Published April 19, 2012
Question: Why do innocent people have to suffer?
Answer: This is a good and tough question used by atheists and skeptics as a weapon against faith in a good and loving God. It is a question many believers are compelled to ask and answer.
The Book of Job, followed by many of the psalmists and prophets, faced this tough issue head on! The Drama of Job begins by setting the stage for the “blameless and upright” Job to become the personification of an innocent person who suffers beyond measure.
My mother used to say that no matter how bad off we are, there’s always someone worse off. Job stands out as Mr. Sufferer, whose very own wife told him to curse God and die. His somewhat “holier than thou” friends came with “explanations” that hurt rather than helped him. Although he did not follow either his wife’s or friends’ advice, he did vent his anguish and “contend with the Almighty.”
The Drama of Job closed without any comprehensive explanation for suffering. However, we are left with two invaluable insights spelled out in the beginning and at the end of the Book of Job.
First, this drama illustrates how true goodness exists in the context of freedom and is not hedged in within the confines of a controlled/protected setting; consequently, God allows Job to be tempted by Satan.
Second, what matters most is not understanding the behind-the-scenes mysteries of life, but experiencing the often subtle but sustaining presence and power of God!
That experience makes all the difference. It did for Job, who was never taken backstage but whose fundamental questions were answered when he experienced God’s questioning of him. While C.S. Lewis admirably tackled what he called “The Problem of Pain,” his best book on suffering, “A Grief Observed,” was written as he went through the grief of losing his wife to cancer.
In the midst of grief he raised a question that actually helps answer this problem: “Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable (within our finite minds)?”
Quite easily, I should think! Above all, he saw God sustaining his wife as she walked through the valley of death and stepped into eternity with faith and hope while he, like Job, vented with an ever patient God.
Who among us have not sensed God’s presence among the struggling and suffering, dying and grieving? Corrie ten Boom, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Mother Teresa experienced the presence of God in these real hells on earth: a Nazi concentration camp, a Russian gulag and a Calcutta slum.
The best answer for suffering is not found in the story of a “blameless and upright” Job, but in the Gospel of Jesus. God doesn’t sit back as evil and suffering rage on earth. God comes to live among us, suffer with us, go through a hell on earth and die for us.
Jesus took upon Himself our sins rooted in excessive self-centeredness that separate us from God and each other, that wreck bodies, families, communities and countries. He demonstrated God’s self-sacrificing love that alone can overcome the self-destructive self-centeredness at the core of our rotten-apple world. His Spirit not only comes into our lives to convert and change us, but to inspire and empower us to fight the good fight against evil and suffering.
While atheists may use “The Problem of Pain” as a weapon against faith, who are on the frontlines fighting against pain and suffering? Is it not true that the overwhelming majority of ministries to the addicted, abused, hungry, homeless, neglected and outcastes originated in the heart, mind and soul of Christians?
Who started the first hospitals and hospices, leprosariums and orphanages? Is it not true that the first to arrive and last to leave disaster relief teams have a current or historic tie to Christ? Who go to the ends of the earth to live where no tourist would ever visit in order to serve people who are suffering?
We may not be able to understand the incomprehensible mysteries of evil, but our Suffering Servant leads us to help solve or salve the pain!
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