Gospel Bite: The Problem of Pain and Suffering

A ‘Gospel Bite’ – a short answer to a commonly raised objection to the gospel.

The question of suffering looms large in the modern mind, particularly in light of disasters such as the 2004 tsanami in Asia, or the earthquakes in Christchurch, or the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011. Many of the issues need to be dealt with philosophically (does suffering disprove God’s existence?) or theologically (is God powerless to do anything?).

There is no way that all, or even most, of the questions people might ask us relate immediately to some action or teaching of Jesus.

Nevertheless, there is an aspect of this particular problem that leads naturally to a discussion about Christ’s life and, in particular, his death. Regardless of what we don’t know about God’s plans in this world, we do know his intentions. Jesus’ sufferings provide a powerful counterpoint to the assumptions that God might be distant, cruel and uninvolved. Hence, one aspect of an answer to the problem of pain and suffering comes back to the picture of God we have in Jesus’ passion recorded in Mark 15:21-37:

I don’t have all the answers about suffering. But one thing I hold to, especially when I’m going through hard times, is that the God of Christianity is not distant and disinterested. In Jesus, God himself experienced human betrayal, horrible in justice and gruesome death. The scene of his crucifixion, as described in the gospel, is very moving. He bears incredible insult and injury and continues to act compassionately. This according to the Bible, is the God who rules all things. He willingly experiences what we experience. This God is able to sympathize with those who suffer not simply because he is all-knowing but because he has experiences pain first-hand. This helps me trust God when I don’t understand what he’s doing in the world. Have you ever looked at Jesus’ life and death?

In no way does this response answers the question of suffering. It simply provides a snapshot of one important aspect of the biblical notion of God as humble, loving and ‘familiar with suffering’ (Isaiah 53:3).

This ‘Gospel Bite’ from the appendix of John Dickson’s book The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission (Zondervan, 2010), 209-10.

Best Kept Christian Secrets

Keep this in mind – your aim should not be to win the argument. Your aim should be to present yourself as a favorable witness to your Lord and Saviour Jesus with the hope your friend may be won for Christ into eternity.

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