After writing, “Suffering is inevitable for all, but some suffer more, and some feel the pains of life more deeply than others, or so it often appears,” Concordia asked, “Is there a point or purpose to any kind of suffering? Does suffering build character?” The answer to those questions is essential for understanding our way for overcoming suffering.
in one of our most beautiful statements of God’s grace, Paul says suffering builds character and leads to endurance (Romans 5: 1-11). He is referring to suffering when persecuted for the sake of the Gospel. The New Testament does speak of this as having a purpose. It is our way of sharing in Christ’s suffering as we contribute to God’s healing of creation. The “character” he describes enables us to endure until Christ makes all right.
This is not suffering from disease, natural disaster, personal loss, bad luck, crime, or broken hearts. The best that can be said of these is that they are signs that things are not as they should be. Christianity does not justify in any way innocent suffering, especially if it applies to children. Unlike Greek tragedy, we do not see any purpose, meaning, beauty, heroism, or benefit from this.
Instead, the Gospel promises God will raise up the fallen and end their suffering. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21: 1- 5) God overcomes suffering; he does not cause it. We often seem to blame him when we ask Voltaire’s question: “If God is all good, and God is all powerful; how come there is any suffering at all?” Voltaire was a deist who thinks the cosmos is running as God intended. We do not.
It is true some parts of the Bible do blame God, claiming he is punishing us for our sins. Preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson use these to blame the ACLU, the court, pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians for the 9-11 terrorists’ attacks. They believe the United States is God’s new chosen people whom he has protected for 225 years. He raised his protective curtain to warn us about following the sinners among us.
Jesus certainly does not teach this. He said God loves his world so much he sends rain and sun on both good and evil people; (Matthew 5: 43- 48). In another passage (Luke 13: 1-5), Jesus rejects this idea of punishment with two examples. In the first, he points to Pilate massacring people worshiping in the temple. Obviously, these were not sinning. Pilate acts evilly, opposing God’s will. In the second, bystanders are killed when a tower collapses. Jesus sees this as a natural disaster like earthquakes, famines, and floods, evidence that creation is not operating as God intended. The tribulations that frighten so many ate not punishments but the cleansing of these cosmic malfunctions (Mark 13).
Juan reminded me that with all the injustice and suffering in our present world, “there is a real danger of losing the hope of the Gospel”. That Gospel is good news, because it reminds us “evil will not prevail”. Next week I’ll look at how this offers us a way to overcome our suffering as well. In the passage Concordia cited, God pours his love, the Holy Spirit, into our hearts so we can not only rescue other people from the evil done to them, but also find ways we can recover as well.