This week, Annalise asked from the backseat as we 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 grasp it fully, some can turn from the One veiled from our eyes because of the suffering we can see all around us.
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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 merge 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 does God let us feel pain? 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 answer.
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 a 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. That suffering comes from another’s choice to sin.
Third, we suffer because of the general sin of this world. 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 general suffering — mamas who get cancer and babies born with genetic defects and tornadoes that cause widespread death and damage.
But Jesus teaches his disciples this third thing.
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. Jesus told the disciples this man’s suffering was to reveal the works of God — not just physical works of healing, but spiritual.
Now in his final months of ministry, this man’s blindness gave Jesus a 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.
Maybe today you’re wrestling against suffering and you have not been able to grasp the full reason why God would allow it.
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: If you’d like to unpack more parts of the whole, these 2 books have Biblical truth on why God allows suffering.