Why do we suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is so good why doesn’t He intervene? Before we go any further let me clarify I don’t have an answer to that question. That question has been asked for centuries and will continue to be asked as long as the world draws breath.
All we really have is speculation on this subject because no one truly has an answer, and God, it seems, will remain silent on the issue. The question, however, has validity; we want an answer, we need to justify the suffering all around us, the suffering of the loved ones in our lives.
Crediting the “devil” or Satan with the cause of tragedy and suffering used to make sense, however, it is now my opinion that passing off the root of evil to the antithesis of God is also handing off responsibility for man’s ills and evils. I don’t discount the influence of “evil” in our world, but to assign blame to Satan for every tragedy that befalls man is akin to absolving humanity of our responsibility and choices conveniently naming the “devil” our scapegoat.
From a Jewish perspective there is differing thought. Man is inherently evil because of a decision that was made in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose to eat of the tree of Good and Evil, so in essence, man’s choice brought evil into the otherwise perfect world, and our course was set. Another thought is that if we had an explanation we would cease to be empathetic, thus negating a reason to come alongside and provide comfort to fellow humanity. A third is that our actions result in “karma” and therefore we deserve whatever we get. And a fourth, I discovered while researching, was that suffering compels us to make a decision to live in the past and adopt a heart attitude of bitterness, or propels us forward to change our world in whatever way we can; in other words a result of our suffering. At the end of the day the answer to the question may be a combination of the above explanations.
I have asked and been asked that question many times in my life and my go-to answer is not unlike some of the above. In some ways karma makes sense; karma being “what goes around comes around”. Certainly, Adam and Eve set something in motion with their one act of willful disobedience, and I also believe that, in part, we suffer so that we can be empathetic when others suffer. Tragedy and suffering bringing us to the crossroads of deciding between bitterness and propelling us toward making change in the world is interesting, as well. I like that. Bitterness only serves to hurt us, our relationship with others, and ultimately with God.
The explanation I hadn’t considered and that really intrigued me was that if we had an explanation for all tragedy and suffering we would cease to be empathetic. Huh. To look at that scenario let’s consider childbirth. We know that childbirth involves pain. (I’m a nurse, went to childbirth classes when I was pregnant, and read all the material on birthing where the “pain of childbirth” was referred to as “contractions” and not “pain” because it is a natural process, blah, blah, blah, but let’s face it; childbirth is painful!!) When a woman is in the throes of birthing we, as bystanders, do not grieve, are not sorrowful, crying out to God, “why”; we are happy, rejoicing, because a new human is about to makes it’s debut. We are aware of the necessity of a time of “suffering” on the woman’s part before the awaited event. We may empathize as one understanding contractions and the process, or we may be the partner wanting to alleviate some of the “pain”, but we know it’s short-lived, in the grand scheme of things, and the “pain” will all but be forgotten once the cherub is on-scene.
But, for a moment, translate that “knowing” scenario to a truly tragic event. If we knew all the in’s and out’s of a tragic situation for another in our lives, would we be as empathetic? I venture that we would not. If the tragedy was the result of wrong on the part of the sufferer, or we were privy to a positive outcome, etc. it is likely we would not offer much support, especially knowing the tragedy was deserved, or there was to be a positive resolution.
As a sufferer, we have the opportunity to grow from and through any experience, or we can choose to stagnate in bitterness. Stagnation breeds disease; no good will result. Suffering can bring us into deeper relationship with God, to know Him in a different way. On the other side of the suffering we will have gained some amount of wisdom that we can pass on to others in the midst of their sorrow. Although it seems idyllic to live a life without any suffering, a life filled with wine and roses, a life like that is detrimental to a relationship with God. An idyllic life would not drive us to our knees, or to open up a Bible, to seek advice or comfort from one we believe to know God better than we do; we would merely live each day among the rainbows and unicorns, and I wager, quite self-centered and superficial. Without reason to venture into the deeper waters of understanding we would be content to live on the seashore, our toes sinking into the sand only a couple of inches.
I do not believe that some of the stories in the Bible actually happened; which is not to say the Bible is, in any way, fable. Rather, many of the stories are word pictures to teach us deeper truth. We need a reference point in order to learn. The vivid word pictures of the Bible provide us with tools to understand spiritual lessons. Yeshua (Jesus) often used analogies of the familiar to open the world of the spiritual to all who would listen. Daniel in the lion’s den or in the furnace with his buddies are examples that are likely more analogy than fact. What is the lesson? Perhaps that we are not alone in circumstances that threaten, are dangerous, or overwhelm; that God comes alongside and suffers with us, provides comfort and counsel. There is a song I hear most every morning on my way to work, and one of the phrases in the song is “He stands in the fire beside me”, meaning Jesus. (Chris Tomlin “Jesus”) I love that phrase, it gives me comfort and confidence that no matter what life tosses my way I am not alone. No matter the explanation for suffering, at least for those of us who choose to walk the journey with God, we have the assurance that He is a firm foundation in all circumstances of the lives we live wrapped in humanity. We all suffer, some more often than others. Whichever explanation for suffering resonates in your spirit, know that God will be standing in the fire with you…..