The Meaning and Purpose of Suffering - Part 2

In our last article, we discussed how the issue of suffering remains an unresolved dilemma despite the advancement of technology and human thought. But the Bible plainly states that suffering is an intricate reality of society after sin entered the world. Even the most righteous man who lived in the Old Testament – Job – underwent an extreme form of suffering. Hence, we emphasized that we should not be surprised when any unpleasant circumstance comes our way. Rather, we should, all the more, face our sufferings with faith and humbly trust in the God who holds everything in His hands. Now, before delving into how suffering results in the glory of God and the sanctification of His people, this article will first emphasize that sin is the cause of pain, suffering, and death and that man has a major role in allowing sin to enter the world.

A Cosmic Tragedy: The Entry of Sin

The issue of trusting in God even in suffering can lead man to a critical question which goes like this: If a sovereign, powerful and good God exists, why does suffering and evil occur in this world? To answer this, we have to remember our previous assertion that suffering is an intricate reality in life because of sin. But how did this happen? The best place, of course, is to start with the book of Genesis – the record of how everything in this world began. After creating the physical world in six days, God’s appraisal of work was that it was very good. In the original Hebrew text, the word translated as “very good” carries the idea of something exceedingly beautiful and perfect. In other words, God did not create the world so that evil and suffering can reign in it. His original plan was for it to be a wonderful manifestation of His creative wisdom and power. Now, part of that plan was for mankind to participate in expanding God’s perfect creation. Mankind was to be God’s co-creator through the propagation of the human race, and rulership over the rest of God’s creation.

Sadly, what could have been a happily-ever-after ending to this story resulted in tragedy. Man refused to play his part as God’s subordinate and rebelled. We must understand that God did not create the first man and woman like robots. They were endowed with the capacity to choose what is right and wrong and the ability to convert that choice into action. They were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). That is why He gave man clear instructions:

From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die (Gen. 2:16-17, NASB)

But what did the man do? In Chapter 3 of Genesis, we read how Eve listened to the voice of the serpent and desired to be like God. Moreover, she gave the fruit to her husband who was with her at that time (Gen. 3:1-6). The rest is history. Adam and Eve became alienated from God by separating themselves from Him. In fact, instead of repenting of their sin of disobedience, we find the first couple hiding from God and refusing to accept their personal responsibility. Adam, for instance, indirectly blamed God for giving him Eve, and then blamed his wife for giving him the forbidden fruit. Eve, on the other hand, blamed the serpent (Gen. 3:8-13). As a result of their sin, both mankind and creation suffered (Gen. 3:14-24).

Who is Responsible?

So what does this have to do with the question:

“If a sovereign, powerful and good God exists, why does suffering and evil occur in this world?”

Dear reader, this question is based on the assumption that God is mainly responsible for allowing sin to enter this world or the cause of suffering in this life. But in the Bible, man is chiefly responsible for the suffering he experiences. To be clear, God did not lose His control over history when Adam and Eve sinned. In His Sovereignty, the fall of man was part of God’s overall plan of redemption which will end in the glory of His Name. But within that scope of divine sovereignty, God allows mankind to do as he pleases, but with serious consequences. The Apostle Paul writes:

… just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Rom. 1:28-32, NASB)

Here, Paul uses the phrase “God gave them over” to dispute those who think that they can be righteous by keeping the Law and forget that everyone, both Jew and Greek, are guilty of transgressing God’s Law (see Dunn and Rogerson 1285). Thus, if we ask why our world is distraught with suffering such as sickness, diseases, pestilence, environmental destruction, plagues, wars, violence, famine, economic depression, poverty, unemployment, racial discrimination, political corruption, abuse, broken families, abandoned children, and all forms of injustice, the answer is because mankind has rejected God.

The Only Way Out

In application, the reason for our suffering is sin – our own sins and the sins of people around us. Corporately and individually, we have rejected God and created our own demise. But that is not the end of the story. Man’s sin has become so catastrophic that the only solution is for God to intervene in the affairs of mankind. That was exactly what He did. In the fullness of time, God intervened by sending His Son Jesus Christ, who was

“born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal.4:4b-5).

Yes, the only solution is for you and me to be reconciled back to God through faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, Christ calls out to those who are tired of living a life of sin:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matt. 11:28)

Now, does this mean that my suffering will end once I get saved? In one sense, it will end because a believer is reconciled to God and is no longer under His wrath. He will no longer be punished with eternal separation from Him after death – a consequence reserved for those who persistently refuse God. The believer is now under God’s favor. But it is also important to stress that since the believer is living in an imperfect world, he or she will still be affected by it. However, believers are not alone in their distress. Jesus Christ explains:

“In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Moreover, the promise of God’s favor is not merely for the present life. In the future, God will again intervene by returning a Second Time to finally eradicate evil and create a New Heaven and a New Earth – a Kingdom where there is no more sin, pain and suffering:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away (Rev.21:4)

That is the future reserved for those who put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Come to Christ. Let Him intervene and save you from sin and its consequences. In our next article, we will continue the subject of how suffering ultimately leads to the glory of God.

Works Cited
Dunn, James D.G. and John William Rogerson, eds. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. MI:Wm B Eedmans Publishing Co., 2003. Print
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