Human Suffering In Today's Society: The Problem Of Human Suffering
In the last treatise dealing with the problem of human suffering this writer found himself unable to make it a complete unit within itself, as was the case with the first two installments. I cannot present this material without dividing it into two parts. This is, therefore, a continuation of the last installment.
The problems associated with suffering are of a serious nature to most people. While we do not have all of the answers to all of the questions that are raised about the problem, what is known is sufficient to satisfy one in this life. Moses said, ". . . those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law." There are some things that God has not revealed about suffering (Deut. 29:29). We do not need all the answers as badly as we need to learn and understand what the Bible does say about the subject. In the comic strip, "Peanuts," Charlie Brown comes to Lucy and says, "I've got a problem! What is it?" Lucy says in reply, "the problem is you, Charlie Brown." He then said, "I know that, but that is not what I asked you. I want to know what the solution is." We definitely know the problem of human suffering; the solution is a different matter. It is with this that these writings concern itself.
In our last installment, we learned that suffering is one of the ancient problems of the world, one of the most widespread problems and the most frustrating, next to the problem of sin. Various solutions have been offered: (1) Some say atheism is the answer. They look at the imperfections in the world and find God's existence incompatible with them. But the lack of suffering in the world is not the only way of knowing that there is a God. Besides one only complicates the problem by taking the route of atheism as the easy way out. The atheist still has to contend with suffering! Too, what about the perfections that do exist? If imperfections prove there is no God, then would not the many, many more perfections that exist prove that there is a God? God is not some cruel monster who inflicts people with suffering. Suffering did not originate with Him. (2) Some say that the law of retribution is the answer. The idea that one deserves to suffer because he sins was the philosophy of the three friends of Job in the book that bears his name. Saying that suffering is in proportion to and directly associated with one's own personal sin is not biblical. God does not punish one for sin by inflicting suffering. Some suffering does result from sin (see the past installment, "The Way of The Transgressor Is Hard"). But if retribution (punitive) is the cause of suffering, then how is it that our Lord suffered when He did no sin (Heb. 4:15)? And what about Job (Job 1:1)? (3) Some tell us that the removal of all suffering would solve the problem. The principle of the thorn in the flesh in the case of the Apostle Paul illustrates that the "peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" would be missed if all suffering were nonexistent (Heb. 12:11; 2 Cor. 12:7-9). Satan sent Paul's thorn, but God gave grace with which to bear it. He does this to all of us. There is strength in weakness!
How Suffering Comes
(1) Some Suffering Is Brought About By Nature. Because this is so, good people (i.e., converted people) suffer in that conversion does not change our physical bodies (1 Pet. 3:21). It is the inner man that is changed and because of it the Christian is tempted as much as is the non-Christian (Rom. 6:1-17). God does not change natural order simply because a saint must suffer in consequence of violation of natural law.
(2) Some Suffering Is Brought About By One's Personal Sin. Such was the case with king David who lusted after a woman bathing, committed adultery with her, engaged in deception with her husband and finally had him killed at the front line of battle (2 Sam. 11:2ff). The summary of his agony of hardship following sin is recorded in these words: is ". . . . and my sin is ever before me" (Psa. 51:3-4). As a man sows so shall he reap. We (in New Testament times) can prevent this kind of hardship in that having been cleansed by the blood of Christ in baptism (Eph. 1:3, 7; Acts 19:1-5), we can "be holy and without blame before him in love" (Eph. 1:4). We are not perfect and might sin, but the blood of Jesus makes us blameless after we confess it (1 Jn. 1:7-9). We do not have to sin (1 Jn. 2:1-2). John wrote the epistle of 1 John "that we sin not" (1 Jn. 2: 1). Certainly a child of God will not serve sin (1 Jn. 3:6-9, note the tenses, i.e., will not practice sin). We know that one who walks in the light will not practice sin which is unto death (I Jno. 3:8; 5:16). "He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not" (1 Jn. 5:18). In resisting Satan's temptations, I avoid many hardships. Our Lord's position as an advocate enables us to do this (1 Jn. 1: 1-2).
(3) Some suffering Is Brought About By Persecution. Look at what Peter says, "yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf" (1 Pet. 4:15). We do not suffer because we conform to the world, but because we do not conform (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 4:3-5, 14-17; 5:8-9). 1 am seeing very little suffering among my brethren even though the Bible says, "all that will live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). 1 suspect that it is due to our lack of militancy against the world, and too much conformity to it.
The Prevention of Suffering
At this point in the series on human suffering it needs to be pointed out that the prevention of suffering is not a matter of Jehovah not being able to stop it! God has the power to limit Himself, or He does not have all power (Jer. 19:5). He has limited Himself in the way He created man and the universe as a dwelling place. If He prevented suffering, He would disrupt His whole system. Everything that is essential to man's well-being has been provided (we live in an ideal world that cannot be improved upon). His omnipotence precludes changing anything and if He changed one thing this principle would be violated. God's laws are perfect and man brings suffering upon himself by violating God's law. He must suffer the consequence of the violation of law. So, when Jehovah created the universe as an ideal world, He limited Himself. Some things are impossible with Him by virtue of perfect creation. God could not create two mountains without a valley, He could not create a round square or be in and out of something at the same time. The prevention of suffering is impossible in view of the idealness of this present system. God's law stands and is not broken. Man breaks himself against law.
What is true in nature is true in the moral realm as well. "That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie . . . " (Heb. 6:18). James says, "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man" (1:13). Suffering is not sent from God and it is sheer ignorance to blame Him with that for which He is not responsible.
