We mentioned last time that suffering is something that unites us – it is common to mankind - and yet its causes are often very different. I want to talk about those causes a bit today. Sometimes totally unexplained, almost random difficulties come our way. More often, we suffer because we ourselves have done wrong or been foolish. But there are times that we suffer because of the choices of others. And these sufferings are the hardest to bear because they are neither random nor self-inflicted. They arae the direct result of something done to us by another human being.
When faced with that kind of suffering, I think rather than asking, “Why does a good God allow suffering?” we should start with the question, “Why does God allow free will in the first place?” If we acknowledge that most of the suffering in the world can be linked back to someone’s choice, and if life itself is a series of choices for all of us, with innocent people suffering along the way, why then did God allow Adam and Eve the choice to follow His way or their own? It was because free will – the freedom and ability to choose - has to exist if love is to be truly known.
Let’s think of it this way. Suppose I chain you up in a back room and declare that you cannot come out until you say that you love me and respect me. What will happen? Well eventually, you may get hungry enough to say: “OK Michele … I love you! Can I come out now?” You may say the words, but you won’t mean them – why? Because your free will has been taken from you! You are not choosing to love me because you want to, but because you have been forced to.
For mankind to experience true love, free will has to exist. God wants us to know His love, but we have to be free to decide whether or not we want to love Him back and live life His way! This freedom to choose, however, brings with it the potential to create suffering if we choose to go against God’s direction. The amazing thing is, though, that even then, God is able to redeem the suffering and use it for good.
Think about when the Jewish people were taken into captivity in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, for example. It was then in Jeremiah 29:11-13 that God made them a promise that is very well-known even today: 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
This was a promise that they could hold on to in the years of suffering that lay ahead; for even in the midst of their captivity God had a plan to benefit them. Their trial would cause them to turn to Him. This is a promise for us in our own times of distress as well. As we call on the Lord and pray to Him, He will listen. And when we seek Him, we will find Him! The wonderful truth is that God uses our pain to draw us to Himself. In fact, I believe that very often the purpose of suffering is just that: to draw us to Him, to keep us dependent on Him, and to make us more Christ-like as we lean on Him.
No matter what we’re going through – no matter how or even why we are suffering – we still have this amazing gift of choice. We choose how we will respond. We can resist, refuse God’s help, refuse to forgive others involved or we can lean on Him, trust His purposes, and follow Him closely. One choice leads to bitterness and more sorrow. One leads to peace, grace, and life. Bitter or better? Which will you choose? I know where I’m going!
May God bless you!