If God hates it when we suffer, why doesn't He do something about it?
He already has.
A lesson in lawn care I received from my grandmother when I was little may help to explain. She was out in her yard, going after weeds with claws and a small shovel.
"Why don't you just pull the weeds out by hand?" I asked.
"I wouldn't get the whole weed if I did that," she explained. "It would just grow out again. This way, I get it out of the ground, root and all."
When confronted with problems, our usual impulse is to go for the quick fix. But sometimes the quick fix, is really no fix. Like the unseen root of a weed, the problem remains, only to show up again.
The suffering we see and experience in our world is a symptom of a deeper human affliction. That's why God isn't satisfied to deal with our suffering superficially. He can and often does heal suffering, of course. Many Christians can tell stories of miraculous reversals of suffering that came after people prayed.
But, based on the New Testament's habit of referring to Jesus' healings and other miracles as “signs,” actions that point to His power over life and death, we can say that these answers to prayers don't really deal with our root problem. They merely sign-ify that the God we meet in Jesus Christ can destroy our real problem, root and all, if we’ll let Him.
So, what is the root from which suffering grows?
This beautiful universe is burdened by a condition of alienation from God and goodness known as sin. When the first human beings sinned, they brought suffering, deterioration, and death into the human experience. The condition of sin, like a genetic predisposition to color-blindness or right-handedness, has been passed down through the generations. From this condition, our inborn impulse to look out for number one, indifferent to others, we commit individual acts of sin.
Of course, we cause suffering to one another when we commit sins, whether it’s the child who calls a classmate names or the person who allegedly allows a defenseless child to die in a locked closet or a hate-filled terrorist who sends planes into a skyscraper, killing thousands.
But the mere condition of sin, because human beings are God’s highest and most beloved creatures, is a pall that hangs over the universe. The New Testament book of Romans says that the whole universe groans under the death sentence of the human sin condition.
This is the root problem with which God has already dealt. Sin deserves death. “The wages of sin is death,” says the New Testament. But what if a perfect representative of the human race were to take the death sentence for all of us onto His own shoulders? It would free us to live with God forever, as we were meant to be.
Since there are no perfect human beings, God decided to do this very job Himself: God the Son, Jesus Christ, became human and on a cross, accepted our punishment for sin. Then, signifying the future that belongs to all with faith in Him, Jesus rose from the dead.
Sin is the root cause of suffering and through Christ, God has destroyed its power over us. One day, God will bring this universe’s life to a close and in eternity with God, believers in Jesus will live as human beings were meant to live, close to God, without pain or sorrow.
So, why is there still suffering in our world? Chalk it up to God’s patience and compassion. Until the curtain goes down on our universe and its suffering, we have the chance to turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ.
But how do we deal with suffering today? That’ll be the topic of my next column.
[This is the second in a series of columns I'm writing for our local suburban newspaper chain. The first installment is here.]