The problem of suffering is not new. Most likely, the answers we give to the problem aren’t either. In fact, most of the questions asked during my Church’s last Christianity Explored course revolved around suffering.
The same can be said for schools work. Both pupils and teachers alike are concerned with the world around them and for those of us who claim to know God, representing Him even, the first question on their lips is “Why does God allow suffering?”
There is a certain irony in the Greek word for “Good News” from which the word evangelism is derived. We find that before we can deliver the good news of Jesus, we first have to explain away the bad news of the week. This can be challenging as we scrabble for the words to give an answer, any answer, to let us move the conversation on to a more comfortable area.
Often we fail to recognise the reason for the question and in so doing can do more damage than good. For example, to simply quote Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him”) to someone who has just lost their fiancé in a car crash is deeply inappropriate. Or to tell a young man in a wheel chair who suffers with cerebral palsy that “suffering is simply a result of human sin” can only be offensive. Or to tell a young married couple who are unable to conceive that “it’s because we live in a fallen world” offers no comfort whatsoever. Instead of attempting to answer these questions with ill-thought out theological concepts (like Job’s friends, filling many chapters in the process), sometimes it’s better to stay silent.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words.” Other times it’s better to enter into their suffering with them, sharing their tears and showing them love and compassion, sharing something of your own testimony.
Each of the three situations above are from real people I know and have been given these answers. Unsurprisingly they took no comfort from their answers. But each of them came to faith hearing that unlike any other religion where God is portrayed as a distant concept, their God is a personal God. The God of the Bible is one who entered into human history, who suffered with them, who died for them to give them an inheritance in heaven, and so can empathise with them whilst they remain on earth. Our God offers great comfort as although we aren’t given all the answers as to the question “Why Lord?” we know Jesus Himself asked the same question upon the cross.