The Point of Suffering

By Robin Schumacher

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Originally posted at The Christian Post

It seems like most everyone we know right now is going through some sort of painful trial. Many are hurting with medical problems, but others are wrestling with relationship or financial issues, while still others are struggling with parenting difficulties.

As someone said a long time ago, most everyone on the planet is either just entering a trial, in the midst of one, or coming out of a period of suffering.

While most skeptics and atheists continue to rely on the problem of evil/suffering as their number one weapon against the idea of an all-good and powerful God, there is a small but growing trend in unbelievers acknowledging the argument's bankruptcy. As philosopher Peter Van Inwagen notes, "It used to be widely held that evil was incompatible with the existence of God: that no possible world contained both God and evil. So far as I am able tell, this thesis is no longer defended."[1]

That said, such a truth does little to console the Christian who is hurting, currently sees no light at the end of their dark tunnel, and would be grateful to God for any insight into why the trial has come into their life.

Some say such questions shouldn't be asked of God — that we should be like Job and put our hand over our mouth (Job 40:4) and stay silent during a period of pain. However, I think some answers are available that help us to better understand the point of pain and suffering, even if they sometimes aren't as specific as we would like.

Starting Out

Surface level Biblical answers as to the "why?" question of pain and suffering are usually given via the following verses:

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:24; 12).

"We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Romans 5:35)

"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:67)

All well and good. These verses remind us of the character building that occurs through trials. But is there more to the story that we can uncover?

What Happens During Suffering?

Have you ever wondered what effect suffering has on us? Almost universally, suffering weakens the person on whom it rests. We don't generally regard being weak as a good thing, but Scripture says differently.

Paul recounts to the Corinthians how he was given "a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me" which he pleaded with God "three times that it might leave". But God's response was "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness", which caused Paul to eventually conclude, "I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Corinthians 12:79).

Although such a thing seems strange at first, let me give you an example of how weakness leads to godly power. It occurred many years ago at one of the "Women of Faith" conferences that are held around the country. The venue of the summit ran into seating trouble with the end result being the assembling of a block of seats that were less than ideal for viewing the stage.

The women assigned to those seats did what many good Christian women do: they began to complain.[2] Loudly. In fact, they caused such a disruption that the conference was in jeopardy of becoming a washout.

However, before that could happen, out on the stage came Joni Eareckson Tada (a quadriplegic) in her wheelchair. Joni moved to the microphone, and as the crowd quieted down she said the following:

"I understand there are some of you here tonight not happy with the seat you are in. Me too."

I don't know all the details about what else happened at that conference, but I do know one thing — from that point on, no one complained about their assigned seat.

That's the power of weakness.

Continue to Page Two

[1] Peter Van Inwagen, "The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence," Philosophical Perspectives, vol. 5: Philosophy of Religion, ed. James E. Tomberlin (Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview Publishing, 1991),pg. 135.
[2] :-) I'm making a joke here.

Image Credit: Dan Mumford; "Jonnie Peacock, Alan Oliveira and Rio Woolf"; Creative Commons; Little Rio Woolf had his leg amputated when he was 14 months old. His hero, gold medal-winning Jonnie Peacock (center), not only arranged to get Rio a blade so he could run, he also gave him hope.

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Published 9-29-14