ESSAY: A Theology of Suffering (2001)

This essay was my first attempt in college at grappling with the issues related to Theodicy, that is, the problem of reconciling the existence of an all-powerful, all-good God with the presence of evil and suffering in the world.  Like many, my first exposure to this issue led me to the more traditional view influenced by St. Augustine.  

I have since altered my views a bit — influenced by such writers as Gregory Boyd and Roger Olson. But there’s still much of value in this old essay, notably many great quotes from the likes of C. S. Lewis, Mother Teresa, Philip Yancey, Billy Graham, Peter Kreeft and more.


Defining Suffering

Suffering—a basic human experience transcending race, age, gender, class, and religion—has been defined and understood by poets, musicians, theologians, mothers, and fathers alike.  No attempt fails to accurately express its essence, and yet no single attempt can be said to have exhaustively described the universal horrors of suffering.  Suffering takes a new shape and form with each new person and circumstance in which it shows its ugly head.

Thus, defining suffering is no easy task and necessitates a highly arbitrary process.  Putting suffering in a biblical context, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines it as “agony, affliction, or distress; intense pain or sorrow” and divides suffering into two types:

1) suffering that is “a result of evil actions and sin in the world as a consequence of the past fall in the Garden of Eden”, and

2) “suffering that is not related to past, but is forward-looking in that it serves to shape and refine God’s people” (Youngblood, 1995, p. 1207).

In other words, certainly much of the suffering in the world is perpetrated by humans themselves.  C.S. Lewis makes this clear in The Problem of Pain:

When souls become wicked they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another; and this, perhaps, accounts for four-fifths of the sufferings of men.  It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs; it is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork (Lewis, 1996, p. 79).

This essay is concerned with the second type listed above and attempts to understand the suffering of the innocent.  However, the first type will be inevitably dealt with shortly when discussing the origins of suffering.

Peter Kreeft in Making Sense Out of Suffering, defines suffering as Christ’s invitation to us to follow him to the cross and share his cross.  “Christ goes to the cross, and we are invited to follow to the same cross.  Not because it is the cross, but because it is his” (Kreeft, 1986, p. 137).

Mother Teresa also sees at the core of suffering an opportunity to share in Christ’s work.  When asked how a merciful God can allow the suffering of the innocent, Mother Teresa responded:

All that suffering—where would the world be without it?  Innocent suffering is the same as the suffering of Jesus.  He suffered for us, and all the innocent suffering is joined to his in the redemption.  It is co-redemption.  That is helping to save the world from worse things (Egan, 1994, p. 56).

Catherine De Hueck Doherty in The Meaning of Human Suffering defines suffering as “the kiss of Christ”.  She derives her intimate understanding from the Song of Solomon.  She asks, “Do you realize that when God deigns to lower Himself so that he can kiss you, you will know what suffering is” (Dougherty, 1982, p. 343)?  For Kreeft, Mother Teresa, and Doherty, suffering is understood as a close identification with the person of Christ and his sufferings.  This is one positive way of understanding suffering.

Others, including Philip Yancey and C. S. Lewis, note another positive aspect of suffering—the gift of  “pain”.  C. S. Lewis defines pain as “the megaphone of God”. Lewis says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (1996, p. 85).

Yancey looks in depth at the biological importance of human pain and its essential role as an indicator that something is wrong and needs attention.

When I break and arm and swallow bottles of aspirin to dull the ache, gratitude for pain is not the first thought that comes to mind.  Yet at that very moment, pain is alerting my body to the danger, mobilizing anti-infection defenses around the wound, and forcing me to refrain from activities that might further compound the injury.  Pain demands the attention that is crucial to my recovery (Yancey, 1990, p. 35).

Why Suffering Exists

These attempts at defining suffering only deal with the different ways in which people have tried to make sense out of or give meaning to their suffering.  However, what  is the origin of human suffering?

At the heart of this question lies the theological dilemma commonly referred to as the problem of evil.  The problem for Christians is that we believe God is all good and an all good God cannot create evil.  If God is the creator of all and he cannot create evil, where then does evil find its origin?

A prominent answer to this question stems back to Augustine who made sense using these lines of reasoning.