Having made man a creature of choice and with the freedom to make decisions, God holds man accountable for his actions. What this means is that Jehovah went into partnership with man. "Man proposes" and "God disposes" (ancient proverb). Man, being what he is, has the deciding vote. He suffers in consequence of his decisions. The opposite is true, too. We often say, "If God wills, we will do thus and thus." It is possible for man to will and for God to carry the thing out (Jas. 4:15). The point is that man was created with the ability to make decisions and God holds him accountable for whatever decision he makes. This is how he made man and the world in which he lives (this is what I mean by the "ideal world" that cannot be improved upon). Man sometimes makes the wrong decisions and must suffer because of it. God wants the church pure but men bring in corruption. Jehovah wants the truth taught, but men teach error. Whatever the outcome of his (man) decisions, it is man that has the deciding vote. This is exactly what Peter is teaching in 2 Peter 3:9 not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." This is what makes man different from lower animals, i.e., the ability to say "no!" to his Maker. Man would be some kind of machine or robot if this were not the case, and would not be responsible for his actions. Honor is not honor when it is forced! We see this principle in life. For example, one's compliment paid to me is most important. My bragging is of no value at all.
How Does This Fit Into The Suffering Problem?
This fits into the Problem of suffering in this way: God limits Himself by virtue of perfect creation and the problem of sin which He did not create. Having made man free to choose, man is free to sin and must suffer the consequences. If God removed the suffering then man would go on rebelling and sinning without fear of penalty. This would destroy God's justice (Rom. 11:22; 6:23).
If God eliminated suffering in this life, He would have to eliminate it in the hereafter. If fear of the penalty is removed, then there would be no restraint on sin. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Cor. 5:11). Our land has already been ruined by removing penalties for crimes committed. The result is unrestraint and anarchy.
Man must not play God and make exceptions where God has made no exceptions. Only God can make a temporary exception in His providence. But man does not have the right to say when and where this exception takes place. I may believe that in response to prayer providence makes an exception (note Paul's thorn in the flesh of 2 Corinthians 12:7 and "grace" provided, then read carefully Psalms 58:9-11). But whatever I believe on the matter has no bearing on what God will or will not do. One certainly would have no right preaching his personal conviction about God's exception if God has not revealed it in His Word. If there is a temporary exception to the consequence of sin, we will leave that to Jehovah. In the meantime, instead of asking (when I suffer because of my wrong decisions) "why me?" I should be asking, "Why not me?"
A Look At The Positive Side
So many times we dwell on the negative side when it comes to suffering with a "why me" attitude. We see the shadows, but very seldom look at the sunshine. There are so many good things that have happened to us, so why not say, "Look what has happened to me!" When our attitude is "thy will be done" (Mt. 6:10), we are praying that in ourselves the will of an infinitely good Father shall be done on earth as in heaven. It is a prayer that God's will be carried out in us.
(1) Christians Are The Most Fortunate People On Earth. They are a people to whom God has commended His love (Rom. 5:8). Because of this, they are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, having purified their souls in obeying truth (1 Pet. 1:18-23). They enjoy many, many blessings in Christ: a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17), reconciliation to God (Eph. 2:11-16), salvation (2 Tim. 2: 10), etc. Because of this, there is a spring in 'our steps, a spark in our hearts and the world can see the difference! There is a joy in the Christian that radiates to a darkened world testifying to the fact that the burden of sin has been lifted. Ask yourself, why has this happened to me? Why did Jesus do this for me? We cannot explain why Jesus paid the debt of sin for us, for it is an act of grace, but we enjoy it none-the-less, don't we?
(2) Christians Have The Best Insurance Policy In The World. This did not come from some agent representing an earthly insurance brokerage firm. It came from Christ Jesus Himself. This policy not only pays off in the event of death, it pays benefits in this life (Matt. 6:33). Now, if you want to ask questions, ask about this matter: "Why has Christ blessed me so?"
(3) Christians Have Royal Blood Flowing In Their Veins. We are a people of God (1 Pet. 2:9-10). We possess royalty and are a people who are accounted as vessels of mercy through whom is manifested the riches of God's glory (Rom. 9:23). How is it that I was at one time among those who were not a people, but now I am a part of people of God? Why has this happened to me?
(4) Christians Are Going On A Journey. We are taking a trip that is the most fantastic trip that we have ever made. In fact it is out of this world! We are going to leave this world and go to one from which our Saviour came (Phil. 2:6-11). The Son of God Himself is going to come for us and escort us into Heaven (Jn. 14:1-4). Why is He doing this for us? Why us?
(5) We Are Moving Into A New House. "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1).
The greatest lesson that we can learn from those who complain about suffering is ingratitude. Our favorite attitude should be gratitude. This gratitude expressed to God should be as regular as our heartbeat. Thank God that you are not like the atheist whose worse possible moment is when he feels grateful and does not have someone to whom to express this thanks. My friends, happiness comes when we stop wailing about the troubles we have, and offer thanks for all the troubles we don't have. Think of heaven: it is a state of thankfulness for having received what we did not deserve, and for not receiving what we did deserve. Yes, we are a people most fortunate and the thorns of life will never destroy that fact. Life is full of blessings that came from an all-loving Father full of tender mercies.
Shortly we must put off our tabernacles "even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed" us (2 Pet. 1:14). Can we say, "Come, lovely and soothing death, undulate round the world, serenely arriving, in the day, in the night, to all, to each, sooner or later, delicate death" (Walt Whitman)? Only by finding rest from sins in Christ and living faithfully can we hope for rest in the world eternal. "Some evening when the sky is gold, I'll follow day into the West; nor pause, nor heed, till I behold the happy, happy hills of rest" (Albert Paine).
We cannot follow the sunset into this everlasting rest until we reach out and take hold of Christ's hand in obedience now (Heb. 5:9). By grace are ye saved through faith (Eph. 2:8). The suffering in this life is but for a season when compared to an eternity of joy.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 15, pp. 459-461