This week, Annalise asked from the backseat as waited in line at the bank: Why do we feel pain?
My mind started going back to high school anatomy — to nerve endings and ganglia — but as I started to answer she asked, but why does God let us feel pain?
Well. That’s altogether different. We talked about how pain is actually for our protection, how it makes us pull our hand back instead of letting it burn on a hot stove, and that seemed enough answer for now.
But so often, that answer’s not enough. It’s difficult to reconcile — a good God and a suffering world. And unable to fully answer, some can turn from the One veiled from our eyes because of the stark suffering we see all around.
In the book Flatland, mathematician Edwin Abbott Abbott writes about a world of only two dimensions. A world of only length and width, without height. As such, everything appears as a line or dot. (Picture yourself eyeball level to a penny on the counter…at some point horizon and heaven merges and the penny becomes no longer curved but a dark line.)
The Flatlanders cannot conceive of a solid. Had a pyramid or cube been described to them, they could not have imagined it as it was beyond their world and their experience. Solids, cubes, triangles and rectangles all appear only as flat lines.
We are the Flatlanders. We may perceive parts but we cannot grasp the whole of God. God is beyond our world and we have neither the vocabulary nor experience to comprehend.
Why suffering? The fullest answer would fill a book or two and even then, we’d be left with only the parts we can grasp.
The disciples posed similar questions to Jesus. In our 100 Days with Christ Bible study this week, we saw the disciples and Jesus coming to a man who’d been blind since birth.
Now as Jesus passed by, he saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:1-2.
As Jesus teaches his disciples, we grasp one part — not the whole — but one piece of our question. In this passage, we see 3 truths we need to know about suffering.
1.God doesn’t cause evil. Before we even presume to bring God down to the level of fallen man, let’s get this right view of God: He is holy, the only holy, eternally enthroned in holiness, in whom there is no wickedness. Psalm 92:15. James tells us that “God has no dealings with evil.” James 1:13 (Phillips)
2. Sin causes suffering. Sin causes suffering in 3 ways. First, our own sin can cause us to suffer. For instance, someone might get drunk over and over and later suffer irreparable liver damage. God tells us we reap what we sow. Second, someone else’s sin can cause us to suffer. Say, for example, that someone drinks and drives, causing an accident and another’s death. The suffering comes from another’s choice to sin.
Third, suffering happens because of general sin. We live in a fallen world that’s plagued with disease, decay and natural disasters. We all suffer the effects of a fallen world and believers don’t get a pass. So we see believers suffering from cancer or genetic defects or tornadoes.
3. God uses suffering to reveal Himself. Regardless of how the suffering comes about, one thing is sure: God always uses suffering to reveal Himself.
That’s exactly what Jesus did in John 9. When the disciples asked whether the man had been born blind because of his sin or his parents’, Jesus answered that it was to reveal the works of God — not just the physical works of healing, but the spiritual.
Jesus’ entire ministry had been to heal the Hebrew’s spiritual blindness. He had taught, rebuked, modeled, preached, discipled and now, in his final months of ministry, this man’s blindness gave Jesus the platform to teach spiritual truths.
The healing caused a huge stir. Talk at the temple buzzed about the miracle and the Jewish authorities began investigating. When the Pharisees later excommunicated the healed man, Jesus found Him, telling Him that He was the Son of God.
“‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.”
Suffering had allowed Jesus not just to open the man’s eyes physically, but spiritually.
God always uses suffering to reveal Himself.
He may reveal Himself by miraculously delivering us from the suffering.
He may reveal Himself by sustaining us through His sufficient grace.
He may reveal Himself by drawing us to Him through need.
Perhaps today you are wrestling against your own suffering. Something we desperately want God to take from us or something we’ve even held against God for giving us.
If you are suffering, you can be sure that God will reveal Himself in it. We may not be miraculously delivered from the suffering, but we can know God’s sufficient grace in it and His presence through it.
NOTE: These 2 books have helped me unpack Biblical truths on how a good God allows suffering.
*This post uses affiliate links. You can find the full disclosure in the footer section.