Making Sense of Suffering
Christianity is more than a belief system. It is a away of life. The principles derived from Scripture inform the head and guide the heart. The Christian worldview is one of the few where philosophy corresponds to the human experience with coherence and consistency.
But inevitably, events will occur which threaten to shake the foundations of our world. We lavish God with praise when his blessing fall upon us, but when tragedy strikes, praises turn into questions.
Why does there have to be suffering?
This is one of the most important question you can ask, and it’s the topic of a recent book by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale titled Why Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense
Abiding by a spiritual code means following a perpetual pattern of study and application. Once a search for truth yields the fruit of discovery, a growing hunger for more knowledge can threaten this balance.
The study of Christian apologetics is about the desire to give answers for anyone with questions. It’s about deepening your understanding of why you believe what you believe.
Just as a scientist must leave the lab and work in the field, the apologist must recognize when to stop studying and start applying what he or she has learned.
This happened to me recently. Life threw a curveball, and the questions started coming. It was the moment for which all previous studying, thinking, praying, and contemplating was intended: to help someone cope through a time of suffering. Zacharias writes:
“At least as important as the question of why there is suffering is the question of how we will face the pain”1
The question is not just how we will face the pain, but whether we can help others through their own pain. Zacharias then quotes Chesterton to ask a question few contemplate before demanding answers from God:
“When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from him— but in heaven’s name to what?”2
Suffering is a part of our world. But in times of pain, it’s natural to ask why it must be so. Why couldn’t God have created a world without suffering, a world without pain?
Zacharias and Vitale join forces to provide a deeper look into this question, providing not a single answer, but a suite of possibilities, each with its own merits, and all working together to explain why a good God might allow for the possibility of suffering.
Zacharias sums up it up this way:
“Where there is the possibility of love, there has to be the reality of freedom. Where there is the reality of freedom, there has to be the possibility of pain. Where there is the reality of pain, there is the need for a Savior. Where there is a Savior, there is the possibility of redemption.”3
While the fact that suffering must be a possibility in order for the highest possible good (love) to exist is true, it may have little power to sooth the aching heart or the failing body. This is where philosophy must be accompanied by a knowledge of our purpose–why God chose to create us in the first place.
“That purpose is to enjoy the true nature of love and relationship, which are to be found only in Him. All other loves and relationships are meant to be a reflection of that perfect love and relationship.”4
Even after asking the questions and finding satisfying answers, Zacharias reminds us by quoting Calvin Miller:
“. . . having answers is not essential to living. What is essential is the sense of God’s presence during dark seasons of questioning. . .”5
We know suffering best by the pain is causes in our lives. But a world without suffering would be a world without some of the greatest goods known to humankind, such as:
- courage in the face of danger
- standing against injustice
- showing compassion and empathy
- the freedom to love
- sacrificing one’s own good for the good of someone else.6
Sooner or later, the question of suffering will visit us all. It is a difficult question, and oftentimes the answer is not in words, but simply in your presence alongside to share in their suffering.
How do you make sense of the suffering in your life?
1Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale, Why Suffering? Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense (New York: Faith Words, 2014), 26.
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About Jason B. Ladd
Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.