Last week I wrote on the difficult subject of pain and suffering. In that article I stated that pain and suffering is not an area that is beyond God's control and that indeed God has, in his wisdom and love, not only permitted the problem to exist but at times is the causal agent of pain.
Such a suggestion is not something one normally hears expressed, and if I were not absolutely convinced of the Biblical accuracy of that statement, I would not be postulating it in such a public forum.
I am not the first to struggle with the public expression of such a difficult concept. Asaph, in Psalm 73, is struggling greatly with the seeming unfairness of life. Bad people are living in the lap of luxury while good people are suffering. So reprehensible is this reality to him that he begins this Psalm stating, "But I had almost stopped believing; I had almost lost my faith" (Psalm 73:2 NCV).
There are many people whose faith has been shipwrecked on the rocks of the discouragement that springs from faulty doctrine. In fact if you believe an illusion about what the Bible does or does not promise, I promise you that eventually you will become disillusioned with the faith. I've seen it happen time and time again and probably the most common cause of such devastating disillusionment is the very issue Asaph writes about in Psalm 73.
If you gain your faith or hope from circumstances, you will never know from one minute to the next if God loves you. Worse, like Asaph you will find yourself in such an untenable position that faith itself will begin to slip from you. Nowhere in all of Scripture, does God claim that his over-riding concern is that what he does or what we perceive him doing must be fair. He deals with some in absolute justice, others (who respond to him by placing their faith in Christ) receive mercy, but no one anywhere will ever be able to stand before God and claim they have been treated unjustly. It will not happen; it can't.
However, in this sin-scared world there are plenty of things that happen that we deem "unfair" and I would venture to state that 99 percent of the things we see as unfair somehow are wrapped up in the problem of pain. We suffer in some way, we see another enjoying life, and we begin to wonder if God really is in control, if he really does know what is going on in this fallen world, if he really does care for us, and before you know it, we find ourselves struggling with faith itself because we simply can't make sense out of some painful issue. Asaph struggled with that issue and wrote, "If I had really spoken what was on my mind, I would have been a traitor to your cause. Trying to understand this pain and seeming inequity is so far beyond my ability" (Psalm 73:15-16 Pearrell Loose Translation).
Now, if we divorce God from the ability or responsibility of pain and suffering in our attempts to protect his reputation, as I stated in my last article, we actually do more harm than good because we are left with an impotent God.
I suggested that at least one purpose of suffering is it gets our attention. C.S. Lewis called pain "God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world." The Bible says, "No one is good - no one in all the world is innocent. No one has ever really followed God's paths or even truly wanted to. Every one has turned away; all have gone wrong. No one anywhere has kept on doing what is right; not one" (Romans 3:10-12 TLB).
God could have left us in that sad condition, but because of his love, he doesn't. The really bad fact of sin is the deeper it is the less we suspect we are caught in it. Pain shatters the illusion that everything is well, and that is why I state that as painful as suffering may be, it still is the loving call of God to us. Only those who respond to this call can ever begin to understand the absolute grace of a pain received.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA, 30016. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org