Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Looking around us, it is evident that this tribulation—this scope of suffering and pain—extends beyond Jesus’s inner circle. It impacts every one of us in some shape or form. We encounter suffering through injustice, death, disease, violence, and natural disasters. I’m sure you can think of personal examples in a number of those categories—ways that you have experienced suffering.
If God Is Good, Why Is There Suffering?
The problem of evil and suffering is as old as the book of Job, but its reality presses against us still today. If God is truly powerful and truly good, why is there suffering? In Where is God in all the Suffering?, Amy Orr-Ewing notes that “love is the starting place for untangling questions of pain and suffering” (11). Suffering produces anger and sorrow, she says, because of three things: we love others, we believe others deserve love, and we wonder if we are loved in the midst of our own suffering.
Since Orr-Ewing is an apologist, she begins the book by expelling explanations of alternate worldviews that aren’t rooted in love. As she explains, suffering is not…
- A result of karma (i.e. we get what we deserve)
- Rooted in a belief that suffering is inevitable and we must accept our fate
- Merely understood in materialistic terms (such conceptions depend on objective morality grounded in God)
Instead, our reaction to suffering confirms the sense of intrinsic worth and value inherent in human beings created in God’s image. Suffering points to God.
How Suffering Points to God
This all leads Orr-Ewing to write,
“We are divine-image-bearers, and so our lives and wellbeing are sacred. This would mean that pain and suffering will hurt us at more than a physical level. If God is real and God is loving, pain will be the cost of love. Real love is simply not possible without freedom of choice—compelled love is never love. The possibility of love entails the possibility of pain” (22).
So, pain and suffering and evil exist because God made a world in which human beings can choose to love others, but human beings can also choose to harm others. Instead of sacrificing the biblical portrait of God as either not truly powerful or not truly good, we must accept the biblical truth that suffering exists because we live in a fallen world.
But thankfully Orr-Ewing reminds readers, “we are introduced to a God who is with us in pain, a suffering God, a God who is for us in pain” (26). So whether it is the grief of losing a loved one, the agony of physical sickness and injury, the affliction of depression and mental trauma, the emotional and physical misery inflicted by violence or systemic injustice, or the unpreventable tragedy of natural disasters, we know that God suffers with us; Jesus, the suffering servant, “came into a world of darkness and suffering, and dealt with the reality of evil, suffering, and selfishness by willingly experiencing crucifixion” (122).
Where Is God in the Suffering?
Each breath we take is evidence of a divine Creator—a heavenly Father. At the same time though, those breaths are often marked by jagged cries and pain. So, as the title of Orr-Ewing’s book asks: where is God in all the suffering?
The author ultimately explains,
“God can be found, known, and experienced in the midst of pain through his own suffering. Ultimately, at the heart of the Christian faith is the offer of relationship with a personal God who is a loving Father. A God who entered this suffering world in Jesus Christ, and suffered and died not only with us but for us. Through his suffering, he can offer us redemption, forgiveness, safety, and community” (129-130; emphasis added).
God is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27). No matter the suffering or trial you may be facing in your daily life, seek the face of our God who truly brings hope moment by moment.