The Evil of Suffering-Part 1

This is a two-part article, Part 2 addresses suicide

May 9th, 2020
Author: Michael Dewar

Perhaps, you heard of the New York doctor who committed suicide after working heroically treating COVID-19 patients. As one who spent 28 years providing services to patients in a healthcare, hospital setting, I know firsthand the stress and pressure these excellent professionals go through. COVID-19 multiplies that stress 100 times over. I did not know this doctor personally but help me celebrate her heroic life and send condolence to her family. May the good Lord comfort them!

I now turn to discuss the subject of suffering but let me remind you again, I am not discussing the doctor; I cannot because I did not know her personally or the details surrounding her death. This could have happened to just about anyone. I only want to use this as a springboard to ask the lead question for this article. What could lead an accomplished healthcare professional or anyone else to take his or her life after rendering heroic service to save the lives of fellow human beings?

A thousand things could have converged in a person’s life to push him or her off a self-destructive cliff. There are also many things that could flash in a person’s mind at the last moment to pull him or her back from taking that fatal leap. Perhaps, the memory of a loving spouse, a young child, an elderly parent, religious faith. I want to focus on that last one, religious faith, but in the context of the evil of suffering. I will change “religious” to “Christian” because it is the faith of which I have more academic and experiential knowledge.

Suffering as Evil

In a previous article (on Face Book) I addressed the difference between sin and evil; you may want to look at that. Suffering is a subcategory of theodicy (the problem of evil). Suffering is irrational; the Christian faith has no reasonable explanation for it. In fact, it is our Achilles heel, our point of vulnerability. When a critic raises the question, why an all-powerful God who is good and benevolent allows suffering, especially of young children? Then asserts, it is either your God is not good and powerful as you say He is! At this point we begin to stutter because we have no rational explanation. Yet, deep within we know God is indeed all-powerful and good.

The book of Job in the Old Testament is the classical book on human suffering. Job was righteous man, a family man, a rich man that loved God (Job 1:1-3). Unbeknownst to Job, there was a discussion taking place in the heavens about him between God and Satan. At the end of that discussion, Satan is given permission to inflict suffering on Job, short of taking his life. As a result, Job lost his wealth, his family and his health. His suffering was long, excruciating and repulsive. At the end God shows up, talks with Job but gives him no explanation for his suffering. God gives him back a family, twice as much wealth and his prestigious standing in the community but no logical explanation for his suffering.

The Apparent Absence of God

Like Job, most people feel as if they have been left in the dark without an explanation for their suffering or why a good God should allow it. What are the lessons to learn here? I will reference three:

1) In our suffering it will appear as if God is absent, but He is not. He is right there. He may be silent, but He is surely not absent. This is where a strong well-informed faith is needed to pull you back from jumping off the cliff. The story of Job tells us that God was always present with Job in his suffering, but Job had no evidence of it. Yet Job did not abandon his faith in God. Job confidently declares, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him…” (Job 13:15). That is faith at work in suffering. Lesson? Do not cast away your faith when life gets dark and tough.

2) The cross of Jesus Christ is another example that God is neither oblivious nor absent in our suffering. We Christians say that Jesus is God in the flesh or in human form. If that be so, what is God doing on a cross? He is there dying at the hands of his enemies for his enemies. Lesson? Through Christ, God has entered the human experience; He can be “touched with the feelings of our infirmities” (Heb.4:14-16).

3) Jesus in His suffering felt abandoned by His Father; He felt the absence of His Father. That is why He cried out: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt.27:46). It is natural to feel a sense of abandonment when God is silent in our suffering. But God is right there; He will break His silence at the right time. Lesson? We need strong faith to carry us through the dark days of life, less we fall off the cliff.

To us human suffering is evil and irrational; we have no logical or satisfactory explanation for it. We are finite and cannot comprehend why a good and omnipotent God allows it in His creation. But we can be confident of this one thing: God through the death of His Son on the cross entered the experience of suffering with us, and we can trust Him to bring us out of it. If we live or die, we win! Because neither life nor death can separate us from God’s love (Rom.8:31-39).  

The final three chapters of the Bible demonstrate that good triumphs over evil and there will be no more suffering, dying or death (Rev.21:1-4). So, feed you faith in the good times, so when the evil times come your way there is no need to jump off the cliff (Ecc.12:1-7). My work, The Book of Life & The Books of Wrath, is a good read on these end-time matters now unfolding on earth.

Published by The Dwelling Place

I am, Michael Dewar, author and director of Dwelling Place and the chief writer. Professionally, I am pastor, Bible teacher, mentor in the spiritual life, a specialist and consultant in church and family conflicts. I also have a background in Social Work (LMSW) and mental healtn.

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