Why Suffering? Why pandemics? In the conclusion to my last post, I wrote that in the next post “Lord willing, I hope to explore some thoughts” regarding these why questions. “I hope.” “To explore.” “Some thoughts.” That tames the goal down a bit, but “a bit” is still a breath-taking task.
While I have never explored the role of pandemics, as a specific context of suffering, if you’ve followed me, you know I’ve researched the biblical literature on the themes of suffering and joy as the base for my dissertation, and that I am presently hammering out a Bible study developing these themes.
In this post, during the most holy season of the Christian calendar, I’ll offer some salient points along with Scriptural backing, for your exploration and prayerful meditation. At the end of this post, you will find three delightful and rich videos plus one sermon link to bless you in various ways. Stay with me, please.
Why suffering? Why suffering?
Hmm. What kind of creature would ask such a question?
Asking questions reminds us of who we are and how we are unique in all of God’s creation. This particular question, “Why suffering?”, tells us a number of things:
- We don’t accept suffering as something “normal” or as what “should be.”
- We have an innate moral sense that suffering is “wrong.”
- Yet, sometimes, we have an innate moral sense that suffering is “right.”
- We judge, first innately or intuitively, sensing that something is fair or unfair.
- We judge, next (if we choose to do so) intensionally: observing, assessing, thinking critically, evaluating, and drawing conclusions regarding what is just or unjust.
What do these responses to suffering tell us about ourselves? Our world? And God?
First, about ourselves: Human experience concurs with the Scriptures (even if some don’t want it to) that human beings are made in God’s image (image, likeness, not the same substance, but reflecting key attributes of God in finite ways). We are self-conscious, reasoning, feeling, deciding, acting beings with unique personalities. Because we have such gifts, such propensities, we are able to question: “Why suffering?” My pet gold fish never would ask. (Yes, we had a dozen adorable ones in our backyard stream and pond in Arizona.) I am grateful to God to be able to think and ask questions and to ask Him questions.
Second, about God: Our questions remind us that God is God, and that any sense we may have of being in control just doesn’t match reality. Suffering turns our attention to God. Psalm 100:3 instructs us:
“Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3).
This is a directive, an imperative: Know this. . . . Apparently, we can know this, and it is a choice to accept this knowledge. God is God. We are creatures. We belong to Him just as sheep belong to their shepherd.
Third, about our world: Our questions show us that the world, as it is, can threaten and overwhelm us. Something is broken. As amazing as nature is (telling the glory of God, Psalm 19:1), nature is broken.
The underlying, bedrock reason for all suffering, the original source of it all is the Great Un-knowing that resulted in the Great Anxious Futility (my terms).
The Great Un-knowing occurred at a point in time, at the end a perfect and idyllic era, the Era of Knowing, when Adam and Eve, who knew God intimately, communicating comfortably as good friends are free to do, chose to listen to an alien and contradictory voice. The choice to listen to oppositional ideas, to distrust their Creator, planted an alien seed in their fertile hearts.
That alien seed came from the fruit of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Ironically, after eating from the Tree of Knowledge, they went from knowing God to not knowing God. You know the text and the narrative: Genesis chapters 1-3.
You may say, but I don’t believe those stories. They are just religious allegory. Hmm. Jesus took these narratives totally seriously. So should we. They provide material for some good answers to many questions, a clear-visioned paradigm for seeing life as it really is.
We suffer because the original sin changed human nature, although it did not destroy God’s image in man. We changed from being a perfectly clear reflection of His character to being a broken mosaic. But the brokenness is more than spiritual and relational; it is physical and material as well (Romans 5:12).
Key to understanding pandemics is understanding the collateral damage of the Great Un-Knowing, as I call it, or as it is classically termed, The Fall. All of earth took the blow as colossal collateral damage.
Though the same planet, it became a different world. With the harmony of Eden gone, a cosmic war had begun. Conflict in every arena had entered the story arch.
We can understand this before and after, on a smaller scale. The world before the Holocaust and after. Before 911 and after. Before Coronavirus and after. A world of harmony (knowing God) before the Fall (the point of un-knowing) and a world broken and cursed after the Great Un-knowing, ushering us into this present era of human history, the Great Anxious Futility Era.
“Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you. . . .” replied God to our first father (Genesis 3:17-18).
The New Testament further explains,
“For the creation was subjected to futility not of its own will,
but because of Him who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption
into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers
the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:20-22).
This explains something about suffering. This explains something about pandemics. God created a physical universe governed by His intricate designs. Matter and motion, chemistry and physics, biology and human physiology are governed by God, both before and after the Fall, the Great Un-knowing.
Earthquakes, tornadoes, and pandemics were not baked into the original recipe, and are not a part of the final recipe. This gives us perspective and hope.
Colossians 1:16-17 will also encourage us to trust God in these difficult times. “For by Him [Christ] all things were created both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.”
Bacteria and viruses, as slaves to corruption, can upset the balance of life, but they cannot destroy life, because Jesus holds even a broken world and people together. We trust the promise that “creation will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of God’s children.”
In each of our personal situations, there are many reasons why we may suffer — deservedly and undeservedly — but the bottom line is that no suffering needs to be worthless.
The Psalmist explains, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. You are good and do good. . . . It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” ( Psalm 119: 67 & 71).
Through this season of suffering, what long-term, God-honoring benefits are we gathering from it that we will take with us? How are we growing more Christ-like through it, being devoted to prayer and the Word and to lovingly serving others , and to sharing the gospel?
Well, there are just a few thoughts on suffering and pandemics. In this current Coronavirus season, we can know that Jesus walks with us through every step (“and lo, I am with you always”) and that he took all of our sins, sorrows, and sufferings upon Himself. “God made Him who knew no sin be be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ” (II Cor. 5:21).
Easter tells of the Passion of Christ on the cross.
Passion means suffering.
Passion means love.
Jesus suffered because He so loves us.
When I was greatly troubled years ago, this passage brought me great comfort. “And when you were dead in your transgressions . . . He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities [invisible powers of evil] He made a public display of them [on the cross], having triumphed over them through Him” (Colossians 2:13-15).
Whatever and whenever we suffer, let’s bring it to Jesus.
Then we can say: “Thank You, Lord Jesus!”
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
. . . To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
Romans 11:33 & 36
Below: A sermon link to a Good Friday sermon preached two years ago by Pastor Tom Petro, our pastor in Arizona. We were still living there then and were at this service. Paul, my husband, had just read the main passage to the congregation before this recording began. This is followed by three videos that will give you many reasons to smile.
Check out this link: https://www.soundslikereign.com/