WHY THE SUFFERING
Steve Benton, our former pastor up in Iowa, often describes the Christian life as “a series of long, dark tunnels punctuated by brief glimpses of sunlight.” At first blush, this assessment seems to be a little bleak, but even Jesus Himself said, “In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33).
The death of a loved one, a broken marriage, financial hardships, wayward children, cancer, COVID, domestic violence, loss of a job, car accidents…even as Jesus followers, all of us have experienced those long, dark tunnels in some form or another. Which brings us to the question: Why the suffering, Lord?
The truth of the matter is that even the heroes of the Bible experienced great suffering. We could list Job, Abraham, Moses, Esther, David, Joseph and Mary, all of the disciples and the Apostle Paul, just to name a few. Of course, the supreme example of suffering is Jesus Himself. So, why does God allow suffering? Well, here are a few reasons I see in Scripture:
1) The natural consequences of living in a fallen, sinful world (Genesis 3:16-19)
2) Discipline for disobedient Christians (Hebrews 12:5-11)
3) Natural consequences for poor decisions (Galatians 6:7-8)
4) Testing of one’s faith (James 1:2-4)
5) Teaching humility (Psalms 18:27)
6) Teaching patience (James 5:7-11)
7) Pruning unproductive “branches” (John 15:5-7)
8) Displaying God’s glory (John 9:1-3)
It’s clear that there are many reasons for God allowing suffering in our lives, but there are also many possible responses to suffering. As humans, we can (and often do) respond in negative ways, such as with anger, anxiety, fear, bitterness and depression. I’ve experienced these emotions in the last several years, sometimes all of them simultaneously. It’s natural to question why God would allow tragedy, hardship and pain in our lives. What possible benefit could come from experiencing these things?
I think the answer partially lies in how God views our circumstances versus how we view them. Imagine for a moment that I am holding up one puzzle piece in my hand. Let’s say this puzzle piece happens to come from a 1000-piece puzzle and you don’t have the puzzle’s box cover to look at. Can you tell me what the puzzle picture will look like when it’s finished? Of course not! Why? Because you don’t have the big picture!
Our individual lives are sort of like that puzzle. We are only allowed to see one or two pieces at a time and we can’t possibly understand how those pieces fit together to create the beautiful, completed image. But God has the “big picture” of our lives. He alone knows how all of those puzzle pieces in our lives – the good, the bad and the ugly – fit together to reveal the beautiful, finished creation at the end of our journey.
In the end, God uses suffering in our lives to conform us to Jesus’ image (Romans 8:29). Each “tunnel” we have to traverse is intended to transform us into the type of people God wants us to become (Romans 12:2). Suffering often seems to be a way of life for the growing Christian and many times we are tempted to question why. Jesus did say that “in this world you will have trouble.” But let’s not forget the second part of that verse, “...but I have overcome the world.” We may not know the answer to the “whys” in our life, but thankfully, we have a God who does. And that gives me encouragement in the midst of the dark tunnels. I hope it does for you, too.
About the Author
Tim Carman is a semi-retired aerospace engineer and native Iowan who has been married to Sandra for 37+ years. He and his wife have two grown children and one grandchild and live in rural Clark County, Missouri.