By: Deji Yesufu
There is this man who lost his faith in God as he beheld his youngest daughter undergo numerous surgeries to correct a birth deformity. He asked the question: why does God allow the innocent to suffer? No one could offer answers to his questions and ultimately he became agnostic. There is also the famous story of how Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, became an atheist. He had visited his pastor in the late 1960s and saw pictures of Biafran children with protruded bellies – suffering from malnutrition and in some cases dying of starvation. Jobs asked the same question and when he could not find answers, he ceased to believe in God.
To be sincere, there are no easy answers to the question of suffering and humanity. I personally believe that to understand, in entirety, why God permits suffering is to ourselves become like God. So because we are not God, we must be content with some feeble attempts at answering this grave question.
Do We Deserve Any Better? When we ask the question “Why Does God Allow Suffering”, we totally underestimate the goodness of God, the evil in man and their natural consequences. The question is a good question because it presupposes, atleast, the existence of God. This is a good place to start because it will compel us to look at God’s own account of the origin of evil and suffering as recorded in the Bible.
The book of Genesis tells us that God made a good world. In Genesis 3, we see man disobey God in the garden of Eden and we see humanity fall into sin. As this happens, God told our first parent the consequences of their sin: suffering. But this very chapter records another account that is often overlooked. After man fell, God took the initiative of killing an animal and clothing fallen humanity. This chapter records for us a simple fact of our existence on earth: there is sin in all humanity; we suffer the consequences of this sin but in the midst of it all, God still manifest his gracious goodness to us.
So when suffering comes, we should remember that we as humans are fallen and will suffer the consequences for our sins. We actually deserve worse in relation to our sins. But even in the midst of such deep suffering, we must never forget that God has also been very gracious to us. Those who suffer the pain of bereavement should remember the goodness of God that gave them the gift of a child, a spouse or a parent. There are million other people on earth who don’t have children, spouses or who never grew up under the warmth of a parent. That God very graciously gave you and I a few years to enjoy these mercies, is every reason to be thankful. In other words, our questions and anguish are mollified when we consider the goodness and mercies of God even within our suffering.
The Suffering God: There is the story that is told of an incident that occurred during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. The murderous Hutu ethnic group invaded a Catholic missions but because the UN soldiers had come to evacuate the foreigners in that mission field, they waited outside – patiently. One of the parishioners approached the white Rev. father and asked “father, where is God in all these?” The man of God said he didn’t know. A few hours later, the UN soldiers left with the foreigners. The Rev. Father refused to go with them. When the locals asked why he remained, he said he finally understood where God was in all the violence: God was with the suffering people of Rwanda and that he had chosen to remain where God was. The Hutu militias came into the missions and hacked them all to death.
Hebrew 4:15 says we serve a God who knows our infirmities; he feels our pain because he is with us in our pain. Suffering causes humanity to consider, with God, the most important things of life. The most pitiable people on earth are people who have everything going for them and have no care in the world. Suffering makes us seek a higher power; suffering causes men to seek God. It is the reason the Bible says God has made the poor to be rich in faith. The one who suffers, learns to trust God. In the process his faith is built up in God.
Have we considered why Jesus was born to a peasant family and not in a palace? Do we understand why Christ said he had nowhere to lay his head? Do we realize that if women were Jesus ministry financiers, then he must have been earning very little in ministry? And, most importantly, why did Jesus have to undergo excruciating suffering when he died? Answers to these questions and most importantly to the last question, will draw us nearer to understanding why God allows suffering in our world.
So I began to attempt to answer this question of suffering by positing the story of the beginning. In Genesis 3, God said that the Seed of the Woman, Jesus, will crush the head of the serpent. But the serpent will bruise his heel. God was giving us a picture of what will happen in the story of Christ bringing redemption to the earth. In one hand, sin, death and suffering came to humanity through the first Adam. By necessity, redemption was to come through the second Adam, Christ. And the means of redeeming man from sin was Christ identifying with men in their humanity – he took on flesh. Then he identified with us in our sin – the sins of whole world was put on him. Then he died a most ignoble, shameful and painful death. Jesus’ death in bringing redemption to humanity was also God identifying with humanity in her falleness and suffering. In other words: the biggest Sufferer is not man but God.
Conclusion: When men suffer, the question of God, sin and redemption comes before our eyes. The sun that hardens clay is the same that brings growth and vitality to plant. Our sufferings may leave us hardened or better persons. Our sufferings may make us lovers or haters of God. The options are left to us to choose.
As we consider our options, however, permit me to reiterate the major points in my essay. Sin is the root of all suffering. Jesus Christ came into the world to redeem you and I from our sins. In the process of doing this, the God-man underwent great suffering – such suffering that no man has ever and will ever endure. With Christ’s suffering also came redemption. When our sufferings are seen in the light of Christ’s work, they take up new meaning. They bring us to a new perspective of God. We realize that we are sinners, deserving nothing but having received much – we are thankful.
Then when our sufferings come, whichever way God permits them, we do not necessarily ask why God allows suffering; rather, we worship God who knows all things. As we do this, our suffering brings redemption to the world all around us and it makes us better people. We will be never know in entirety why God permits suffering. We can however worship God in faith, knowing that the day we see him face to face, we will find more than enough answers to our questions. Whatever those answers will be, I’m certain, will reflect the nature of God – the goodness of God. Because God is good and all knowing, then permits suffering, we are certain that our suffering has a positive end. And such end that will warrant the saints to worship God right now – whether or not they know why God allows suffering in their lives.