Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18; Psalms 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Nehemiah 9:17; Joel 2:12-13; Jonah 4:2 (11/10/14)
We’re starting a new study, “Why Suffering?” Thanks to fellow-reader James J. for suggesting this difficult topic. Just to give you a heads up, I can’t give you an answer, and apparently neither can anybody else. If it were possible, the question would no doubt have been answered thousands of years ago! The fact is that the Bible says nothing to answer the question directly, and it says very little to answer the question indirectly. Nevertheless, I’ll give you some of my thoughts on the subject, along with some scripture passages that illustrate – but may or may not prove – each thought.
O. A. Piper, in his article, “Suffering and Evil,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible
, 1962, Abingdon Press, has this to say about the Bible’s position:
Evils cause suffering. The OT does not contrast physical and mental suffering, since man is seen in his totality. The same cause may underlie bodily pain and mental anguish. The biblical writers are not particularly interested in the origin of suffering either. Rather, as beings who believe in a final destination, they inquire into the reason and purpose of suffering. In the earliest stage of their faith, and in agreement with other Semitic religions, the Israelites interpreted suffering as a divine punishment for sin.
It’s easy to see why the Israelites thought that. First, evil (of which there is a great deal) entered the world through sin; and second, all sin (of which there is also a great deal) results directly in somebody’s suffering! Remember three things, however:
- It does not therefore logically follow that all suffering results directly from somebody’s sin; and in fact there is a small but real biblical basis for the idea that some suffering does not result from sin.
- We modern, Western, scientific thinkers are interested in the origin of suffering.
- Finally, one hopes that Christianity and Judaism as a whole are past the earliest stage of our faith, even though as individuals many Christians and Jews are still in the early stages.
One thing I’m certain of: suffering did not originate from God, and I hope to convince you of that. The oldest and most frequent description of God that we have is that God is patient, kind, merciful, and steadfastly loving. God’s nature seems to me to be inconsistent with the idea that suffering comes from God.
1 John 1:5-10 (11/11/14)
I’ve been lucky enough not to do a lot of suffering, but when I have suffered, life seemed pretty dark. John is one of my top candidates for People Who Really Know a Lot About God, and John says that God is light, not darkness. I have to conclude that wherever the darkness of suffering comes from, it can’t very well be coming from God.
1 John 4:7-21 (11/12/14)
Yesterday John told us that God is light, and I concluded that suffering, which is dark, cannot have its origin in God. Today John tells us that God is love. Now, it is sometimes true that we suffer because
we love – for example, when someone we love is in pain – but the suffering itself is not love. In fact, our love would lead us to do just about anything we could to relieve that pain for our beloved. Wait a minute ... that’s exactly what God did! God is love and releases us from suffering; God is not the origin of suffering.
p.s. I read a commentary that said “God is love” is the only definition we have for God. John uses the same words and sentence structure for “God is” in “God is light.” Read the Bible for yourself, and take all commentaries, especially mine, as guides for further study.
James 1:13-22 (11/13/14)
Suffering can arise from temptation, and suffering very often arises from giving in to temptation. As we learned from our study on the Devil and demons, however, temptation is under the purview of Satan
). God never tempts us into sin, but gives only good gifts.
Ezekiel 18:21-23, 31-32; Hosea 11:1-8; 2 Peter 3:9 (11/14/14)
Some people believe that suffering originates from God. I don’t, because it doesn’t make any sense. God says, “Do I want anybody to die? No!” God loves you so much that he doesn’t even want you to die
, much less to suffer
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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