Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Christ Suffered, Therefore We Must Also Suffer... huh?!?

There is one question that has been asked repeatedly throughout the generations by Christians (and by non-Christians trying to discredit Christianity).

Why does God allow suffering? 

This question often plagues us, especially when we're going through our own suffering, or when we witness a grand-scale tragedy. The suffering we see makes us doubt the great love and compassion of our Lord, and so we try to find an answer to this age old question. We know there must be a reason He allows it - there has to be a reason. Otherwise, we're all just pawns, and our suffering has no purpose, and life has no real purpose.

We turn to our Bibles. We turn to our Church. We turn to theologians who've also battled with this question. We turn to our Pastors, Priests, Preachers, teachers, ministers, elders, friends. We turn to God. And we find answers that calm our souls, or at least make sense.

It's part of God's plan. It's a test from God. 

These are two of the most common reasons I've heard. I've addressed these before in previous posts. But to summarize - I do not believe God's plan for us on Earth includes making us suffer. And I do not believe God causes or lets us suffer to test our faithfulness. Both of these make God seem a cruel master who doesn't already know the existence and strength of our faith.

Christ suffered, and therefore so must we.

This is the most recent one I've heard. It's worded differently, by different people, but basically amounts to this: Christ suffered on the cross for us, and therefore we must endure suffering as well so that we can be more Christlike.

There are some major flaws (in my opinion) to this. First and foremost - it takes away from the wonderful gift of salvation we have received through Christ's death and resurrection. We have eternal life - a life free from suffering, with our Lord - because of what was done for us. We don't need to suffer to receive that. The suffering was already done. The debts are paid.

Additionally, it implies our suffering is because of Christ's suffering. This is flawed right from the start because suffering was occurring long before Christ came to Earth. And well, it reminds me of something I heard as a child... "I beat you because I was beaten." Basically, it's saying that Christ wants revenge - He had to suffer, and therefore, so shall we.

Suffering brings us closer to God.

This is often a subset of the other rationalizations. It's hooked to them in some way:
  • "God has a plan for our suffering, therefore we must have more faith in Him and His plan, which will bring us closer to Him."
  • "By testing our faithfulness with suffering, we're brought closer to God." 
  • "Christ suffered, so we also suffer in order to make us more like Christ, bringing us closer to God." 
Basically - God is abusing and hurting and tormenting us so that we love and trust Him more. Or, God is allowing us to be hurt and abused and tormented so that we turn to Him out of love and trust.

Am I the only one who sees the flaw in that reasoning? A child who is beaten by a parent does not learn to love and trust that parent more. And more-so, a parent who watches and allows her child to be beaten is not loved and trusted more. In fact, it is worse. The parent who lets it happen often causes more damage to a child's ability to love and trust than the parent actually doing the abusing.

So why does God allow suffering? 

I don't know. I know only my own opinion on the matter, and that is that God never promised us a life free from hardship. He only promises that eventually, when we are with Him, that we will have a life free from suffering.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev 21:4)
And, I also know that even in the hardest moments of our life, even when we don't feel His presence, He is there with us to comfort us.

Can good come from suffering? 

Yes. Of course. Suffering gives us the opportunity to grow in love for each other. It gives us the opportunity to pray together. It does give us the opportunity to grow in faith towards God. It gives us the opportunity to personally grow in strength.  (Oddly enough - these opportunities are always there, through suffering and through times of joy. God is here to help us take advantage of these opportunities at all times.)

While I don't believe God simply allows us to suffer with the intention of us getting closer to God, or more Christlike, this does not mean I don't believe suffering can't have the potential of creating good. And, I do believe God has a hand in that.

Your suffering can have purpose. But don't assume it's God testing you or trying to strengthen you. Just know God is there beside you to give you comfort and strength, and some day our times of suffering will be over. Until then, we can only do what we can to help ease the suffering of those around us. 

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