The problem of pain and suffering is an old one.
God created us to live in paradise. However, since the garden we’ve lived everywhere else.
We are creatures that do as much as possible to maximize our comfort while minimizing our pain. Whenever possible, we try to avoid pain. For we understand pain to be an indication that something is wrong. And none us want to live in such a state, we want to be well and made whole.
Cause & Effect Explanations For Pain
When I broke my leg a few months ago, I didn’t know I broke it when I fell to the ground. It’s when I got up and tried to walk that I realized something was terribly wrong. Intense Samuel L Jackson levels of pain traveled from my leg to my brain, with some of those pains escaping my mouth. The moment wasn’t exactly a godly one.
Having this cause and effect level of understanding with pain, anytime something hurts we regularly investigate the cause of that pain and what we can do to stop it. As a result, doctors have treated pain as the so-called “fifth vital sign,” right after heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature. If someone is experiencing pain, doctors try to get to the root cause in their understanding of that pain, and to put an end to it.
But whatever the case, the cause and effect relationship associated with pain is understandable. Pain usually doesn’t just come from somewhere, and when it rears its ugly head, we attempt to understand it, explain it, and if possible cure it, or at least find a reason to endure it.
Redemptive Explanations For Pain
Not all pain and suffering is bad though. Sometimes we find redemption and purpose in our suffering that makes enduring those sufferings redemptive.
Athletes understand this well. “No pain no gain.” They’ll endure the agony of the gym for a competitive advantage on the field.
Mothers will endure the agony of childbirth, and parents will sacrifice everything just so their kids can have a better shot at life, and to flourish.
Soldiers on the battlefield will put up being separated from their families and risk life and limb to serve their country and defend their nation.
However, sometimes this cause and effect relationship between pain and suffering isn’t quite so clear. And sometimes the reason for our pains seem to have nothing of redemptive value in them.
The “Helpful” Explanations Of Others
Consider Job. In the Bible, Job was a straight laced guy who played by the rules and lived for God. He was so concerned about living right, that he even offered up morning sacrifices to God on behalf of his kids just in case one of them sinned. Then, in a single day, Job lost his children and his business went under. Then shortly after that, his body was struck with an unknown disease in which his wife encouraged him to “curse God and die.” The sores and boils on his body were so bad that he cut them open with broken pottery shards just to find relief.
Job’s best friends attended to Job in his suffering. Which ended up only compounding his suffering. For they operated on the level of understanding that Job’s suffering must have some sort of cause and effect relationship to something he did. Bad things just don’t happen to good people, they reasoned. Good things happen to good people, and bad things to bad people. You reap what you sow. Karma.
And while these things can sometimes be true, they aren’t always. Sometimes we do stupid things and win stupid prizes. But that’s not always the case.
Suffering Without Explanation
Sometimes we suffer things in this life apart from anything stupid we’ve done. And some sufferings seem to have no point and offer little hope of bringing forth something of redemptive value at any point on our horizon.
We might seek to understand “why” we suffer. But, sometimes suffering defies explanation, with little to no link between cause and effect, and the worst thing we can attempt to do is explain our suffering, as Job’s friends did with him.
Sometimes our suffering is beyond all human comprehension. Like when a parent loses a child. Who can explain that? But even when it can be understood, the last thing anyone needs is an explanation. Such explanations often hurt more than they help.
More often than not, what people need in times of deep suffering is not an explanation, and not a message of hope that looks forward to something redemptive. What most people need is just someone to be with them in that suffering. We need people who are willing to suffer beside us.
For the only suffering worse than the type of suffering that defies explanation is the suffering that we do when we suffer alone.
I think that’s why sometimes the Bible describes hell as an isolated, cold, and dark place. We can endure just about any agony if someone is there to endure with us. But it’s when we suffer alone that our suffering is compounded, and reaches its zenith.
The Sufferings Of Jesus
In the Bible Jesus is seen as the ultimate face of suffering. He’s known as “The Suffering Servant” because of what He went through in His crucifixion. Although crucified between two thieves, Jesus was ultimately alone in His suffering.
His closest of followers and friends had abandoned Him and turned their backs on Him. And while suspended between heaven and earth on a cross, Jesus not only felt abandoned by loved one’s, He even felt abandoned by God.
Before dying, Jesus gasped with his final breaths to try and understand his agony. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Such was a deep moment of darkness that the Son of God even had to endure, and perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes in all of history, that even the Son of God, God incarnate and made flesh, should go through a moment of suffering so great, that He felt forsaken by God and alone.
Men can endure many different pains in this life. Suffering alone isn’t one of them.
So what do we do in these moments in life?
Some people turn to substance abuse. Others take their pain out on others. Some contemplate and follow through with suicide.
As a Christian I believe the Bible calls us to ultimately turn our eyes on Jesus. As God’s suffering servant, He knows what it is to ultimately suffer alone. He suffered alone so we would never have to.
Jesus is there to come by our side, and He promises to never leave us or to forsake us. As the Suffering Servant, Jesus can suffer with us in our greatest moments of darkness. We never have to suffer alone. Jesus promised, “…And lo, I will be with you until the end.”