I do a lot of work online. I post content on social media twice daily, except Sundays. I write this weekly blog. I interact with people a lot through messages and comments. I even do counselling online, sometimes through services like Skype or Zoom, sometimes through direct messaging.
These are only the tip of the iceberg of our team's online and in-person ministry efforts. I have chosen to put time and energy into these platforms as I have seen the Lord work through them and grow our local church through that effort. I have no doubt, had the Apostle Paul the same opportunities, he would have done the same. I have been praying for the lost online sheep wandering without a shepherd. So far, my experience has been there is more work there than can be done.
One of the challenging aspects of online ministry is that people are usually not themselves online. The anonymity of the internet tends to bring out the worst in people. It allows people to be excessively hateful and rude without consequences. Of course, as a Christian content creator, I expect to draw a fair bit of ire. In light of what Jesus says in John 15:18-20 I know what I’m getting myself into.
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But because you are not of the world, since I chose you out of the world, the world therefore hates you.”
I have found one topic in particular to draw more negative attention than others, and that is the topic of suffering. It really triggers people.
I recently made a post on suffering and gave one answer (there are many) as to why God allows suffering. This particular post was about how asking the question, “Why does God allow suffering?” comes from a place of believing that suffering doesn’t have value, which in fact, it does.
The reconciliation of God’s will and suffering is a difficult topic, and questions often come up from both believers and unbelievers. Judging by how I have seen Christians handle this topic, most are, unfortunately, woefully inept at addressing the topic of suffering from a Christian point of view.
On the social media post I mentioned above, I received multiple comments, some I read, some I did not, but to give you an idea of the general temperament of commentators, here are some examples of comments I received.
“Christians are just perverts with a suffering kink.” “So when a baby is born with a crippling debilitating disease only to live a few hours in excruciating pain and then die that has value? Your God seems cruel.” “Imagine the value in a child raped by a Priest..... great plan, God.... carry on.”
There are a couple of things to consider when talking about suffering and how God does or does not deal with it. One is that it is a topic, like many, that will not be addressed conclusively in this life.
There will always be questions that go unanswered, and that’s okay. Another consideration is that it doesn’t matter how well you answer questions about the relationship between God’s will and suffering. There will always be those who will not change their mind and use the existence of suffering as an excuse to write off God.
Let’s talk about suffering.
Suffering as a result of life in a broken world.
One of the most comprehensive answers to the suffering question is that we live in a broken world. This is the reason suffering exists. Adam and Eve existed in the Garden for an undermined amount of time before they chose to disobey God. Up until that point, suffering didn’t exist.
Suffering is not God’s plan but the result of man's disobedience. We may sometimes forget that sin not only became part of human nature but it entered into the world.
SUFFERING IS NOT GOD’S PLAN BUT THE RESULT OF MAN’S DISOBEDIENCE.
Creation itself was affected as the result of sin. This is a source of suffering. The world is broken and will remain so until Jesus returns.
THE WORLD IS BROKEN AND WILL REMAIN SO UNTIL JESUS RETURNS.
Suffering as a result of decisions
Suffering is also often the result of the decisions we make. In the Garden Adam and Eve reasoned things out and made the decision to sin against God. People often ask, “why does God allow suffering?” In many cases the better question would be, “Why do people make decisions that lead to suffering?”
God has given us a free will and His expectation is that we exercise that free will in accordance with His will. We find His will, at least in part, in the moral commands of scripture. People often confuse God’s commands with a to do list that leads us to righteousness or a way that God controls us.
GOD HAS GIVEN US A FREE WILL AND HIS EXPECTATION IS THAT WE EXERCISE THAT FREE WILL IN ACCORDANCE WITH HIS WILL.
Viewing the moral commands of God as controlling is silly. In his omnipotence, if God chose to control us, He could certainly do so. The moral commands of scripture are the roadmap God has blessed us with to show how to navigate life in a broken world.
If everyone were to exercise their will in obedience to the moral commands of scripture, there would be dramatically less suffering in the world.
Suffering as a catalyst for growth
Suffering may not be part of God’s plan, but that doesn’t mean He can’t use it. God uses suffering as a catalyst for growth.
Imagine a man who has never had to face or experience any difficulty, pain or suffering. He would be worse than useless. We’ve all seen the cultural trope of the person who inherited everything and never had to face difficulty.
God uses suffering to shape and mould us into who He wants us to be. Through suffering, we grow and mature develop empathy and the ability to help others when they are suffering. For followers of Jesus, we have hope, knowing that someday, suffering will end.
I do have empathy for unbelievers and suffering.Without God and His word, suffering has no explanation or purpose. It’s just simple misery without value. If I believed that, I’d be triggered too.