The Problem Of Human Suffering
As we think of the problem of suffering, we recognize that different people react differently to suffering. Some with minor problems of health act as if they have the most serious handicapped situation on earth. Others handle serious problems as if they had no problem at all. Someone has said, "If folks had more patience the hospitals wouldn't have so many patients. " It is sad to see little things in the way of pain and suffering ruining the lives of so many. This makes us appreciate those whose afflictions are great, yet are cheerful and helpful. Any form of illness though, is like a T.V. commercial - even a short one is too long. We have to cope with the problem of pain and suffering. Its reality cannot be denied.
Second Only To Sin
Suffering is a most tragic experience and there is hardly anything more traumatic. But the problem of suffering is second to sin. Sin is the oldest and the most serious problem facing mankind because it brings a death that is worse than physical death (Matt. 10:28; Rom. 6:23). One must bear this in mind with the understanding that suffering is not down-graded. Suffering bears with it consequences that are far-reaching in nature. It is an age-old problem that has been around almost as long as man. Its seriousness is seen in the fact that it can render a man in such a state of mind that it is difficult to reach him with the gospel. Besides the pain that suffering inflicts, it sometimes instills seed of frustrating doubt.
(1) Suffering Is The Second Most Wide-spread Problem. Sin is the most wide-spread problem, for all responsible people sin (1 Jn. 5:19; Rom. 3:23). Yet we know that "man is born into trouble, as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:6). Look at it: A young man dies in the vigor of youth or a daughter yet in her wedding attire. A mother dies of the dreaded disease at a time when her husband and children need her most. A bread-winner is taken and a family is left in great distress. There is simply no way to know the depth of this problem because we do not know what is kept bottled up inside of some people. "If every man's internal care were written on his brow, those who our envy share would have our pity now." But suffering is indeed a most inflicting, wide-spread problem, though second to sin.
(2) Suffering Is The Second Most Frustrating Problem. As can be seen from Isaiah 24, sin is the most frustrating problem of all. Yet the problem of frustrating that is associated with suffering poses one of the greatest problems of all. How frustrating it is to think that, if a man is good he should not have any pain and if he is wicked he should be suffering. Though this is an unscriptural concept, frustration is apparent when we try to unravel the question: "Why do good people suffer?" The thing that makes this so difficult is the fact that not all people understand that conversion affects directly the inward man only and not the outward tabernacle we live in (Rom. 6:6-7; 2 Cor. 4:16). Certainly many of the dissipating effects of sin upon the flesh are eliminated when one begins to live the Christian life, but conversion does not mean that we will not suffer bodily affliction. Though we are not of the world after conversion, we live in the world and the body will have to endure the same afflictions that it endured before coming into Christ. There is a difference though. That difference is what is in the tabernacle, the body, i.e., a new creature with a new out-look on life, a new attitude toward suffering and hope instilled therein. "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16).
The frustration of suffering is increased by the fact that people want to blame God. Oscar Wildle once said, "There is enough suffering in the streets of London to disprove God." I ask, "How can this be? How can anyone be driven to thoughts of unbelief when considering suffering?" As in the case of Epicurus (342-270 B.C.) who argued: if God wishes to prevent evil, but cannot, then He is not all powerful; if He can prevent evil, but will not, then He is not good. If he has both the power and the will to eliminate evil, then why is evil in the world) the problem is one of assumption. It is assumed that suffering is evil and that it has no good purpose. Suffering is not evil in and of itself. It is only instrumentally evil or good, depending on the use we make of it. When this is understood, the erroneous position that suffering and God cannot co-exist will not be entertained in the mind. Our Bible teaches us that God is all loving (1 Jn. 4:16), He knows all (1 Jn. 3:20), He is all powerful (Matt. 28) and He is all-wise (Psa. 147:5). Man would have to have perfect knowledge and be God to even question His ways. Man is not capable of knowing all there is to know about suffering. Read carefully Job 38 and understand that in the question, "Who is this that darkeneth -counsel by words without knowledge?" Jehovah shows that man has no right to question His moral goodness or government, His mercy and loving kindness, or His justice. The problem of suffering lies with man and not with God. Suffering should not cause us to go into unbelief. There is some good that comes out of suffering. The writer of Psalms 119:71 said, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes."
Yet the modern-day Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu think they have the solutions to the problem of suffering. Let us look at some solutions men offer today.
(1) Atheists say that the only feasible solution is infidelity. They maintain that the very presence of suffering makes the thought of the existence of God unthinkable. Walter Coffman himself said, "The problem of suffering is crucially important because it shows the God of popular theism does not exist" (The Faith of A Heretic). A present-day, widely known atheist by the name of Wallace Mattson said, "Only one argument is offered as a positive reason for believing that God does not exist. It is that his existence is incompatible with imperfections in the world" (The Existence of God, p. 135). So, the reasoning is that since we have trouble harmonizing our concept of suffering with what we know about God, just don't trouble yourself any more. Just Wipe God from your mind. They would have us simply take up the solution of not believing that there is a God as described in the Bible, and "presto!" your troubles are over. But I have a question: " Would the lack of suffering in the world be the only way we would know that there is a God?"
