Before you read on, one thing to say and one thing to ask.
The ask: watch the short video in the link above.
To say: As I share these thoughts with you today, I am so aware that this is probably a topic sensible people would stay away from.
I certainly don’t want to make light of people’s deep personal suffering, the suffering of devastated communities or the impact felt Globally of unexplainable tragedies.
But people keep asking. So, here are my best thoughts on the subject of suffering to date – and I haven’t stopped thinking about it yet. Be warned though, if there is an answer to this question, I haven’t found it, not entirely anyway.
I can think of at least three ways in which suffering invades our world:
Suffering in a community
Personal suffering: I read recently of a young man who after years of saving and dreaming, finally achieved his dream of serving the poor in Equador. At the airport, he realises he forgot to leave his mum a little note before he set off. Conscious of the time, he scrambles around for a piece of paper and hastily writes his thanks on one side – the other side already had something printed on it.
Glenn Chambers posted his note and boarded his flight. Several hours into the trip, the plane crashes into the 14,000 feet high Colombian peak El Tablazo.
The next day, as his mother is recieving the news no parent should ever hear, a note is delivered form her son. She recognises the handwriting, but when she flips the little piece of crumpled paper over, the second side is taken.
Just one word, printed in bold black letters – WHY?
I recall as a kid visiting the mining town of Aberfan in Wales. The town had endured an unspeakable tragedy in 1966 when the mountain of coal from the coal mine located beside a primary school, experienced essentially a coal land slide burying the school and its inhabitants in thousands of tons of black rock. 116 kids and 28 adults died. Can a community ever recover?
Global suffering: This week I have watched, as you have, the unfolding story of the battle of the Somme as we remember the 100th year of this most brutal battle of World War One.
World wars, famine. Earthquakes, Tsunamis.
Before we go any further, lets see if you can endure passing by what many consider to be the typical Chrisitan responses to these questions and then just maybe we might just come across something we haven’t considered before.
Harsh Truth 1: Some suffering is brough upon ourselves. A result of our free will – If we steal we go to jail, if we get drunk and fall over (as I did many times) we hurt ourselves.
Harsh Truth 2: Some suffering is thrust upon us as a result of the actions of others. A result of their free will – If a married person cheats, their partner, their kids suffer. Corporations or Governents make mistakes, unintentionally or sinisterly and people suffer.
In the investigation into the Aberfan disaster the coal board who ran the pit were found to be at fault.
The unfair distribution of food in delveloping nations causes suffering.
I know you know all this.
Some estimates suggest as much as 95% of the suffering in the world can be explained in one of these ways – the ripple effect of our own poor choices or the forced upon us consequences from the actions of others.
That leaves 5% of the suffering in the world that we do not have an explanation for.
Is there a reason? Let me ask another question first.
Of all the knowledge there is in the universe, how much of it can you know?
3%? 7%? 1%? More? Less?
Let’s say you are a genius so you reckon you know 3% of all the knowledge there is to be known in the Universe. (Dream on)
That leaves even for geniuses, 97% of all that can be known Unknown. Is it possible in the 97% that we do not know, that there is something we don’t know about suffering?
It is not enough to say God does not initiate suffering but allows us free will, that only makes people more mad at God!
We can say however, that according to the Bible, the God we get mad at has experienced suffering too.
In fact we can go further and say the God you are mad at went thought excruciating suffering …for you!
Overwhelmed by suffering? He knows what it’s like: ” Mark 14:33/34 My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death.”
Did you hope for a late escape and didn’t get one? he knows what that’s like: ” Matthew 27:46 My God My God why have you forsaken me.”
Your Heavenly Father is acquainted with suffering! Your saviour Jesus is aquatinted with suffering!
If we still don’t have an answer for suffering, at least we know what the answer isn’t:
It isn’t because God doesn’t love us, He loved us by enduring the loss of his own son, his own agony.
It isn’t because he’s indifferent, Jesus willingly suffered in order that he could relate to our suffering. (And more)
Some say: “If there is a God why do we suffer?” It’s a heartfelt and sincere question.
But I say, ” If there is no God why do we not suffer even more!”
Finally (almost) what about what Mark, the man form our clip who endured the loss of his own 18 month old baby girl. What did he say again?
Something about Heaven, something about in Eternity it may all make sense?
Eternity has no end, did you know that? Eternity has an equivalent in mathematics (I think that’s right) called Infinity…
A number that has no end. When you leave this earth you enter a new phase of Life that has no end.
God suffered so you can spend eternity outside of pain and suffering. Jesus died so one day, your suffering can end.
Please keep reading…
Back to eternity and infinity…
Clever people tell me that because infinity (numerical equivalent of eternity) has no end, if you divide any number by it the answer is always zero (0). Stay with me almost there…
Example: One divided by infinity is zero, a million divided by infinity is still zero, you get the idea?
What am I saying?
In light of eternity and as real as your pain is:
Once in Eternity it will all amount to zero!
If you live to be 100 in light of eternal life you have lived Zero.
If you only live to 18 months in this world compared to life in eternity you lived as long as a one hundred year old – Zero!
Did you have a bad decade? A bad month? A bad day? In light of eternity which can be free of suffering it will amount to – (change of word) Nothing!
God sees your temporary suffering and invites you into a suffering free forever when: ” He will wipe away every tear = suffering Will be no more because the reason for suffering is no more.
The main life is the next one and the next one is the last one!
I haven’t even mentioned how the devil (He’s real) causes suffering yet!
But if you trust in God now even in the midst of suffering he becomes an irrelevance anyway.
Whatever you are going through, whenever you are going through it, remember his invitation:
” John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in HIm will not perish but have eternal life.”
You were born into a world of suffering, separated from God by sin, don’t leave this world the same way.
Finally, finally, while some people are the cause of suffering, many others are used to bring healing. In the same way we wouldn’t celebrate alone, don’t suffer alone either; and If I may say this, when you need us, we are here.
Just my thoughts, and remember, I haven’t finished thinking about this yet. You are welcome to your own.