We all have a worldview. And your worldview may even be different from the box you check for your religion. A worldview is exactly what the name implies–it is the way in which we all view the world. It is how we assess and process information. It is the base we start from in explaining things. It is what directs our decision-making and it is what establishes our value system. Ultimately it is how we answer just four simple but major questions: where do we come from, what happens when we die, how do we decide right from wrong, and what is the purpose of life. Each religion and each individual worldview is going to answer those questions in different ways, so in order to parse through all the many different options, we have to find which worldview most adequately answers those questions.
First, a worldview must be consistent with how we know the world works. For example, let's say your worldview asserted that your dog should be worshiped because it created the world. We would know that is a flawed worldview because it is inconsistent with the facts around us. For one thing your dog is only 3 years old and the world has been around much longer than that. But your dog doesn't possess the creative power to do something like create the universe. So our worldview must be consistent with what we know and observe in the world around us.
Second, a worldview must be consistent within itself for how it answers each of those four questions. For example, if your worldview described our origins as a random springing forth of matter from nothingness, then there cannot also be a purpose to life. Life would be simply a lucky accident based on a coincidental rearrangement of matter – that does not give life any meaning or intent. To say that we are here randomly but then assign life meaning is to live in an inconsistent worldview. Our worldview must be consistent across how we answer those questions about life or else we know our worldview is false.
Since we base all that we do, reason, and decide on our worldview, then we ought to make sure it is logically coherent and inherently consistent. It really should be consistent with the world we observe and consistent within itself before we use it to drive our everyday actions. Therefore, one must think critically about how they form their worldview. Is it consistent with the world we observe and is it consistent within itself for how it answers life’s major questions: its meaning, its origin, its destiny, and its values?
However, in addition to answering those major questions about life’s existence and our destiny, every worldview must also answer the question about suffering. Why does suffering exist? Why do we respond to suffering in the way that we do? Whether you’re an atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, or somewhere in between, your worldview must provide some explanation for why there is suffering. It is the ultimate question to which we all demand an answer when we see things take place around the world and when we experience tragedy firsthand in our own lives. We know that suffering is real because we feel it and see it every day somewhere around us. Therefore our worldviews must treat suffering a real entity, not just a figment of our imaginations, for it to be coherent and consistent. So does your worldview adequately address the existence of suffering? Even if you think it does, a worldview must do more than just explain the existence of suffering. It must somehow give us an adequate reason for our suffering. Just knowing that suffering abounds does not comfort our hearts or give us hope in the midst of it. A scientific explanation of tragedy does not give our souls peace. It answers how but not really why. So a worldview must be able to explain the existence of suffering that is consistent with the world that we see, but also provide a way for us to cope with it and to judge against it. It must satisfy our intellect and our soul.
The atheistic worldview says that our origins are purely natural; there is no greater Being that created the world we see. Life came about as a product of chance over an immense amount of time of struggling through evolutionary change and natural selection. Therefore death and suffering is simply a standard part of this world in the struggle for survival. In the atheistic worldview, death is the mechanism for life. It is by the death of the unfit that the fittest is pushed towards survival and that life progresses down a cone of increasing diversity. That would be a very straightforward explanation for the existence of suffering. Suffering and death exists because there is no option for it not to exist. But does that really explain our response to suffering? If suffering is simply a part of improving the genetic code toward a higher existence in biology, why do we feel a need to end suffering? Why do we condemn things as evil if it’s just part of nature? It would be like being angry at the wind for blowing when that is simply what the wind does. We are angered by suffering and dismayed by loss. We fund campaigns to fight against diseases and wage protests to end war. We decry genocide and promote civil rights. But why? We know there are things that just “ought not be so,” but why do we think that in the first place? If atheism really explains everything, then we should have a happy embrace and acceptance of death and suffering because it simply means the progression of life to evolve into something better. The atheistic worldview attempts to give a scientific explanation for the existence of suffering, but it fails to adequately explain our response to suffering. Atheism doesn’t tell us why we respond like we do when we see suffering.