  1. God is absolutely perfect.
  2. God created only perfect creatures.
  3. One of the perfections God gave some of his creatures was the power of free choice.
  4. Some of these creatures freely chose to do evil.
  5. Therefore, a perfect creature caused evil (Geisler, 1999, p. 219).

Human “free will” becomes the answer to the problem and at the same time becomes the culprit of suffering.  Leslie D. Weatherhead states that “two things emerge from this [free choice]: first, the awfulness of responsibility; and , secondly, the glory of cooperation” (Weatherhead, 1935, p. 32).

C. S. Lewis and Philip Yancey both echo this understanding of the principle of human freedom.  Yancey adds to it a second principle, a world that runs according to consistent natural laws.  Yancey summarizes his view saying that “in a world that runs according to fixed laws and is populated by free human beings, the protective pain network, a wonderful gift, is likewise subject to abuse” (Yancey, 1990, p. 65).

This is not the only conclusion to make in answering the problem of evil.  Rabbi Kushner’s understanding of suffering in his popular book When Bad Things Happen to Good People leads him to deny one of the Christian’s foundational beliefs concerning God—God’s divine omnipotence.  In Kushner’s search to understand why his son had to suffer a horrible disease, he was unwilling to deny God’s goodness and therefore decided to deny His omnipotence.  Kushner believed that God is good and wanted to help his son but was not powerful enough.

Peter Kreeft strongly challenges Kushner, accusing his reading of Job to be “one of the most totally wrongheaded interpretations of any book that I have ever seen in print” (Kreeft, 1986, p. 48).  He adds:

Job’s lesson is that suffering is a mystery, but Kushner insists on rationality.  Job teaches humility, Kushner insists on an answer.  God himself tells Job he can’t know, but Kushner insists on knowing.  Job’s God asserts his omnipotence; Kusher not only denies his omnipotence but asserts that the Book of Job denies it too.  Job makes God the hero and Job the fool; Kushner reverses the roles (Kreeft, 1986, p. 48).

I agree with the classical Augustinian understanding of human “free choice” as the cause of suffering in the world and am not about to attempt to carve a new path through the slippery slopes of the problem of evil.  I feel secure surrounding myself with the minds of Augustine, Aquinas, Lewis, Yancey, Kreeft, and the majority of all other theists on this issue.

(Update: I have long since changed my views here, persuaded by more Arminian and Open views of God. See, for example, Greg Boyd’s Is God to Blame? or Satan and the Problem of Evil. Read my review of the latter here.) I have explored similar questions through a more cross-centered lenses in my series A Cruciform Justice

Suffering: Good, Bad, or Both?

Webster describes suffering with such words as pain, distress, misery, death, loss, damage, etc.  Only a masochist would see a state of being described by these terms as good or pleasant.  Given the choice to avoid suffering, anyone in their right mind would do so.

C. S. Lewis provides a vivid and superfluous description of the pain of suffering including his own personal feelings toward facing up to it:

When I think of pain—anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery, or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man’s heart out at one blow, of pains that seem already intolerable and then are suddenly increased, of infuriating scorpion-stinging pains that startle into maniacal movement a man who seemed half dead his previous tortures—it “quite o’er crows my spirit”.  If I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it (Lewis, 1996, p. 93-94).

Then, is suffering good in and of itself?  Absolutely not!  Suffering is the evidence of a fallen world.  However, the issue is much more complex than we would like to think.  Many peripheral questions arise concerning suffering.

Would the world be a better place without it?  This raises the common philosophical question of whether or not this is the “best possible world”.  We have already addressed this question implicitly in the problem of evil concluding that while suffering is not good, a world without human freedom to choose (the abuse of which causes suffering) is worse yet.

In its most crude formulation, God then becomes a sort of “cosmic rapist” forcing his love on his creation. Yet, the question that really needs to be addressed is: Does suffering have the ability to generate good or bad results?  I have found evidence for both.

