A Response to Suffering
|We are not alone in asking, “Why Suffering?”|
God is with us, and God asks the same question.
|Isaiah 50:1-3, “Why was no one here when I came? Why was no one here to answer when I called?”|
|Isaiah 1:1-9, 18-20, “Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel?”|
|Jeremiah 8:4-7, “Why do you refuse to come back to me?”|
|Mark 4:35-41, “Why are you so fearful?”|
|Ezekiel 33:10-11, “Why do you want to die?”|
|God and our Christian family can share the burden of our suffering.|
|Genesis 25:21-24; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, God speaks to us in our suffering.|
|Psalm 23, I will fear no evil.|
|2 Chronicles 7:13-14; Jeremiah 31:33-34, 33:8; Mark 11:25, God is faithful to forgive our sins|
|Mark 2:1-12, The same One who forgives sin can relieve our suffering.|
|Jeremiah 30:10-22, God binds our wounds and restores us to himself.|
|Matthew 11:25 – 12:13, Come to me all who labor.|
|Ecclesiastes 4:7-12, One alone falls; two stand together.|
|James 5:13-20, Is anybody sick? Let him call the elders of the church.|
|John 11:17-37, Jesus weeps with us.|
|Matthew 26:36-46, Gethsemane|
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We are not alone in asking, “Why Suffering?” God is with us, and God asks the same question.
Isaiah 50:1-3, “Why was no one here when I came? Why was no one here to answer when I called?” (12/22/14)
So far we’ve found some possible reasons for some specific kinds of suffering: my own sins may cause me trouble, your sins may cause me trouble, or I may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. These answers obviously aren’t satisfactory, because we keep asking, “Why?” Well, join the crowd. It’s a big
crowd, because God is in it with us. God looks at suffering and asks, “Why?”
Isaiah 1:1-9, 18-20, “Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel?” (12/23/14)
Remember that a few weeks back we saw that I suffer the inevitable earthly consequences of my sin: I rob a bank and go to jail. I’m rude to all my friends and suddenly I don’t have any. God asks me, “Why are you doing that? Can’t we talk this over?”
Jeremiah 8:4-7, “Why do you refuse to come back to me?” (12/24/14)
The Father was asking, “Why do they refuse to come back to me? What on earth is going on?” And the Son said, “I’ll go and find out.” In our suffering, and even in our bewilderment, God is with us. Merry Christmas.
Mark 4:35-41, “Why are you so fearful?” (12/25/14)
For the most part, we seem to want to know the causes
of our suffering, but God seems to want to know our motives
for suffering. Fear and anxiety cause us to suffer, and in his life on earth, Jesus said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” In Greek you can ask a question that expects the answer yes, or one that expects the answer no, or one that’s just looking for information. Jesus’ question is of the third type: he isn’t commenting on their faith or lack of it; he just wants to know the origin of their fear. Fear not.
Ezekiel 33:10-11, “Why do you want to die?” (12/26/14)
I’ve mentioned before that I watched my grandmother slaughter a chicken for dinner. After she cut off its head, the body ran around the yard. It didn’t know that without its head, it was dead. So are we. When we are separated from God, our head, we are dead, even if our bodies don’t know it yet. God doesn’t understand why we separate ourselves from him. “Why do you want to die?” he asks. On this second day of Christmas, let’s remember that Jesus came to save us from ourselves as well as from our sins.
God and our Christian family can share the burden of our suffering.
Genesis 25:21-24; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, God speaks to us in our suffering. (12/29/14)
We ask, “Why suffering?” and we get no answer. I told you right from the beginning of this study that we wouldn’t. Even so, I was surprised to learn not just that the Bible doesn’t answer the question adequately, but also that it barely addresses the question at all. Oh, sure, we saw some of the immediate causes of suffering – sin, mostly, plus punishment for our sins, and time and chance – but I had trouble finding scriptures that seemed to be related to our study question.
When I started thinking about how to end this topic, however, I didn’t have to search for scriptures; they just popped into my head as fast as I could write them down. More than enough for a week, then two weeks. Here we’ll look at a few of the many passages that assure us that God is with us in our suffering, and that God and our Christian families lighten our load by sharing our burden. Many people have made the point that they felt God speak to them more clearly in their suffering than at any other time. I’m glad we’re ending this topic at the time of year we celebrate the greatest gift of all: God with us.
Psalm 23, I will fear no evil. (12/30/14)
One of the great causes of suffering (after sin, of course) is fear. Fear allows us to suffer from things that haven’t happened yet and may never
happen. My uncle’s Christmas letter reports that he had three shots directly into his eyeball. “And, no,” he says, “it is not as bad as you might be thinking.” AAAaagh! It could be really BAD
without being as bad as I am thinking!! His eye problem runs in our family, and I suspect that my fear of this procedure is going to be a lot worse than the procedure. Jesus asks us, “Why are you so afraid?” We are the sheep of God, who takes such good care of us, and stays so close to us, that we need fear no evil.
2 Chronicles 7:13-14; Jeremiah 31:33-34, 33:8; Mark 11:25, God is faithful to forgive our sins. (12/31/14)
Most of my suffering is caused either by my own sin or by someone else’s sin. Neither I nor others will be spared the earthly consequences of our sins, so it’s best not to commit them. When I do sin, however, God eases the burden of my suffering by forgiving me when I repent. When others sin against me, God also tries to ease my burden by enabling me to forgive them, whether they repent or not.