Anyone who seriously considers this proposal can see that it does not take a cousin of Solomon to recognize that such reasoning leaves no room for any wisdom except human wisdom (1 Cor. 1:21). But there is a lot of wisdom in this world other than that which is human (Rom. 1:20). How brazen are atheists who insist that their wisdom be accepted and that all other wisdom be rejected. Creatures of God need to know that there are some things that our minds are not programmed to do. It may insult us to know that there are some things we cannot know and some things we cannot do, but it is none-the-less true. I repeat, God simply has not programmed us to know all things and hence it is not possible to rightfully question His ways. Man is given the capacity to know only what he can handle. "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29). We are not designed to be omniscient (Rom. 11:33-34).
I contend that atheism is no solution to the problem of suffering! If I sought a solution to the problem in the realm of infidelity, I only compound and complicate the problem. As an atheist I would still have to contend with the problem of suffering. As such, what solution would I give and how would I explain it? Whatever I did as an atheist in trying to explain and resolve this problem would involve me (as an atheist) in a hopeless contradiction. I cannot possibly explain suffering from this standpoint without claiming for myself what I would deny in Jehovah! Look at it. Is the atheist claiming that God does not exist, or that He exists while not being all good? If God does not exist then how can there be evil in the world? All of this boils down to the fact that an atheist cannot so argue without appealing to some universal system of justice which evil (suffering) violates. But, if God does not exist, then there is no universal system of "rightness," and how could there be any such thing as evil? It would be good if the atheist would define that standard by which he determines that certain things are evil. Many have shown over and over that the atheist cannot do so and be consistent with his own philosophy.
One other thought: If imperfections prove there is no God then what about the perfections? There are more perfect things in the world than there are imperfect. There is more beauty than ugliness. Would these prove that there is a God? Don't you think we ought to be fair about the matter and look at the whole picture, the good and the bad?
(2) The world in general tell us that the solution to suffering is retribution. What is "retribution"? It is the idea that all suffering comes directly from and is in proportion to sin. It is the belief that one deserves to suffer because he sins and that the righteous do not suffer. We saw this idea espoused in the philosophy of the three friends of Job as recorded in the book that bears his name. The men of Melita felt that Paul deserved to suffer from the viper bite because they assumed that he was a murderer (Acts 28:4). When the people ask the Lord, "Master who did this sin? This man, or his parents?" (Jn. 9:1), they evidenced their belief in the law of retribution (cf. Lk. 13:2,4). But regardless of how popular the belief might be, it is not biblical. There is some suffering that comes from sin, but not in the sense implied and argued for in the theory of retribution. The doctrine of retribution tries to exonerate God, but it is not the answer. If you feel that it is the solution to suffering, then please explain how it is that our Lord suffered when He did no sin (Heb. 4:15).
(3) Some tell us that the removal of all suffering is the solution. But if we did remove all pain from our lives we would be doing away with the good that comes from it. There is a principle of good issuing from pain and suffering. Job said, "I shall come forth as gold" (23:10). Did not the writer of Hebrews 12:11 say, "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: never the less afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."
Let me indulge myself for a moment. You see, I can certainly identify with the "seemeth to be joyous" aspect of suffering because when I was a boy my father thought a peach tree was for raising children. His attitude toward it was, "I need thee every hour." But that peach tree brought me pain. My father used to say, "This 'is going to hurt me more than you." I could not understand why it was necessary for both of us to be hurt. After a few years, I understood what my father meant. If I had not had that disciplinary pain I would have missed out on something important in my life. I'm glad it was not eliminated in my life experiences.
The good in suffering is seen in that it contributes toward our future glory (Rom. 8:17). It also works patience, the ability to wait without worrying (Jas. 1:2). How we need this factor as we face the experiences of death, divorce, etc. The apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh and prayed three times that it might be removed. God said, "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Cor. 12:7-9). What would he have missed if the thorn had been eliminated? Please note that the passage shows with whom sin originates and that strength lies in weakness. If God removed all suffering we would not experience the strength that comes from it. This is important in life.
Human suffering is allowed by God for our good. Trying to find human solutions are fruitless. Trust God and His Word. "But he knoweth the way that I take," said Job, "when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). When we see suffering as God sees it and understand why He allows it, we can be like Job in recognizing the good that comes from it. If He removed all suffering and pain, we would miss out on so much! Let's start looking at pain through the eyes of Jehovah as revealed in Scripture.
One time a sweet lady had lost her husband and was grieved to the point that she was not responding to efforts to console her. The preacher went to see her and found her sitting on the porch embroidering. As he looked at the side of her work that was facing him, he said, "My, what a mess. There are so many knots and the design is not pretty at all." The despondent lady quickly countered, "But, you are looking at the wrong side!" She then turned the work over and handed it to the preacher, saying, "This is the side you should be looking at." The preacher said, "Ah, yes! And that's the way God wants you to look at the death of your husband. Turn it over and look at it as He sees it."
You may not be able to do anything about your suffering but you can do something about the guilt of sin that you experience. Baptism will save the believer (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21). You can have the guilt washed away in the blood of the Lamb of God (Acts 22:16). In doing this you prepare yourself for a painless life in the after-a-while and throughout all eternity. "Then my wearied spirit now longs to fly out of my troubled breast. 0 come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soul to rest." Another poet said, "Suffice it if my good and ill unreckoned, and both forgiven through thy astounding grace, I find myself by hands familiar beckoned unto my fitting place." Few have suffered as did the Apostle Paul. Yet he fought a good fight and kept the faith. He will receive a crown. How is it with you, dear reader?
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 12, pp. 358, 374-375