The Apostle James considered it “pure joy” (Jas 1:2-4) when suffering.  The Apostle Peter “rejoiced to the extent that he could share in the sufferings of Christ”(1 Pet 4:12-13).  Mother Teresa saw  “suffering as a gift”( Egan, 1994, p. 119).  Catherine Doherty calls suffering “the kiss of Christ”( Dougherty, 1982, p. 343).  The list goes on and on of those who would claim that suffering has produced good fruit in their lives.

At the same time, there is story after story of lives shattered and families scattered due to the horrors of suffering.  The effects have been far from good in too many cases.  Kreeft rightly notes that “for every one who becomes a hero and a saint through suffering, there are ten who seem to become dehumanized, depressed, or despairing” (Kreeft, 1986, p. 10).

Weatherhead develops this point in a more candid way:

If anybody imagines that suffering automatically brings saintliness, let him ask himself the question next time he has an abscess at the root of a tooth.  If severe abdominal pain comes to him, let him comfort himself by murmuring, “Never mind, every moment I am becoming more and more saintly.”  And let him make sure that his wife agrees with his conclusion (Weatherhead, 1935, p.154).

How can there be such a vast variance in personal understandings of suffering?  In other words, how can someone one minute describe suffering as vividly and horridly as Lewis did above and then a minute later call it “a gift”?  The answer can be found in the different ways in which people respond to their suffering.

I want to propose that while suffering in and of itself is bad, it has the potential to bring about both good and bad depending on how the sufferer responds to their suffering. This leads to perhaps the most important question of this essay: What is the appropriate Christian response to suffering?

I will use the help of two biblical examples of suffering in attempting to formulate appropriate Christian responses.


Stage One: The Questioning Stage

The full experience of suffering could be divided into two different stages. The first stage of suffering I am going to call the initial questioning stage.  When someone loses a loved one in a car accident for example, aside from the initial feelings of shock, the sufferer is often flooded with many questions.  Why did this happen to them?  What did they do to deserve this?  Is God punishing them?  Is God punishing me?  Is there a God?

The second stage of suffering I am going to call the coping stage.  In the coping stage, the sufferer begins to look away from the tragic event of the past and toward the future.  How are they going to respond to these dismal circumstances?  They must try to accept their circumstances and begin to go on with their life in spite of them.

This is the make it or break it stage where people either grow stronger from their suffering or they let their suffering overcome them and regress into a hopeless state of depression.  To find an appropriate Christian response to suffering, two men of the Bible serve wonderfully to show healthy ways of enduring both of these two stages.

The Book of Job tells the story of someone in the questioning stage of suffering.  I will not take the space to tell the story.  It is a well known story of the innocent suffering of a righteous man.  After Job has suffered incredible loss including his sons and daughters, all his riches, and his own health, he responds with many questions toward God.  “What strength do I have, that I should still hope?  What prospects, that I should be patient?  Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me” (Job 6:11, 13)?  Much of Job is filled with personal lamentations poured out to God.

The first lesson from Job then, is that an appropriate Christian response to initial suffering is to pour out our feelings toward God.  “The Psalms, one-third of which are laments, include graphic descriptions of suffering” (Youngblood, 1995, p. 1207).  Suppression of feelings is an unhealthy first response to suffering.

Next, Job models for Christians the essential spiritual discipline of prayer.  Many readers of the Book of Job never recognize that the long discourses between Job and God are simply a series of prayers—i.e., conversations with God.  Job has to deal with the most frustrating answers one gets to their desperate prayers.  The first answer God gives in response to Job’s desperate laments is silence!  While Job listens to the bogus advice of his friends, God remains silent for many chapters.

When God finally breaks the silence, instead of explaining why Job, a righteous man, had to suffer; he instead bombards Job with his own questions!  “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 38:2-3).

Instead of explaining the mystery of why the innocent must suffer, God seeks to show Job his magnificence and power through describing the awesomeness of creation.  What Job and the rest of us need most in times of suffering is not a reason for it.  An mere explanation for our circumstances has no power to give us enduring hope.

Rather, we need to establish trust in God’s goodness and power and presence; and then in God we can find hope.  Furthermore, in trusting in God and his superior plan for our lives we begin the all important task of cooperating with God in living out his plan.

