If we trust Him, there are many things we will willingly do for God. We will change our lifestyle in fundamental ways. We will alter our character in difficult ways. We will redefine basic ethics and change our morality. We will alter our relationships as we change our way of interacting with people. We will redefine basic relationships—what is involved in being a good wife, a good mother, a good person, etc. or what is involved in being a good husband, father, person, etc. We will reinterpret things like world view and the purpose of life. We will make conscious personal sacrifices that others regard as acts of foolishness.
The list of things “on the table” to be seriously considered
for the person who trusts God is lengthy.
However, one thing unlikely to be on many people’s list is any form of
painful suffering. Rarely do people
see a spiritual element to any form of suffering that involves pain.
Often we acknowledge there can be a spiritual link between privation and
spiritual dedication, but a spiritual link between pain and spirituality is
When suffering produces pain, the objective is to eliminate the pain and thereby destroy the suffering. “Needless” suffering is generally regarded as unintelligent at best and irresponsible at worst. A society that cannot escape common forms of pain for which there is an affordable, accessible remedy is regarded as primitive, uninformed, or economically depressed. To discover and address the specific cause of a suffering that was previously unknown is considered a laudable breakthrough. If a person is dying from a cause that cannot be addressed, the objective becomes “making the person comfortable”—the elimination of pain.
I certainly realize elimination of all forms of suffering is a complex discussion. The typical person does not consider this discussion. I do not pretend to have the answers—or even know all the questions. I merely wish to point to the spiritual connection between suffering and evil. This is done in the consciousness that likely more questions will be raised than answered.
The Biblical Affirmation of the Link
The Bible presents the original existence as one without suffering or shame (Genesis 2). It is specific in declaring that one of the specific consequences of evil existing in this physical world is suffering. As a result of rebellion, woman’s pain in the process of childbirth would “greatly multiply” (Genesis 3:l6—NASV) and man would toil (or sorrow) as he produced food from the ground (Genesis 3:17-19).
When in only three chapters people have gone from totally good (Genesis 1:31) to totally evil (Genesis 6:5), God’s reaction was expressed in sorrow terms—sorry and grieved in his heart (Genesis 6:6). Human yielding to evil resulted in what humans’ would best understand as sorrow or grief. Human evil produced deep divine sorrow! The existence and influence of evil in the physical realm produced divine sorrow. As a righteous human existence yielded to evil intentions, God had sorrow.
Further, discovering God’s righteousness commonly resulted in sorrow. When people rejected evil, evil frequently caused suffering. Noah heard his friends die, lived on a boat loaded with animals, and was aware that the only human association available to any immediate family member was the immediate family. Abraham left most of his family, lived in danger among those who wished they could destroy him, endured the disappointment of Lot’s self-centered choice, and lost a son because his wife could not tolerate that’s son’s presence. Isaac was a lonely blind man who was a poor father and lived in a less than desirable marriage. Jacob deceived his own brother and, later, endured enormous family turmoil and deception. Imagine a popular, successful man like David being reduced to living among enemies, acting as a mentally unbalanced person to save his life, and becoming the leader of a group of rejected people. Consider the prophets in the Old Testament. Seeking God’s way, doing the right things, and following God’s ways commonly resulted in hardships, increased the personal conflict between righteousness and evil, and produced suffering. Often those people regarded as significant figures of righteousness in the Old Testament endured suffering.
If one considered people in the New Testament, there would be the rejection and injustices endured by Jesus, the deaths of the apostles, the Christians who were imprisoned, the Christians who were martyred, the hardships of Paul, and Christian persecution in general. Dedication to righteousness was not an escape from suffering. Jesus, early in his ministry, made that quite clear in Matthew 5:10-12.
The call issued through the first century gospel was not the call to escape physical injustice and suffering. In fact, the gospel call seemed to be opposite from a call to leave physical suffering. Consider such statements as those made in Acts 9:15, 16; 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 2:11-21; and Revelation 1:9. Christians would not triumph through insurrection, military might, political efforts, economic agendas, a favorable government, or social outcry. Never were first-century Christians urged to adopt any of those approaches. Christians would prevail in an extremely hostile age through perseverance, providing an example of how to live daily life, and maintaining faith in the active God who provided people Jesus Christ.
