by Grace Outlaw
Pain and suffering are an unfortunate, inevitable part of the human experience. We have all experienced hardship at some point in our lives, and we can all relate to the feeling of, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?”
This is particularly true in instances that aren't directly related to our actions (for example losing a loved one) as opposed to facing the consequences of our actions (ie losing our job because we continuously showed up late). But the truth is, bad things happen to all of us in this life. Every single one of us will experience pain, suffering, and hardship.
A Good God Wouldn't Let This Happen
I think one of the biggest hang ups non-believers have is the idea that a benevolent, all powerful God would not allow these hardships to happen, and to an extent I can understand that. But the bad things that happen to “good” people is a flawed question; one whose answer says more about humanity than it does about God.
The truth is there are no 'good' people and 'bad' people. We're all just people (sinners) who do both good and bad things – albeit some more than others on our human, and very relative, scale.
When humans were created we were given free will, and the outcome of humanity's choices resulted in our permanent separation from our all loving, all powerful creator. The result is that we live in a fallen world; one filled with pain, hardship, suffering, and death. And God did not cause that pain – but he has offered to save you from it.
If You Just Believe, It Will Get Better... right?
Another reason I think we struggle to reconcile a loving God with our earthly pain is because many Christians were wrongfully promised that a life in Christ would be 'wonderful', 'amazing', and 'perfect'! Many Christians also wrongfully believe that their hardship is brought upon themselves as a sort of 'divine karma'. Have you ever been told things like, “if you just pray more”, or “if you have enough faith”, “God won't give you more than you can handle”, or my personal favorite when experiencing a loss, “God just needed them in heaven with Him.”
Church... do better! These are not Biblical things to tell someone, or to believe! God is not sitting around waiting to fix a problem on earth because you aren't praying about it enough. He's not killing people off because he selfishly wants them in heaven with him. He's not allowing you to suffer from depression because he knows you can “handle it”. Pain is a part of the human experience, and Jesus outright tells us that a life following Him will be troublesome.
“I tell you these things that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
You WILL have trouble. This is a guarantee.
Believers sometimes have it harder. In fact, all but one of Jesus' twelve disciples was brutally killed for their faith in him. Even in the face of death they never recanted or changed their position on who Jesus truly was.
“But take heart, for I have overcome the world.”
It is HARD to think this way when you're experiencing immense pain. Trying to look at things from an eternal perspective is incredibly challenging. So much so that even Jesus asked God to spare him from his pain.
If It Is Possible
Jesus knew he was about to die in the most brutally, horrible way imaginable. Before he was crucified he prayed:
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Matthew 26:39
No one wants to experience pain and suffering. Even Jesus - both fully human and fully divine – asked that God spare him from his pain!
But it's what Jesus says next that matters most.
“Yet not as I will, but your will be done.” Matthew 26:39
Without Jesus' pain humanity would forever be separated from God. Even facing immense pain and suffering, Jesus trusted that God's will was in humanity's best interest, and we can be confident that God is for us too. The story of the Bible is one of God's unrelenting love and pursuit of us.
To be completely honest, there's no great answer here. There are no magic words to say to ease or comfort you in a dark period. It hurts. So what are we to do?
Never Cry Alone
According to Paul, Christians should be masters of empathy.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15
And of course, we see Jesus being a great example of this. When Lazarus died, he wept with Mary and the others. He mourned for his friend, despite the knowledge that he would raise him from the dead.
Nothing communicates sincere love and concern for others like sharing – truly sharing – in their successes and in their pain. When we allow ourselves to feel broken in another's season of heartache, we help them carry that burden.
At the time of creation, it was not God's intention for our hearts to experience grief, and maybe that's why it hurts so much. But sin's presence in the world makes grief a common experience for us all. Thankfully God did provide us ways to cope with that pain while still in this short, transitory life we live here on earth. In addition to sharing our burdens with each other, Jesus made us a promise...
He will wipe every tear … There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain …” (Rev. 21:4)
Evil and suffering are almost impossible to understand, especially in the face of immense pain. There's an entire branch of theology devoted to understanding it. But Jesus made it clear that on this side of the resurrection, things look different. And they will look different again one day (either when we leave this life, or after he returns). For now, we can cling to each other in the hard times, and trust that Jesus is right.