Why is there Pain and Suffering?
By John David Hicks
Two weeks ago I was painting the deck on a tall ladder. The ladder tilted and I fell on to the tile cement below. I cracked two ribs, skinned up my arm and whacked my head. The pain pills the doctor gave me helped some, but they made my head “foggy”. If I coughed or moved the wrong way, the pain was intense. Nevertheless, per doctor’s orders, I had to breathe deep and cough or risk getting pneumonia. For the first week, I could not lie down to sleep. Frankly, I felt miserable. I found myself focusing on my pain and how I felt. My wife said, “That is what sick, hurting people tend to do—they focus on the pain and their comfort.”
Compared to others, my pain and suffering wasn’t much. But for me it was very real. I found that my faith was refined in the fire of pain. Suffering gave me a fresh understanding and sympathy for hurting people. And it did cause me to pray more.
Researchers recently asked a cross-section of adults: “If you could ask God only one question and you knew He would give you the answer, what would you ask?” The majority of the people responded, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?”
That is one of the oldest questions; in the Bible, Job asks it. The book named after Job tells how the “terrorists,” destroyed Job’s property and stole his camels and donkeys; his wealth was now gone. Then Satan caused a tornado or hurricane to kill his twelve children. Finally, his health is broken and he is suffering in much pain.
Job asked “Why?” seven times in chapter three. “Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?” Again he asks, “Why did God allow this to happen?” “Where is God?” “Why didn’t God do something?”
In Hebrew, the word “why” is a cry of protest. They reasoned that all suffering is unjust and that God’s silence is inexcusable. If God is in control, then he must have let this tragedy or crisis into our lives. Like Job, we want God to explain Himself and give us a good reason.
The fact is that God is Sovereign, and does not have to explain Himself to anyone. So God is silent for the next 37 chapters as Job complains. Then God asks him a question, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding” (38:4). Simply, “You wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t decided to create you.” Then God added, “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it” (40:2).
Some people believe that the main reason for pain and suffering lies in our bad choices. But Job’s story seems to indicate that the reasons for suffering may go beyond our understanding. God may not act on your timetable. He may not follow your agenda. He may not choose to give you an answer. But suffering will move you toward or away from God.
This is where faith comes in. Job cries out, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (13:15). Job trusted in the character of God. A life of faith knows the person of God. Your faith will not stand until you see that God is good and righteous. He loves you and wants what’s best for you. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). “The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name [character] will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalms 9:9–10).