Why Do Innocent People Suffer? Pastoral

The most important help we can give those who are suffering is to stand with them and support them practically and prayerfully. Some of the points made here might be helpful to those battling with trauma over personal or family suffering. But if they are said in the wrong way or at the wrong time could sound glib and even hurtful. Great sensitivity is required in seeking to help those facing such pain.

A. FOR THE BELIEVER DEATH IS PROMOTION TO GLORY

This point could easily be made insensitively. However, it is true. This life is not all that there is. Death is not the end. Heaven is a reality. So, for the believer, one s death, even premature death, is not an evil, tragic though it is to those bereaved and left behind.

We can ask why God did not place us in heaven to begin with. Maybe there is no adequate answer to this question. But nevertheless, God is going to bring believers to heaven.

According to Christianity, the next world is:

  1. A world without wrongdoing, violence, division, poverty, injustice and hatred.
  2. A world without suffering, disease, pain, ageing and death.
  3. An unspoilt world in all its God-intended beauty: a world of peace, unity and positive relationships.
  4. A world where all the art, music and culture and good human achievements will be present to enrich life.

According to Christianity, we will have the same sort of resurrection body as Jesus, which can appear and disappear at will, and pass through solid objects. Such abilities would afford protection from any natural turmoil such as earthquakes, floods etc, if they still were to happen.

B. GOD REDEEMS OUR SUFFERING

Again, one must be very sensitive about sharing this point, but I can testify to the fact that even through the most meaningless and unjust suffering, God can work out a wonderful purpose, whilst giving healing and helping the sufferer to come to terms and cope with it.

C. GOD SHARES AND BEARS OUR PAIN

To me, this is the real response to the problem of suffering. Our God became incarnate (human) in Jesus Christ and experienced blood-sweating anxiety, excruciating pain, humiliation, torture, and (literally) Hell.

Professor Alvin Plantinga writes: “As the Christian sees things, God does not stand idly by, coolly observing the suffering of his creatures. He enters into and shares our suffering. He endures the anguish of seeing his Son, the second Person of the Trinity, consigned to the bitterly cruel and shameful death of the cross. . . Christ was prepared to endure the agonies of hell itself . . . in order to overcome sin and death and the evils that afflict our world and to confer on us a life more glorious than we can imagine. . . he was prepared to suffer on our behalf, to accept suffering of which we can form no conception.”[1]

Dr Benjamin D. Wiker comments: “With the Incarnation, the reality of evil is absorbed into the deity, not dissolved into thin air, because God freely tastes the bitterness of the medicine as wounded healer, not distant doctor. Further, given the drastic nature of this solution, we begin to recognize that God takes the problem of evil more seriously than we could ever have taken it for ourselves.”[2] (The Problem of Evil, Crisis magazine, December 9, 2003).

Dr Mike Higton says: “The question of evil is, therefore, not Can we reconcile the claim that God is good with the claim that there is evil? Rather, the question is, Is it really possible for people to go on trusting in the covenant promises of God, and living in response to those promises, in the face of extremities of suffering?”[3] (Deliver Us: Exploring the Problem of Evil, Church Times Study Guides, Canterbury Press, Norwich 2007, p. 27).

Clearly I (and my son) would respond: Yes, it is!

[1] 'Self‑Profile,' in Alvin Plantinga, ed. Jas. E. Tomberlin and Peter Van Inwagen (Dordrecht:  D. Reidel, 1985), p. 36.
[2] The Problem of Evil, Crisis magazine, December 9, 2003.
[3] Deliver Us: Exploring the Problem of Evil, Church Times Study Guides, Canterbury Press, Norwich 2007, p. 27.

© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page