Mark 2:1-12, The same One who forgives sin can relieve our suffering. (1/1/15)
Happy New Year! Take a minute out from your celebration and pray for someone you know who is suffering physically. God relieves our suffering not only by
forgiving our sins, but also in addition
to forgiving our sins. I hope this study has convinced you that much human suffering, maybe even most, is caused by sin.* It’s worth noting that Jesus thought it was more urgent to forgive the paralytic’s sin than to heal his body, even though both were important enough that he interrupted his teaching to do them.
* Not all! Don’t forget time and chance, natural hazards, disease, and genetics. Don’t take credit for things you aren’t responsible for.
Jeremiah 30:10-22, God binds our wounds and restores us to himself. (1/2/15)
It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, or how far away you’ve gotten from God, God still loves you and wants you back. All you have to do is turn around, and God is there.
Matthew 11:25 – 12:13, Come to me all who labor. (1/5/15)
God speaks to us in our suffering, relieves our fear, binds our wounds, forgives our sins, and takes us back. “Come to me,” Jesus says, “trade your heavy burden for my light burden.” This passage from Matthew (notice that it crosses the chapter break) is about the burdens of labor: physical and mental fatigue, criticism from people who aren’t doing the work and don’t know what they’re talking about, and judgment from people who are more concerned with rules than with mercy. Jesus says, “Take my yoke, and I’ll give you rest.” From the rest of the passage, I’d add, “If you won’t pull the plow, don’t goad the oxen.”
Ecclesiastes 4:7-12, One alone falls; two stand together. (1/6/15)
The only time I actually suffer
with this Bible study is when I’m trying to come up with an idea and a plan for the next study topic; nevertheless, I have to admit that there is a fair amount of work involved in planning, studying for, and preparing the studies and the daily emails, not to mention answers to reader questions.
How fortunate for me that I have such great supporters to share the burden! Fellow reader Rob B. has been preparing the great bulk of the study tips for the web site for several years now. Fellow reader Deanna R. spent weeks getting the reader questions ready for the web site. Pastor Craig has promoted the email study from the pulpit. Several of the studies have been based on ideas provided by fellow readers, e.g., Terri L. and James J. Now fellow reader Daryl L. is going to prepare illustrations for the web pages, which have been sadly few. Fellow readers Billie Z., Barbara F., and Ernie and Barbara L. are offering their family Bibles as sources for the new illustrations. Fellow readers from around the world support the Facebook page with likes and encouraging words. The New Spirit class has supported me with their prayers and encouragement from, literally, day one. Many readers write or speak to me every so often with a word of appreciation for a specific study tip.
Without all of these fellows, not to mention the rest of you loyal readers, I would have long since gotten cold and fallen away, and whatever small contribution this study makes to the Kingdom would have ended. Thanks!
James 5:13-20, Is anybody sick? Let him call the elders of the church. (1/7/15)
We have considered this little passage before in the contexts of prayer
, but not until now have we looked at the flip side: illness and suffering. If you are sick, it is not just the privilege but the obligation of the rest of us to pray for you – but we can only do that if we know about it.
In vss. 14-16, “let” doesn’t mean “allow.” It means, “do it!” It’s a verb form that we don’t have in English, called the third-person imperative. You know the second-person imperative: for example, “Go!” It’s an order, or at least a strongly worded request, to the person being spoken to. The third-person imperative is an order to someone not being spoken to: “He/she/it go!” When you are sick, you definitely should let responsible church members know so that they can pray for you. Too often we try to bear the burden on our own; James says we shouldn’t.
John 11:17-37, Jesus weeps with us (1/8/15)
I’ve been to several funerals recently, and after each one the family and friends gathered to visit with each other, talk about our deceased loved one or friend, and eat together. This custom was already well established before Jesus’ time, but he blessed it through his words to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Even knowing that Lazarus would live again, Jesus wept for his friends. When we grieve, Jesus grieves with us, and his presence comforts us.
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 43: Matthew 26:36-44, Christ in Gethsemane, by Heinrich Hofmann (7/29/15)
Matthew 26:36-46, Gethsemane (1/9/15)
Christ in Gethsemane, by Heinrich Hofmann, is another one of the paintings that deeply influence our thinking about Jesus just because we’ve seen it (or a version of it) so many times. His friends are in the background on the right, dozing. Jesus is pleading that he might not be forced to go to the cross, but if he has to, he accepts that. Jesus was well aware that he was about to die for you and me, and he probably had time to escape. He chose to give his life for us. What’s our choice?
Previous Step. Next Step.
"Christ in Gethsemane" by Heinrich Hofmann, from the Gamble family Bible, now in the private collection of Regina Hunter. Photography by Daryl Lee.
No one is strong enough to bear all the burdens of life alone. Even Jesus asked his friends to stay near him and watch with him during his agony. Sometimes that’s all we can do for our friends, but it is our privilege and duty both to ask and to watch.
We’ve come to the end of our study, “Why Suffering?,” and we haven’t answered the question. Oh, sure, we’ve seen some of the immediate causes – sin, bad luck, old age, and so on – but the Bible doesn’t tell us the ultimate cause for suffering. Nevertheless, we have an answer to suffering itself: the divine and human presence of our comforters and friends.
More on “Why Suffering?”
Suffering does not originate with God.
Most suffering is caused by sin and evil.
Some suffering results from my own sin or someone else's sin.
God punishes sin to instruct us.
Some suffering results from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
God is with us, and God and our Christian family share the burden of our suffering.
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