The Problem of Pain & Suffering – Part 1

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By Slim Killens

“Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, and there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?…But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”…In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” Job 1:8,11, 22. NKJV

The problem of pain and suffering is a subject that demands more than what can be fairly expressed here in such limited time and space.  Like most people, I too, have pondered the difficulties people face regarding the issue of Pain and Suffering. Understanding these difficulties is for most people a hard pill to swallow.  The Christian worldview on suffering is often in contrast to that of a secular worldview. For the believer, our hope rests in Christ Jesus who has overcome the power of death through his crucifixion and resurrection – and that hope of glory will be revealed in those who put their trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior – presently and continuing into everlasting eternity – as stated in the scriptures.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18 NKJV

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39. NKJV

As a Christian, I teach and believe that “God has always been and continues to be All-powerful and All-loving.” However, this position still remains ‘a stumbling block’ for many. If the statement above is true about God, then why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?  Some of the greatest minds in history, both religious and secular, have wrestled with the age-old-question.  Men such as Job, Moses, King Solomon, Homer, Socrates, Apostle Peter and Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, David Hume, Voltaire, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.  Even ordinary people like you and I are seeking understanding.  It is perhaps the most important, yet difficult questions of all time.  It is a question which most of us feel very uncomfortable dealing with, especially when experiencing chronic pain.  However, we cannot easily escape its presence. Each day we are either personally experiencing pain or we know a family member or a friend currently effected by it. 

In the past few months this question has been presented to me by several people, and for some discussion of this subject is very emotional. However, what most people have failed to understand or conveniently refuse to acknowledge is that pain and suffering was and still is caused by man’s willful disobedience to God.  Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden of Eden, set in motion the Fall, that has unfortunately produced what we call, Paradise lost (the cessation of ultimate perfection causing instead pain, suffering and death).  Since sin entered the world, whether by human agencies or through natural disasters, all mankind without exception are subject to the penalty of death.  Its permanent mark is still reflected throughout human societies from ancient past, even up to the present. 

The first recorded homicide in human history was Cain murdering Abel, (see Genesis 4:8), bringing forth pain and suffering to our first parents. God’s children, those who are called righteous, have suffered persecution from the beginning by the hands of the unrighteous men.  Although challenging, pain and suffering has been explored significantly throughout the Word of God.  It has been examined in great lengths, and when properly understood, it is considered one of the chief cornerstones of our Christian faith.  Jesus Christ being our perfect example, whose obedience to the Father became the Substitutionary Atonement for us all – allowing himself to be wrongfully accused, to be tortured and crucified on the cross for the sins of the whole world. He was buried and on the third day rose with all authority and power over the heavens and the earth (see Isaiah 53:3-5; Matthew 26:55-68, 28:18; John 3:16-17; Acts 2:22-24; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 12:2).  In America, and other nations, one of the greatest challenges made by atheist, non-religious, and even some religious people attempting to attack the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving God – is the question of why pain and suffering? Throughout history there have been dissenters, but there have also been very capable Christian apologists soundly responding to these objections.

I will discuss my dialogue with two University of California Berkeley students in part-two of this series The Problem of Pain and Suffering.  As Christians we believe strongly, in the Redemptive Value of pain, suffering and death. It is based on the Genesis 3:15 protoevangelium stated almost six thousand years ago in the garden of Eden, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” referring to the good news of the Gospel that would be brought forth through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection which is the only power capable of restraining Satan’s death grip on humanity.  It was fulfilled almost two-thousand years ago covering (ancient history and will continue into the future until the complete restoration of all things), better known as Paradise restored; where there will be no more pain, no more sorrow and no more death.  Christ is now Victor.  Even through suffering, it is the blessed hope all faithful Christians await.

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such thing declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out they would have had opportunity to return.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:13-16 NKJV

In my studying, I am convinced that the Christian faith provides the most reasonable and best answers to the challenges of pain and suffering. However, it is likely a majority consensus ‘that all pain and suffering should be totally eradicated’ since it seems to produce no intrinsic or real redemptive value – physically, psychologically, emotionally or spiritually. It is my hope that some of the answers provided here will be helpful to you.  Especially those who cannot bring themselves to believe in an All-loving and All-powerful God that does nothing but allows people to suffer through severe chronic pain, or those who feel helpless to assist their love one’s who are suffering.  Of course, this response is based on emotions more than facts. The Scripture depicts great men and women of the Old and New Testament who faithfully experienced pain and suffering while trusting in the faithfulness of God. Consider the life of Job, Joseph, the prophets, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, Jesus Christ and His apostles, and even today the universal Christian church. It was and has been through severe persecution of the Church – pain, suffering and death – that the light of the Christian faith grows bright and brings about redemptive value or real church growth, as was experienced in the first-century (see Acts 8:1-4).  Despite, the fact that God’s children frequently experience pain and suffering in this world (see Psalm 116:15), we can always find solace and comfort from the Word of God that gives us everlasting hope. 

“…Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trail of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  They were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.  And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” Hebrews 11:35-40 NKJV

These verses are scarcely preached in American churches today since they represent something negative, or considered anathema. Many American Christians are more inclined to prefer the self-gratification of positive confession (health, wealth and prosperity) then taking up their cross and following Jesus Christ.  This is inconsistent with the general message found in scriptures.  History frequently demonstrates that a child of God who faithfully puts his/her trust in the True and Living God, will often experience severe persecution at the hands of unrighteous men. And although pain and suffering does not exclusively apply to God’s people alone, many atrocities have been acted out on much of humanity throughout history in various times and places. The god of this world, has consistently shown hatred towards Christianity around the world – often mocking, vilifying, persecuting and killing them in order to justify their immoral, sinful and unjust laws.  However, God honors those who are faithful towards Him, even during their trials and tribulations. He blesses them and give them an enduring peace that this world can never understand, until they turn their heart to Jesus Christ.  The Word of God consistently confirms to those of faith that redemptive value, despite the Fall, can be discovered through pain, suffering and death.

“So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head…Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.….And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” Job 2:7, 10b; Job 42:10 NKJV

“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange things happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when Him glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.” I Peter 4:12-13. NKJV

Naturally, difficulties mount when acting as a care giver for an infant child, adolescent or adult that requires a series of surgical operations due to some major health issue or catastrophic injury. Our helplessness and inability to relieve those suffering strongly effects our emotional, physical and spiritual well-being often influencing our misconceptions about God.  This burden is often unbearable causing additional pain and suffering for some (divorce, alcoholism, suicide, etc.), while others are able to take suffering in stride and deal with it more gracefully as they seek to resolve and understand the meaning behind the pains and sufferings they are going through.   The Word of God comforts His people with these word during difficult times.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7. NKJV

In part-two of this three-part series The Problem of Pain and Suffering we will respond to the questions presented to me by two University of Berkeley students regarding the God that has the power to eliminate pain and suffering in the world, but refuses to.