Weatherhead in Why Do Men Suffer?, devotes an entire chapter specifically to prayer in the midst of suffering.  He suggests that the value of prayer is not in getting what we want (Job wanted a reason), but rather value can be found in the fellowship we share with God by compromising our will to his.

But the value of prayer in suffering is not fully realized by healing and is not discounted by failure to heal.  Its value is seen in the rich fellowship which the sufferer has with God through it.  That fellowship can become so wonderful that the patient, while still greatly desirous of being cured, does not feel that there is a mystery left, and is far from any feelings of resentment and rebellion, but is able to co-operate with God so that whatever happens the eyes are lifted to the glory of God and the final consummation of His purposes (Weatherhead, 1935, p. 180).

In summary, a couple very important lessons can be learned from the Book of Job in dealing with the initial questioning stage of suffering.  First, feelings must not be suppressed but expressed freely in the counsel of God.  He can take our bitterness.  We won’t offend him.  Look to the Psalmists for reinforcement of this truth.

Second, pray not to get an answer to why you are suffering; but pray so that by doing so you can fellowship with the Lord in carrying out his perfect will.  As Paul puts it, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).   Jesus promises, “If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you”(John 16: 23).  Weatherhead finds a great illustration of this kind of prayer in Jesus’ prayer in the Garden.

Jesus prayed in the Garden that the cup might pass from Him, and it did not pass, yet the prayer was not unanswered.  It brought Him the assurance that He was in the hands of God and that everything he suffered would be used.  And the intention of the prayer was answered, that He might perfectly do God’s will (Weatherhead, 1935, p. 158).

It is this assurance that we are in the hands of God that is most needed in order to get through the initial questioning stage of suffering.

Stage Two: The Coping Stage

As time passes, the initial stage of questioning is replaced with a new stage of moving on and living in spite of past and current suffering.  This second stage which I have called the coping stage becomes the real challenge to whether one’s suffering will bear good fruit or rotten fruit.

The appropriate Christian response to the challenge of this stage is to first find meaning or purpose for one’s suffering.  In Nietzsche’s words, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” (Frankl, 1984, p. 97).  Victor Frankl reveals the horrible tendency of prisoners of the Nazi concentration camps to lose all sense of purpose for life.  “Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on.  He was soon lost” (Frankl, 1984, p. 98).

For Christians, the Apostle Paul models someone who found a meaning and purpose for his suffering.  Paul shows us that the purpose of our lives must shift from the living out of our own will to the voluntary conforming of our will to the superior will and purpose of the Father.

This involves a long hard process of transformation into the likeness of Christ, which I believe should be the central goal for all Christians.  In Paul’s words, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s Glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord” (1 Cor. 3:18).

Frankl reinforces this need for change. “When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves” (Frankl, 1984, p. 135).

Paul lived out his entire post-conversion life trying to die to himself in order to live in Christ and according to his perfect will.  Furthermore, he longed to rid himself of any self-sufficiency and to rely solely upon the power of Christ in him. Paul would gladly boast of his weaknesses in order that Christ’s strength would shine through him (2 Cor. 12:9).  As long as he was cooperating with Christ through his trials he could say,  “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Weatherhead echoes Paul saying, “God’s will, under these conditions, is that I should offer my suffering to him and cooperate with him so that, out of this suffering, a glorious purpose may be achieved” (Weatherhead, 1935, p. 160).  It is often forgotten that we remain ambassadors of Christ even in the tough times.  Therefore, in our trials we must strive even more to cooperate with Christ.  Weatherhead reiterates this point.

What we can do is to grasp that suffering, and by our attitude to it turn it into an asset, our cross of pain into a cross of gold which shines for all to see, kindling faith in a God who takes the pain He did not will, and, so far from being defeated by it, uses it as an instrument, and the willing sufferer as an agent, to fulfil His might purposes at last (Weatherhead, 1935, p. 137).

How hard is it to actually live out this challenge of submitting one’s will and purpose in life to that of another higher and superior will and purpose?  Christ exemplified beautifully the necessity of submitting to the will of the Father.  “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39).  Even Christ went through this perfecting process.  “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Heb. 5: 8).

