Suffering and Scripture
People in the Western world have been able to experience an extraordinary level of sheltering from suffering and evil in the world. Advances in technology and healthcare have extended life and the quality thereof along with deadening whatever physical pain people might experience. While tyranny, despotism, corruption, greed, violence, and other forms of evil remain, they are not as pronounced as in times past.
Ironically, this isolation has been as much a curse as it has been a blessing. As a society, we have become rather immature when it comes to how we think about evil. While we might appreciate the opportunity to be sheltered from various kinds of evil, in the process, we begin to believe that major evils will not befall us. But if and when we come face to face with some horrendous evil we do not really know what to do. We may try to run away but find ourselves unable to do so. Far too many completely abandon every anchor in their lives, particularly their belief in God, when confronted with the horrendous face of evil.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is how so many feel as if the Bible does not provide sufficient spiritual resources to address the problem of evil. This feeling comes from frustrated expectations: we want the Bible to tell us the answers to the questions we have in the way we have phrased them: “why does evil exist?” “How can God be a loving God and yet there is so much evil around?”. People do not find answers to these questions in Scripture, and so they walk away feeling as if there is no God.
The problem is not with Scripture but with modern man’s expectations. Long ago the Preacher declared such questions an absurdity (Ecclesiastes 8:14-17). Part of the reason lies in the futility of the question: even if we somehow could understand why evil exists, or how God can be loving and yet allow for so much suffering, what does that change? Evil still hurts. Pain still exists. Suffering is still acute.
Modern man should stop deluding himself into thinking that he is the first one to really tackle difficult questions. Much of Scripture, in fact, involves people with strong confidence in the existence of the Creator God, His goodness, holiness, love, and mercy, attempting to make sense of the evil and sufferings that have befallen them.
Whole books–Job and Lamentations–are devoted to this theme. The Psalmist in Psalm 44 takes God to task for the suffering of Israel, and many Psalms take up the theme of suffering and distress. The emotional and spiritual agony of Jeremiah is apparent in many of his writings (e.g. Jeremiah 20:7-18).
Giving up on belief in God when confronted with terrible evil is really the easy way out, and it solves nothing. The greater challenge is to seek to live as Job did, to bless the name of God in adversity as well as prosperity. We may not like suffering and evil, but they are part of this creation, and Scripture has made it very clear that we will not be able to inherit eternity and glory until we have endured the crucible of suffering (Acts 14:22, Romans 8:17-18). Therefore, whether we are presently suffering or not, let us take comfort from difficult Scriptures and be strengthened for present and/or future trials, able to maturely stand firm during the day of suffering and trial!
Ethan R. Longhenry