If the writer understands the biblical affirmation correctly, the biblical affirmation is fascinating. First, it affirmed that human arrogance, deception, and self-justification resulted in the action of rebellion against God. That rebellion had as one of its major consequences the human experience of pain or suffering. As a consequence of rebellion against the God who sought only their good, a major result was suffering for the woman and the man. The primary avenue for the experience of suffering would be different, but they both would suffer.
Second, God conquered evil and began reversing the consequences of evil through Jesus’ suffering. The human tendency has been to “see” Jesus’ pre-death and death experiences as having to do primarily with human needs. These human needs were produced by people's inability to deal victoriously with their struggle against evil. Thus the human selfish-view of Jesus’ sufferings primarily had to do with only human needs. This view had nothing to do with injustice to God.
Humans further insulated God from any form of the suffering dilemma by affirming God cannot experience suffering. Thus God received little to no consideration in Jesus’ death because Jesus’ death and suffering were about human need—divine need was ignored.
There are at least two consequences God endured as a result of human rebellion. The first consequence: The companionship/relationship that existed between God and humans was destroyed. The second consequence: Those whom God made in His own image rebelled against God. In some manner that diminished God’s ability to be the all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Thus, the restoration made possible in Jesus’ suffering and death was focused on two considerations. The restoration of human permanent companionship between people and God. AND. . . the restoration of God to His rightful position/place as the ALL IN ALL. Jesus’ suffering and death addressed both restorations. Though both are intertwined, they each represent separate and distinct needs.
Virtually every attempt to produce the “ideal” physical existence for humans in this physical world addresses the experience of human suffering. The ideal physical existence always features or is based on this implication: physical suffering does not exist. There is no physical limitation caused by the experience of pain, and nothing that was attempted resulted in a continuing pain experience. Pain, if it occurred, was only a temporary experience that could be promptly addressed (and made unnecessary). When (if) pain existed, it heightened the person’s joy in his/her sense of achievement.
As an illustration, consider the advent of penicillin. The laboratory discovery of the substance named penicillin occurred in the late 1920s. The first cures of some diseases occurred in the very late 1930s. It was used with rather dramatic effect in World War II. It was mass produced for general use as medicine in the mid-1940s.
I grew up in a rural situation. Generally, people did not seek medical attention unless a serious problem arose. (In the days of my childhood, doctors often made house calls.) Of the early medical memories I have is this. If one went to the doctor or the doctor came to see him/her, the patient received a shot of penicillin—whether the shot was specifically needed or not. In those days, the shot “could do no harm,” and it might do a lot of good. It was the ”miracle medicine” that could cure problems considered previously incurable. It was “the” medication that opened the door to the foreseeable cure of all disease.
Now it is over fifty years later. Now there are super-diseases on the scene that were unknown then. Now we wonder how we will attack diseases and infections that seem impervious to the attacks of today’s medicines. We are so far from freedom from suffering through the cure of disease that now the hopes placed in penicillin just over fifty years ago seem ridiculous. The sources that cause suffering seem endless. The sources that truly attack suffering seem limited. No informed person anticipates existence in a physical world that has conquered suffering.
There is a vast difference between suffering for no reason and there being purpose in one’s suffering. In many ways both experiences are alike. Both contain regret and frustration. In both there are “longings” based on “what ifs.” In both there is agony. Physical limitations do not change.
Then why is there an overwhelming sense of hopelessness in suffering for no reason, and a valued sense of direction in suffering for a purpose? It is in the person grasping that there is a reason behind the experience.
There are many things the reason will not eliminate. It will not eliminate the longing to do what one did before the suffering came. It will not eliminate the frustration as one adjusts yet again to the loss of abilities as the problem advances. It will not address the desire just to feel good. It will not deal with the yearning to discover new physical joys or return to the treasured joys of the past.
However, the understanding that there is direction in the experience is invaluable. Even in the worst moments, the person can say to self, “This experience verifies that I am part of a struggle that is bigger than me. What I endure serves a purpose bigger than I am—even if I cannot see it at the moment. My issue is not about what I cannot do or experience, but it is about who I am. This experience merely provides me another context in which I can reveal who I am. My struggle will not end, but who I am will not change.”
David's Home Page