We can see through the lives of Jesus and Paul that this process of being made perfect is not without considerable pain.  Martin Luther commenting on the suffering example of Christ said, “When I consider my crosses, tribulations, and temptations, I shame myself almost to death, thinking what are they in comparison to the suffering of my blessed Savior Jesus Christ” (Graham, 1993, p. 59).

Irenaeus was one of the earliest advocates of the “soul-making” motif of suffering.  The idea behind this view is simply that by undergoing suffering, people become better for it.  Therefore, a world without suffering would not have the same capacity for strengthening the souls of its inhabitants.  C. S. Lewis remarks, “If the world is indeed a ‘vale of soul-making,’ it seems on the whole to be doing its work” (Lewis, 1996, p. 97).  There is much support for this view.

In William Nicholson’s Shadowlands, he describes the pain of being molded and made perfect through suffering saying, “We are like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men.  The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect.”

A similar analogy is used in Jeremiah 18 to describe God’s patience in molding his chosen people, Israel, into a stronger, more obedient nation. The Lord spoke through his prophet, “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?  Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hands” (Jer. 18: 6).  This process is not without pain as C. S. Lewis admits.

“I am not arguing that pain is not painful.  Pain hurts.  That is what the word means.  I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ is not incredible.  To prove it palatable is beyond my design (Lewis, 1996, p. 94).

From Paul’s model of an appropriate response to suffering we can learn that there is a purpose for our suffering.  This purpose is to cooperate with Christ and his power by forfeiting our will to that of the Father.  We find meaning in taking up the cross that Christ promised us we would have if we were obedient to his call. Then, by cooperating with God in bearing that cross, he shares his resurrection power with us to endure it.

This point is made in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: “Paul could thus interpret his suffering in terms of the cross of Christ, while his ability to endure it or God’s action of deliverance from it, were an expression of the same divine power revealed in Christ’s resurrection” (Hafemann, 1993, p. 991-920).

Christian Response to Corporate Suffering

We have just looked at two biblical models for appropriately responding to individual experiences of suffering.  Now, a word must be said concerning the Christian mandate for approaching the corporate suffering of the world.

If one Christian principle stands out the most from Christ’s teachings and example, it is the principle of self-sacrificing love for our neighbors, both neighbors next door and across seas.  Perhaps the wisest man to ever live, King Solomon, once wrote: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

The Church has been given a most intimidating label—the body of Christ.  How can we live up to this label?  Yancey makes clear that “as Christ’s body on earth we are compelled to move, as he did, toward those who hurt” (Yancey, 1990, p. 239).  The Gospel has taught us clearly that the ear of a Christian must be keenly tuned toward the lowly of the world.  Our mission is to bless the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lonely, and the widowed.

There are three primary ways in which we can obediently live out our calling: (1) by the sharing of our resources, (2) by the giving of our time, and (3) by the discipline of intercessory prayer.

A story helps illustrate the blessings of unselfish giving:

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on (Luke 21: 1-4).

Christ set an example of giving in order to be blessed.  Christ, who was rich became poor for our sake and by giving all he had—including his life—God gave him a name above all other names (Phil. 2: 5-11).  When, like the widow, we give all we have out of gladness it will produce fruit for the kingdom.

Proverbs 11:24 says, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.”  For less than a dollar a day, through Compassion International one can provide all of life’s necessities for a suffering child in another part of the world.  The giving of our resources is one positive response to the corporate suffering in the world.

However, there is one aspect of suffering that financial giving fails to address—the need for personal care only to be felt by the human touch.  This can be met only by the giving of ourselves and our time.  It involves getting our hands dirty and facing up to the not-so-pretty faces of suffering.  Mother Teresa called these ugly faces the faces of Jesus. “Everyone is Jesus in a distressing disguise”, Mother Teresa would say (Egan, 1994, p. 15).

Billy Graham uses the parable of the good Samaritan as an example of the giving of our ourselves and our time.

When the Good Samaritan found a man robbed, beaten, and left for dead, he didn’t continue on his trip and “report the incident.”  He didn’t call 911 and leave the scene, nor pay someone else to go back and care for the man.  The Samaritan himself got involved…That is what bearing one another’s burdens is all about.  It’s so easy to give to a charity or a ministry and feel good about it.  It’s not so easy to provide the personal charity.  It’s easier to give to someone overseas than it is to take a casserole next door (Graham, 1991, p. 186).

