Every day the media brings us more scenes of disaster and tragedy. Who has not asked “Why me?… Why us? … Why them?”
In many countries there is intense suffering due to the lack of food and medicine that many take for granted. Yet not the wealthiest home is immune from the suffering, the sorrow and the heartbreak that is part of the human condition. Why? Often the victims are in no way to blame.
This question of suffering challenges every thinking person.
Only the Bible provides the reason and the solution for this universal problem. Many scoff at the Bible, especially the book of Genesis, but without it the problems of evil, pain, and death remain inexplicable. Genesis tells us how and why suffering became an integral part of human experience, and the first stage of the solution. The full program is outlined in the rest of the Bible.
In the beginning God created all living things, each generation of each species instinctively following the behavioural patterns programmed into their genes. Only man is different.
Human beings were created able to reason in the abstract, to appreciate beauty and to know right from wrong. These are characteristics of God Himself (Genesis 1:26,27). The LORD’S purpose was to create a race able to recognise His supremacy, and reverence Him as a result. Given this response, He planned to make them immortal. Instead of making us robots, God made us intelligent beings capable of choice. God gave the first human pair the ability to decide how they would respond to Him, but He warned them of the consequences of disobedience! (Genesis 2:17) He could not tolerate eternally those who ignored Him.
Our first parents disobeyed and so God’s sentence came into operation. Whereas Adam and Eve had been created “very good” (Genesis 1:31), all their children would be born with a tendency to sin so strong that every one, except Christ, would transgress. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) is the law of the Creator. Not only would all eventually die, but sorrow and pain would be part of their very existence (Refer Genesis chapters 2 and 3). There was a purpose in this. It was not merely the vengeance of an angry God, as we shall see.
The Purpose of Suffering.
Pain serves an important purpose. It is a signal that something is wrong.
The writer once heard the tragic case of a boy who had no sense of pain, discussed at a medical meeting. Every day the boy’s parents inspected him for deformities indicating broken bones he could not feel. He was the only child who had ever jumped off the kindergarten roof. He went all day with a stone in his shoe and the resulting damage was difficult to heal. Bigger boys delighted in running lighted matches up and down his bare arms, … and so on. He was in constant danger and life was a nightmare for his mother.
Suffering and pain are all around us every day; it is God’s message to mankind that something is wrong. Action is needed.
Our understanding of the purpose of suffering is confirmed by the fact that the Bible tells us that it will continue, although to a much lesser degree, even when Jesus reigns over mortals on the earth. So long as sin remains a possibility, so long will people need reminding that all is not well and they need to put themselves right with God (Ezekiel 47:12, Isaiah 65:20).
Our Creator has the right to tell us what to do. If justice was His only characteristic, He would have long ago destroyed us all for disobedience. That is not His way. He loves us and wants to save us from ourselves, if only we will listen. The laws he gave are wise and good.
Had humanity heeded the regulations He gave Israel around 1600 BC, many major health problems would never have occurred. There would have been no Black Death and the spread of many infectious diseases which have caused untold suffering down the centuries, would have been minimised. If God’s laws for healthy living were respected today, much of the stress, and many of the problems that afflict humanity throughout the world, would be eliminated.
Human greed leads to exploitation of the weak. The lust for power means that resources that should be spent on agriculture, health and education, are diverted into armaments, or flamboyant luxury for a few families. Much misery is the result of unrestrained human nature. Anger and violence bring suffering to countless innocent victims.
Numerous organisations and individuals devote their energies to the relief of suffering, but they find themselves up against two insurmountable obstacles.