A couple of years ago AnOldSinner wrote “Of Job and Ants.” I was reminded of this piece during a sermon at my home church recently. We were starting a series on suffering, and Job was mentioned. Of course, I immediately thought, “I wrote about that a couple of years ago.” Still a little full of myself at times, but I am working on it. My lack of humility aside, the topic of suffering is worth revisiting.
Humans have an extremely hard time believing that a loving God and suffering can coexist. One of the go-to phrases for some atheists is, “I cannot believe in a God that would let something like that happen.” The reader can fill in whatever tragedy comes to mind for the word that.
The problem may be that human beings do not really understand the word love. This point was driven home to this writer a semester ago during an online discussion in a seminary class. Someone raised a question about the charge some make, that a Christian’s job is often to love the sinner, and hate the sin.
After a rather lengthy discussion that included the professor, it became clear even a group of graduate level seminary students did not know what the phrase meant or if it was possible. Everyone had an opinion, but the current U.S. Congress has a greater chance of reaching a consensus on immigration reform than we had on reaching a consensus on that phrase.
In this writer’s opinion the problem was that most of those involved in the discussion were worried about the wrong words. They focused the discussion on the words hate and sin. To be clear, this writer did as well at the time. It was only after the discussion essentially stalemated that this writer realized the meaning of the word love was causing much of the problem. That is also the problem with the charge that a loving god would not allow suffering in the world, if the god was all powerful and all knowing.
It is a hard pill to swallow. The idea that God the Father would allow His children, His creation to suffer just seems wrong. While it may seem hard to accept, the Bible makes it clear God allows it.
The verse upon which the sermon mentioned above was based is Lamentations 3:38, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?”(ESV) Other verses leading one to the same conclusion were used by the pastor to support the conclusion that according to the Holy Bible, God is in control of the good and the bad things of this world.
Job is a great example of God’s control of suffering. God allowed Satan to test Job severely, eventually taking everything Job had, except his life. This was an example of extreme suffering that was not caused by God, but was allowed by God.
Some critics of this writer’s and the pastor’s position will say that the New Testament changed all that pain and suffering stuff. Some will even claim the god of the New Testament is not the same as the god of the Old Testament. There are a couple of problems with that view. One is that Jesus seemed to believe the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament is the same God. Jesus also accepted the fact that suffering was God’s will for some people. A scene recorded in The Book of John makes this point clearly.
Jesus is passing by a blind man in Jerusalem. One of His disciples asked him who sinned to cause the man’s blindness, the man or his parents. Jesus responded, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3, ESV) Jesus then proceeded to heal the man’s blindness. Here we see a man who was born blind and suffered for years, simply so Jesus could heal him and show God’s power as part of his ministry.
How can this be? How can a loving God allow Job to suffer at the hands of the Devil? How can God allow a man to be blind from birth just so Jesus can heal him as an adult?
For those who choose not to believe, the answer is simple. God does not exist. For Christians the answer is a little more difficult. To understand more of that conflict from a pastor’s point of view, this writer strongly suggests you check out the sermon that triggered this piece and watch the others in this series over the next five weeks. However, what good is a writer who does not make his opinion clear.
This writer believes the problem people have with this concept is the general understanding of love. Merriam-Webster online offers nine variations of the definition of love. The problem is they are concepts that one must interpret and most people translate them as defined by the person’s culture and socialization.
God’s love for mankind is different from the love humans share with each other and the world in which we live. It is likely not possible to understand the kind of love God feels for humans. The closest a human might come to this sort of love is a blending of the love for a child with the love for a student or protégée. Perhaps that relationship would need to be topped off with the kind of affection or conscious feeling of responsibility of a Marine Drill Instructor.
The point is this. There are times as humans when it is necessary to let a loved one suffer to learn a lesson or mature. In some cases it may even be necessary to inflict some level of suffering on a loved one for that purpose, thus the drill instructor allusion.
God’s commitment to the development of humankind is much greater than the commitment of a parent to a child, a husband to a wife or a drill instructor to a trainee. Yet, it seems God’s purpose is to mature at least some humans to the point we are worthy of a closer relationship with Him. Suffering is a necessary part of that maturation process.
© S.E. Jackson – 2014