Empathy is perhaps the best characteristic to acquire in order to best care for those suffering.  Hebrews says, “Think too of all who suffer as if you shared their pain” (13:3).  Do you think it is a coincidence that Jesus chose to heal the lame, the blind, and the lepers in person; even sometimes with the sensitive touch of his hand?  He could have chosen to seclude himself from the unpleasant realities of the streets of Palestine and resorted to healing through prayer.  Yet, there was a deeper, more personal love behind his ministry that could only be sufficiently demonstrated by his own act of serving.

Finally, regardless of how much money or time you have to give to relieve the suffering in the world, prayer is something of which we are all capable.  For those who give the excuse that they do not have enough time in the day for prayer, Martin Luther had this to say: “I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer today” (Graham, 1993, p. 146).  Luther had properly prioritized his needs for the day.  He needed more prayer on those busy days than days less hectic.

On the other hand, many are dying and have nothing to busy themselves with except for the constant task of enduring unthinkable levels pain; they need our prayers even more than we need our own prayers.  And for those suffering, these words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon bring comfort: “Groanings which cannot be uttered are often prayers which cannot be refused” (Graham, 1993, p. 143).  As already stated earlier, prayer is not only a way in which God miraculously intervenes on occasion, but more so it is a way in which we can bring our suffering and hurt into fellowship with him.

Jesus stands with open arms at the bottom of the life’s darkest valleys with tears in his eyes; not his own tears  but ours, and he begs, “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” (Matt. 11: 28-30).

Yet we grumble in our own misery and loneliness forgetting that the ultimate source of peace is only a prayer away.  Even when we are too overcome with grief to speak, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8: 26).  The fountain of life is available for all who are thirsty.  We need only drink.

Unanswered Questions

To those who are suffering it is breath of fresh air to be reminded of the sweet reality that we are only strangers in a foreign land.  Our citizenship is of another world.  Consider this life a bad vacation in comparison to the eternal home where we will someday go.  After reading Paul’s description of our earthly life, it should blatantly obvious why we suffer in this life.  We are heavenly pieces that don’t fit this earthy puzzle.

Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.  For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2 Cor. 5: 2-4).

We are incomplete without our clothes and naked we stand in a cold world.  What makes it harder is that we Christians have the secret knowledge that we have a place prepared for us somewhere else with warm clothes specially tailored for a perfect fit.  James asks, “What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (Jas. 4:14).  We are just ‘a passing through!

With this future reassurance, need we spend our time worrying about unanswered questions about the world’s suffering?  Is it not enough to know that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17)?

There are many unanswered questions that leave curious minds unsatiated.  Paul dealt with his own limited knowledge of why things are the way they are and no other choice but to accept the fact that “now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13: 12).

Will we remember one moment from our broken past,

when we are face to face with our Savior at last?

Horatius Bonar answers, “One hour of eternity, one moment with the Lord, will make us utterly forget a lifetime of desolations” (Graham, 1993, p. 209).

Here’s an alternative view by Greg Boyd that I now sympathize with — though the questions still linger, and humility is necessary with these timeless questions.


Dougherty, F. (1982). The Meaning of Human Suffering. New York, NY: Human                   Science Press.

Egan, E., & Egan, K. (1994). Suffering Into Joy. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications.

Frankl, V. (1984). Man’s Search For Meaning. New York, NY: Washington Square Press.

Geisler, N. (1999). Problem of Evil. In Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Graham, B. (1993). Hope For the Troubled Heart. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Hafemann, S. (1993). Suffering.  In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Madison, WI: Inter Varsity Press.

Kreeft, P. (1986). Making Sense Out of Suffering. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books.

Lewis, C. S. (1996). The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: Touchstone.

The Student Bible: New International Version. (1996). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Weatherhead, L. (1935). Why Do Men Suffer? London, W.C.: Student Christian Movement Press.

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. (1988). United States: Merriam-Webster Inc.

Youngblood, R. (1995). Suffering. In Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Yancey, P. (1990). Where is God When it Hurts? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

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