I’ve been working on what I hope will be my second book for strengthening and equipping people in their faith. The subject matter is one that is universal to everyone: the idea of suffering. Suffering is all around us so it is important to assess how your worldview not only explains it but gives you counsel in it. Many times people think the existence of suffering means that there can’t be a God. So I think it’s important that we are able to logically understand that suffering does not mean that God does not exist. We may sometimes wonder why evil and tragic things are happening, but that does not negate the existence of an almighty Creator. And there are multiple reasons for that. In reality, the fact that we can even identify evil exists proves that a good, loving God exists.
But I don’t want to go into the purely logical arguments for that right here (hopefully you’ll get to read that in my book soon!). I wanted to speak more to the heart of the idea of suffering. Because suffering is something that affects us all in a very real and personal way. In fact, it has hit me in a real and personal way again this week. What I wanted to discuss here is the uniqueness of the Christian God in the midst of suffering. You see, every worldview (whether atheistic or theistic or polytheistic) must explain the existence of suffering. It must to our heads about understanding a world that has suffering in it. But your worldview must also speak to our hearts. Your worldview must explain why we respond like we do to suffering. Our response to suffering tells us an awful lot about the human spirit and the God who created us. We respond to suffering with brokenness, sadness, and grief. We use words like “tragic” to convey that this thing just ought not be so. How does your worldview give you comfort and peace in the midst of suffering?
Some worldviews imply that your suffering is just an illusion, that you haven’t overcome your circumstances with your mind. But that implies that suffering is not real – yet we know suffering is very real. Most other worldviews imply that your suffering is from some fault of your own. It is your karma or bad decisions that have led to this suffering. Granted, many times suffering is a consequence of your bad decisions, but not all suffering can be explained that way.
So here’s where I want to explain the Christian God because the God of Christianity is a God of compassion, a point that believers and unbelievers alike often miss. Many times when tragedy strikes we picture God up there with a frown on His face and a disapproving shake of the head, saying, “That’ll teach ‘em!” Or we imagine that He is sadistically laughing with delight when we stumble and fall on our faces, mumbling to Himself, “I told them so.” And while there are plenty of Biblical examples of God using suffering as a judgment on our sin, that is not always the case. We must also see this creation from God’s perspective to realize how much our pain and suffering must break His heart. Sickness, disease, and evil was not a part of this world in the beginning. When He created everything he declared it was “good.” His initial creation was with us living in peace and fellowship with Him; walking in His ways and in the beauty and perfection of the Garden of Eden, a phrase that now to us only symbolizes an idyllic place was once a real entity. He wanted that to be the life for His creation and for His children.
But our sin broke that. Our choice to reject His ways, to walk in disobedience, that Garden of Eden cannot be a reality for us. And it broke not only our fellowship with Him but it broke His heart. It broke His heart to see His very creation reject that goodness, that perfection, that beautiful place of peace. And now He knows that suffering is going to be an ever-present part of our existence. Evil decisions will have evil consequences. A nature no longer “good” will be rife with sickness, hurt, and pain. And God, knowing that was not how it could have been, is hurt by it too. So when we hear the word “cancer” for a loved one, it not only breaks our hearts, but it breaks the heart of God too – not out of surprise that it happened because He knows all things, but that cancer is even a part of this world. He sees this fallen creation and knows what it should have been like. He sees our hurt and our pain and it breaks His heart. It is just like a mother watching over her child, desiring the best for her child, but knowing because of the sinful world in which we live, this child will experience heartbreak and injury. This child, whom she wants to protect from all harm, must still navigate the pitfalls of life in order to grow, in order to learn. This child, whom she loves more than her own life, will make decisions to disobey the rules she laid down out of love. And this child, whom she wants to have peace and joy, will then find himself in suffering and pain.
And the Christian God has compassion on us. Mark 6:24 says, “And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.” Jesus had compassion on them. We are so clueless and helpless and bumbling around that God felt compassion on us. We are completely lost without Him. So He Himself came down to teach us. We suffer and have pain and loss and hurt because of our sin. Out of His compassion, He came down so that we could have a better hope, a better future than what sin had for us. Jesus was so full of compassion that He asked God to forgive the very men who were crucifying Him on the cross. He saw that those men – and ourselves – are so lost that they didn’t even fully grasp what they were doing. So He said, “Father, forgive them.” He saw they needed His compassion. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” He has compassion on us for the burdens that we carry, for the labor that we struggle under, so He gives us rest. First Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you.” He has compassion for our anxiety and tells us to bring it to Him. Jesus said in Matthew 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” He wanted to give us peace. He had compassion on us for our troubles and our fears so He gives us peace.
So when we suffer, are anxious, and feel burdened, God has compassion. God offers us peace and rest. He has compassion on His children, just like we as earthly parents do. What do other gods of religions do in those times? Are they compassionate? Most of them tell you that it’s your own fault. It’s your karma from bad decisions. It’s your retribution for not showing enough devotion. Where’s the compassion? Where’s their god that says, “Come to me when you’re troubled. Cast your fears, your worries, your burdens on ME so that you may rest.” Where is that god in man-made religions? Jesus wept when Lazarus died – KNOWING He was about to raise Him from the dead. But He cried along with humanity for what sin has done to His perfect creation. He understands the sadness of loss and His response was to weep. When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane the night of His arrest He said, ““My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He understands the fear of death and His response was to cry out to God – and then submit to His authority. “Not My will, but Thy will be done.” And in that moment, His compassion on us in our sins, His compassion while we reject His authority, was so great that He laid down His life for us. He loves us so much that He died to free us from the pain and suffering that our sins have brought us. His compassion was so great and His heart was so broken for us that He walked among us, that He suffered alongside us, that He suffered and died in our place, and that He defeated death for us so we do not have to walk this road of suffering alone.