Life had thrown us a few curve balls, and a close friend asked why Christians sometimes seem to have such a rough time of things. She knows where we are at as a family and she has seen a close relative who was also a Christian suffer, and ultimately loose, a long battle with cancer. Possibly she was starting from the assumption that Christians should have things easier, you know, since we’re best friends with Jesus ‘n’ all ..
It’s rare that someone will ask this question, and it made me think. One month in, and I’m still no where nearer to finding an answer.
Suffering is a huge and delicate issue and could range be something as minor as a stubbed toe or constant abuse and living under fear or even the loss of someone you care about and love deeply. Sometimes the suffering might be physical and very tangible yet sometimes it might just manifest as “having a bad day”. Sometimes it could even be that sheer weight that tries, from time to time, to pin us flat on the ground. A feeling that the walls are closing in, you feel like you are getting squeezed from every side and each attack seems somehow to hit the same vulnerable weak spot.
Why do we suffer?
Each time of suffering will have it’s own cause. Sometimes we experience suffering because it’s just part of life, part of the storm which touches us all. Sometimes people (us, others) mess up or hurt us and we have to deal with the consequences. Sometimes it’s something other, something spiritual, something evil. The key thing to remember is that suffering is never sent by God, but for some reason God sometimes allows it.
An often asked question goes along the lines of, “If God is a loving God, why is there suffering?”.
Good question. Here’s my attempt at answer.
Suffering was never His idea or what He had in mind when He lit the fuse for the big bang, formed the earth, planted the garden. Take your pick from the how-did-we-get-here? list. Which ever way you interpret the biblical account of how God got things going; it started perfect and then people decided to try to run things themselves. After that it all went downhill fairly quickly. The Jesus thing is God straightening it all out.
Here is an explanation from Jesus himself of why there is still suffering, and why maybe God doesn’t seem to be “doing more to sort it out”.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn. (Matthew 13:24-43)
In “This Beautiful Mess“, Rick McKinley explains that God wants to give time so the “wheat” can mature and isn’t ripped up along with the “weeds”. By not “pulling up the weeds” too soon God is giving a chance that these weeds might too become wheat – that folks who know nothing about Jesus will have the chance fall in love with Him. In this text it is very clear that God sows the good seed and the enemy sows the bad seed.
When we experience the fruit of bad seeds in our lives we can be sure they weren’t planted by a loving God. On the basis of these last few paragraphs I would lay the blame at the feet of people or the enemy (more about that another time).
At the gym
On a lighter note, let’s look at these seasons another way. When I have time, I’m the kind of person that when I get near a bicycle, climbing wall or even a gym, I’ll take it easy for first few times but then start to push myself more each time. If I can get to work in 35 minutes, can I do it in 34 .. 33 .. 32 .. Can I get to the top of the climbing wall quicker? Can I do it cleaner? If I can do ten curls with 50kg, what about 55kg? If 55, what about 60? I push myself, I like the burn and the exhilaration and testing my limits.
Metaphors are fine. They sound heroic and wise. Real life? A whole different ball game. If I’m cycling, I can get the bus tomorrow. If I’m climbing we can take a breather. If I’m at the gym I can slack off or take an early shower.
Why then do I complain when God allows a little more weight on my spiritual barbells? When He guides me to a steeper hill? Maybe God is allowing these struggles to develop something in me, to make me stronger. In the bible, James talks about sticking it out through the tough times in a similar way.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
So, if God is allowing me to feel some pain for a season, what do I do? That should probably read ‘what should I do?’. As I’m writing this I’m knackered and I am writing as much to myself as I am writing to you. I don’t even really know what I’m going to write next. I’m just re-reading what I’ve written, stopping, listening to what God might be saying and then writing from that.
The thing is, long periods of hardship and suffering is draining, and we can only take so much. For many, the effects of living under such constant pressure is feeling that we just want to lay down and die.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28)