God’s Answer to Man’s Problem of Pain and Suffering

imagesWhen staring face to face with evil—utter, pure evil—human nature is quickly laid bare. It is natural to cry out to God for help. Why God this suffering? Why God this much suffering? Yet…often in these moments of suffering great and small, God seems distant…silent…unconcerned. What to do?

It seems that there are only two options: rest and trust in God or revolt and reject God; a turning toward or away; an opening of self or a closing of self.

But, in revolting and rejecting God, how does one deal with pain and suffering? It seems there are two options here as well: either deaden the pain by swimming in a sea of pleasure (that is, by embracing Epicureanism) or by gritting one’s teeth and bearing the pain as bravely as possible in a godless world (that is, by embracing Stoicism).

First a couple case studies:

The Plague in Athens. It was during the second year of the Peloponnesian war, in 430 B.C., that the plague struck Athens. As the deadly disease rampaged through the packed city, killing over 1/3 of the population, the historian Thucydides reports that everyone began to live for the pleasure of the moment since they were going to die anyway. “No one held back in awe, either by fear of the gods or by the laws of men: not by the gods, because men concluded it was all the same whether they worshipped or not, seeing that they all perished alike; and not by the laws, because no one expected to live till he was tried and punished for his crimes.”[1]

The Jewish Holocaust. As a young teenager, Elie Wiesel was a faithful, God-fearing Jew. But, as he and his family, along with his fellow Jews, were deported from their homes and brought to Auschwitz in 1945 his life took a drastic turn for the worst. On his first night in the death camp, he came face to face with utter evil…yet God remained silent, and he turned away from God. “For the first time, I felt revolt rise up in me. Why should I bless His name? The Eternal, Lord of the Universe, the All-Powerful and Terrible, was silent. What had I to thank Him for?”[2] Wiesel understandably walked away from God, and never looked back.

Either way, hope is dashed on the cold rocks of fate and man’s problem of pain and suffering remains unanswered. Man attempts to drown out the silence of God by a kind of closing of self, a turning of the soul away from God. But toward what? One is reminded of Bertrand Russell’s quip: If atheism is true, than all we can do is build our lives on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.

There is an answer to the problem of man’s suffering and God’s silence. It requires rest and trust. It requires the opening of self, not a closing; a turning of soul toward God. For in doing so, we are led not to an answer, but to the answerer.

What is God’s answer to the problem of man’s suffering? It is a person—Jesus…on a cross. Christ on the cross—that is God’s answer to the problem of pain and suffering. He has opened himself up to evil, and ultimately has taken it all upon Himself on the cross. It is the cross then, that is the victory of God over pain and suffering, and the only place for men and women to find peace, hope, and comfort from its sting.

And this does justice to the problem doesn’t it? For the problem of suffering is more than just a philosophical problem (it is no less)—it is something we all deal with at the level of our lives. As such, it demands an existential response. As the late Harvard theologian Arthur C. McGill puts it, “If the existence of Christians is oriented toward Christ as the life and light of God, it is in movement away from evil and death and darkness. In other words, the Christian is on the way from evil to good, from death to life, from darkness to light. He finds himself in a state of pilgrimage.”[3]

For more thoughts on the problem of evil, see my post here as well.









[1] Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, 2.53.

[2] Elie Wiesel, Night (New York: Bantam Books, 1982 edition), 31.

[3] Arthur C. McGill, Suffering: A Test Case of Theological Method (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1982), 26.

One Response to God’s Answer to Man’s Problem of Pain and Suffering

  1. Pingback: God’s Answer to Man’s Problem of Pain and Suffering | trivialogue

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