Pain—we are all equally subject to it. It is vitally important, therefore, to establish a view of pain and suffering that does justice to God’s character, the witness of scripture and our experience of it.
I once heard someone make this comment in relation to our attempts to better understand the problem of suffering and pain in the world: “When you’re in the midst of pain, it really doesn’t matter what our opinions about it may be.”
For a moment, I agreed with the comment. That is, until I reflected on it. Why? Because if we have a flawed view of the origin of suffering, such a misunderstanding can actually cause even more pain.
For example, if we hold to a model that maintains the idea that God determines and orchestrates all things, including evil, that will not make the journey through the pain any better.
Pain can actually be intensified because one has come to believe that God’s hand is directly responsible for the suffering they are enduring. This becomes a significant reason why it is so important to take the time to reflect on our faith and the challenge of suffering.
God and the Problem of Pain: Viewing Suffering Through the Lens of Jesus
1. We need to remember that Jesus isn’t behind our pain, but walks with us in it.
When things went wrong in people’s lives, whether it was about their physical or spiritual condition or some tragedy that happened to them, I don’t recall Jesus ever looking for the hand of God in it. Instead, he had compassion on suffering people and treated them like casualties of war. He expressed God’s heart by bringing relief to people’s suffering (Greg Boyd, Is God to Blame? Pg. 14).
2. Jesus’ public ministry reveals that God was against, not behind, all the evil in the world.
“The thief has come to steal, kill and destroy. But I have come to bring life, and to bring it to the full” (John 10:10).
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).
Jesus was and is expressly concerned with bringing healing, restoration and life to those afflicted by the evil one.
God’s kingdom (loving reign) is brought to earth with the coming of Jesus and revealed throughout his public ministry, death and resurrection.
In the career of Jesus of Nazareth—in his words, his miracles, his encounters with all sorts of people, his model of service to others, his majestic superiority cloaked in kind humility—is the beachhead, the foothold, the first ground staked out in God’s great project to reclaim the cosmos from the evil that corrupts it (John Stackhouse, Can God be Trusted? Pg. 113).
In the public career of Jesus, as he touched people with gentleness and healing, as he spoke with unparalleled authority and aptness, as he moved with steadfast purpose toward his final confrontation with the powers of his day, we see flashes of God’s pure shalom amid the swirling murk of our world (John Stackhouse, Can God be Trusted? Pg. 113).