The worldview of Hinduism holds to the concept of karma and reincarnation. For the Hindu, bad deeds equate to bad karma, and bad karma will result in suffering. But what about those cases of innocent suffering? What about the child born with a disability? Or the entire town devastated by a natural disaster? This worldview can explain some instances of suffering, but it can’t explain most of them because oftentimes tragedy seems to strike those that are most innocent. This worldview is not consistent with the world around us. The Buddhist believes that at the root of suffering is desire. The focus of the Buddhist worldview is to eliminate desire and therefore eliminate suffering. Does that really explain where suffering originates? Is all suffering simply a result of desire? What are we to do about “good” desires? We have the desire to help others. We have the desire to improve the world around us. We have the desire to end suffering. And Buddhists apparently have the desire to eliminate desire. Not all desires are the cause of suffering. This worldview also fails to adequately explain the world around us.
Granted there are many more worldviews than those addressed here. But the problem seems to remain the same through all of them. They fail to adequately account for the existence of suffering and why we respond to it with such lamentation. Bur what about the Christian worldview? Let’s be honest, when things get hard and suffering is excessive and evil seems to be in control, it is not Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam that is rejected. It is Christianity. It is the Christian God that seems to be held responsible for all calamities. And that should tell us something about the Christian God. He is not like the gods of those other religions. It tells us that people, whether they believe in Him as truth or not, recognize that something sets Him apart and above everything else. Why is that? And why does Shiva and Allah and Vishnu not get blamed for tragedy? It’s because the Christian God is supposed to be love. And people wonder, if the Christian God is love, then bad things should not happen. So let’s look at the Christian God in light of the existence of suffering. How does Christianity explain suffering?
The Christian worldview says that our origins come from an Almighty God who created this world and everything in it, that we have a soul that will live for eternity, and that our purpose in life comes from that God. And it is in light of those three facts that we can frame our understanding of suffering. From the first fact, God created this world for mankind, but mankind chose to reject God and now lives in a sin-wrecked world. Therefore suffering exists throughout this world – for the just and the unjust. Sin abounds, therefore we all face the damaging consequences of an imperfect world populated by imperfect, sinning people – which describes every one of us. Good people suffer; bad people suffer. And that adequately explains the world we see. Suffering and tragedy falls on all of us, regardless of our "karma."
So now we must look at the second fact. We have a soul that will live for eternity. Now we can have the proper perspective on suffering here. Life here is fleeting and largely out of our control. But we aren’t living for this life alone. We are living for where our souls will be for eternity. And that brings us to the third point: that our purpose comes from God. Our purpose here is to bring glory to His name in all situations. It means that suffering here isn’t just some meaningless stroke of bad luck. It always has a purpose if we look with an eternal perspective for the glory of God. As Jesus explains in John 9, a man had been blind since birth (innocent suffering in a fallen world) so that the works of God could be revealed (a Heavenly perspective that gives purpose for suffering to save souls for eternity). It’s the same when we read in Acts 3 about a man who had been paralyzed his whole life, sitting in front of the temple as a beggar. He had lived his entire life suffering, unable to walk, so that in that moment Peter could heal him in the name of Jesus so that 3,000 souls could find salvation in that same name of Jesus. It is only through the Christian worldview that we can explain the existence of suffering and our response to it. We are saddened by suffering because we know those things “ought not be.” But we only realize that fact because we know how God desires it to be for us. It is why we long for suffering to end. It is the Christian worldview that shows us hope within the midst of suffering.
But the Christian God actually takes it a step further. He doesn’t just tell us to think with a Heavenly perspective when things go wrong and leave us to that. He actually left His throne room of perfection to come down and suffer alongside us. Allah, Shiva, and Vishnu don’t do that. They stand aloft and give directives and rules about how to avoid suffering. The Christian God brings comfort into our suffering and shows us a purpose and a hope in it because He didn't just suffer with us but for us. He was the prime example of innocent suffering, which would be tragic enough, but He suffered innocently on the behalf of those who were guilty. And in the midst of His suffering, we found the prime example of hope. He suffered so that we could have hope for something beyond this life. It is His suffering that allows us to have a purpose and eternal perspective in our suffering. Without the existence of God and without the love of Jesus shown on the cross, our suffering would be meaningless and purposeless. And there can’t be a sadder existence here than to think we suffer loss, pain, and tragedy with no purpose.
Romans 5:3-5 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.