. He did not have to - but He chose to. This is why we call His grace so amazing.
I have heard (and believe) that the greatest pain one person could ever be forced to endure is to see their very own child suffer and die. I can't imagine. I seriously can't. My friend, Joe is having to deal with a son who has a rare form of leukemia. If the cancer cannot be beaten into remission and if they cannot find a bone marrow donor match - his son Andrew will die (please register! see how HERE). My heart breaks for him. As hard as it is for me to see my wife suffer, I can't imagine the horror of seeing my own child suffer and being powerless to stop it.
Now imagine not only watching your very own son suffer, but choosing to allow him to suffer. What parent would do this?
"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" -Romans 8:32God loved us so much that He gave us His very own Son. He chose Him to suffer so we would not. What kind of love is this? And how could I deserve it?
So let's not insult God when we endure our own pain and suffering by dismissing Him as unloving or uncaring or non-existent. He gave us His very own Son - what more must He do to prove His love towards us?
A FINAL RESOLUTION
God deals with pain and suffering through His Son and not only that, He promises a final resolution to it all. The Bible states that for everyone that has believed in His name and who enters heaven"
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." -Revelation 21:4Not only that, His promise is that He will restore everything that is evil and wrong back to the way it should be. I can't wait.
All of us are facing some pain or some suffering. But be of good courage my friend. It is a big problem - but not one that God cannot and has not already solved.
Allow me to close with one last thought. About 6 years ago when xanga was around (and when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I wrote one of my most favorite journal entries of all time. It was entitled "A Father's Love". Please read it below - it will tie everything together I hope.
Sometimes the deepest truths are learned through the simplest means. A dear older friend once told me a long time ago, that when you become a father it will open up a new chamber in your heart that you didn’t think was possible. I couldn’t really understand what he meant – but I’m beginning to now. You are given a capacity to love that frankly you didn’t know you were capable of.
I love my sons. I love them more than myself. I didn’t think that was possible. When I go into Caleb’s room late at night – I’ll just sit and stare at him sleeping. Freaky….I know. Then I’ll tuck him in and whisper, “I love you.” I don’t think he ever hears me but I want him to dream about my love for him. I want him to know me…and I want him to know how much I love him. He can’t do much for me…he’s only three and a half years old. Perhaps grab a tv remote when I’m too lazy to get up, or a pair of socks – but nothing I can’t already do for myself. But he loves being around me and I love being around him. He’ll wake up early in the morning just so he can see me before I leave for the day. He’ll come to the bathroom and after I shave – he’ll want to shave. When I put on my belt he always insists on doing the last part. When I sit on the bed and put on my black socks he’ll sit next to me and do the same – what can I say? He wants to be like me. And every morning as I walk out the garage door he says the same thing, “Ah-bah, be careful. Don’t bump into any cars.” I watch him at the door as the garage door is going down and when it’s halfway down I see him scurry back upstairs – he only came downstairs for me. When I come home from work he runs at me at full speed and laughing to give me a "collision hug" – and no matter how hard a day it’s been – it makes me smile. There is no greater thing than seeing your own children happy - especially when you are the source of their joy.
I’ve learned so much about God’s love towards me since being a father myself. I’ve realized more and more His love towards me is not conditional upon what I can “do” for him…because frankly, there’s nothing I can do for Him that He can’t already do Himself. He just wants me to know him…and know how much He loves me. He wants me to wake up early and meet Him and strive to be more like Him. He wants me to be happy and I am only completely happy in Him. And I am certain it brings Him great pleasure when He is the source of my joy. The irony is that He gave up His only Son – so that I could be His child…so that I could be with Him. What is love? I’m beginning to understand it…and yet in some ways it has become a greater mystery to me.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:16