In view of suffering, one “Christian” blogger charged:
- The great judgment of Matthew 25 should apply to God too. I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was trying to take a flight and you didn’t stop a missile from hitting my plane. I was trying to solve the HIV/AIDS crisis and you let a missile obliterated my body. I was on death row and you let them kill me. I was simply playing soccer with my cousins and you let the bomb kill all of us. I was cooking for my family and you let tanks into my neighborhood. I was going for a hike and you let me be kidnapped and tortured to death. I was walking down the street and you let people burn me alive. I was raped at my school and you did nothing to hold back my attackers. I shot myself and you didn’t come to help me. I died of cancer and you didn’t bring me a cure. I starved to death and you gave me nothing to eat. The tragedies that have taken place today are too numerous to list. What you have done to the least of these you have done to all of us. What do you have to say for your self? Silence…just like always. In the absence of any defense, my judgment today is that God is our passive enemy.
Admittedly, we have all felt like this. However, this charge not only reflects a failure to understand God but also a failure to understand ourselves. What is it that we fail to see about ourselves? That as certain plants require frost, we too require suffering in order to bear spiritual fruit. We have a mistaken conception of what should constitute the ideal life – a relatively pain-free life of only the simplest, doer struggles – and when our lives fail to conform to our ideal and expectations, we indict God.
Frankly, I still require regular doses of suffering. Without them, I tend to grow proud and arrogant, and when I do, my God has a way of growing smaller. The Apostle Paul detailed his painful, teachable moment this way:
- We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
If trusting in God is of such surpassing worth, then anything – self-trust – that interferes with this needs to be counteracted. And this is not a truth limited to the Christian revelation. Instead, we find that, in the absence of suffering, we become self-satisfied, self-righteous, and self—sufficient. We then tend to think more of ourselves than we ought and less of others. We relegate them to a position beneath us and deem them unworthy of our compassion.
Also, without suffering and loss, we become ungrateful and take for granted our lives and relationships. We all have seen the joy when a loved one is rediscovered after an earthquake. Perhaps then, we need such tragedies.
Without suffering, we do not grow. One study revealed that those who reported that they were most satisfied with their lives grew the least. This truth is also reflected in biblical revelation:
- Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
- We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)
We fail to understand the need for suffering. One bystander saw a butterfly struggling mightily to emerge from its cocoon, helped it free itself from its cocoon, but the butterfly died as a result. He didn’t understand that the struggle to free itself from the cocoon was a struggle necessary for its development. We too fail to see the necessity for struggling and pain and therefore rush to condemn God.
Is God our enemy, as the blogger claims? Perhaps, instead, we think more of our myopic indictments than we ought. In contrast, those who regard Him as a friend, experience Him as a friend, and benefit from this friendship. Consequently, we experience increasingly better mental and physical health, as the surveys reveal. The benefits even extend to our most intimate relationships, as former atheist, Patrick Glynn, reports:
- A 1978 study found that church attendance predicted marital satisfaction better than any other single variable. Couples in long-lasting marriages who were surveyed in another study listed religion as one of the most important “prescriptions” of a happy marriage. (God: The Evidence, 64)
Perhaps then God does have His reasons for allowing suffering, and those who are willing to listen to them benefit as a result.