Why is there so much sorrow in the world? This question has found its way to the center of the argument against a belief in the existence of a God of love and mercy. If God loved His creation, could He condone so much suffering? But God not only condones it, He participates in it according to some christian teaching. Professor Bart Erhman, who is a textual critic of bible scholarship fame, speaks for many why the Christian faith no longer fascinates them:
I left the faith for what I took to be (and still take to be) an unrelated reason: the problem of suffering in the world.”1
Whether suffering was the last straw or the sole reason for the professor’s deconversion, I do not know. But he raises an interesting point of which much has already been written. If God were real and a God of love, why any suffering!? This is a favorite bullet point for non-believers in debating the existence of God. And it tipped the scales for more educated and smart people than just the professor for whom science now outweighs faith in importance. They would rather rely upon their own wit in a dilemma than to talk to a God they no longer believe is there for them. They would rather depend on themselves for the solutions to their problems than to trust in a God of Love to guide them.
This is where worldviews enter the discussion. Christians have made room in their worldview for suffering claiming it was the result of sin and it can serve God as a discipline to bring us all closer to Him. The professor’s worldview is more scientific depending on our own discovery and inventiveness to improve life. Some are evolutionaries who belief in a sort of survival of the fittest that will eventually bring mankind into a utopia free from poverty and all forms of suffering. Either way, science or evolution, suffering has no adequate explanation other than as a weakness that needs eradicating.
But is it possible that no one of these views by itself is adequate to explain suffering? Is it possible that one view overlaps another?
For a christian believer who is in constant communication with God, The Lord’s love is very much a part of the explanation of all things—especially, their suffering—as something that brings them nearer God? But it is equally true for the person with no prayer life that they are on their own in this life; so, the other worldviews make more sense to them!?
Is it possible also for those who do not pray and have no contact with God that they are left to navigate the rapids as best they can and if they flounder in the waves, best they know how to swim because, for them, there is no God to rescue. Call it fate, but there is a sense in which for the non-believer—No! For the person who has no communication line open with God; for the person who does not have a prayer life—suffering is an earthly experience with no higher purpose. Life, for the person not used to going to God for help, is a coin toss and now and again they lose. Understandably for these persons, suffering serves no lofty goal. Evolution wants to filter it out.
For the non-believer, the Apostle Paul talking about a creation that is groaning sounds like so much nonsense. But it makes infinite sense to a believer who sees our sinfulness as a cause for much suffering in nature.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.2
The distinction, therefore, between those who have an acceptance of suffering in this life while they await a suffering free life to come and those who accuse our Creator of mismanaging His resources by allowing suffering to exist, is one of prayer. Talking to God makes that big a difference in our view of life. Praying—not only a good theological explanation—helps us gain a more tolerable perspective on suffering. Talking things over with God can help us to be more accepting of the less desirable experiences of life.
When the Apostle Paul was pursued by his opposition (this is the greek word for persecute, namely, to hunt down), he told one church, “I am exceeding joyful”3 When James, Jesus’ brother, felt the hunter’s arrow whiz by he happily accepted it as something he must endure, a small price for following His Savior. He explained:
Consider it pure joy4
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.5
Some of the church’s most inspiring hymns were born out of much sorrow.
And what should we say about illness and sickness? The Apostle John said it best:
Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health.6
The value of suffering is only realized by those who have first discovered the value of prayer.
2 Romans 8:22.
3 2 Corinthians 7:4.
4 James 1:2.
5 James 1:12.
6 3 John 1:2.