My newest writing endeavor is about a doctor who is confronted with death and dying. It seems that he has an anti-Midas touch; everyone he touches dies. The story deals with the age-old dilemma of suffering. If God is good, merciful, kind, abounding in love, then how can he allow all of this pain and suffering? Why doesn’t he answer us when we beg for healing and life?
I don’t have an answer. Not a good answer anyway. There are trite answers. There are answers that shove pain and misery under the covers as if their lumps can not be seen in the deathbed.
What I do have are examples of how to behave when we suffer.
+Begging is permissible: Hannah begged for a son and her cries were answered with the birth of Samuel. David begged with every fiber of his being that his baby son would be spared death. The child died. Yet, a “No” to David’s pleas did not mean the turning of his back and neither can it mean ours. Begging is permissible while opportunity exists. Faithfulness is mandatory no matter what the begging achieves.
+Grief harbors compassion: Jesus, the embodiment of God, looked upon suffering and death often. He responded with healing and life, with words of comfort, and with instruction. When his good friend Lazarus passed away, Jesus wept. When he imagined his mother’s pain at his death, he provided a caregiver for comfort. We are not left alone in our dungeon to cry out into unfeeling darkness. Even when it feels we are alone, the truth is that we are not.
+ Suffering is not a punishment: Sometimes God punished the Israelites and other people with suffering. They disobeyed his commands and they were stricken with sores, snakes, famine, disease, and war. But other times there seemed to be no disgrace in the suffering. The most famous of these examples is of course Job, but there was also Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers, Sarah and Rachael’s barren years, and in the New Testament there is Paul. Paul originally was a tyrant to Christians, but he became one of the leading apostles in spreading the news of Jesus and salvation. Certainly he should not have had to suffer imprisonment, floggings, shipwrecks, and health issues.
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Acts 9:15-16
Did you catch that? Sometimes we are chosen for suffering. It may seem terribly unfair, unjust, even unrighteous and unholy, yet we may still be chosen. Perhaps that is where we can draw the line and see God’s good, merciful, kind, abundant love. He has chosen some of us, perhaps you, to suffer so that his name will be glorified so that others might be saved.
But suffering was the ultimate gift of Jesus. Through his suffering we are each allowed to enter the holy presence of God. Would you be willing to suffer so that others can join you in the eternal praise of heaven?
“These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.” Jonathan Edwards