There is no answer to the question, “Why do we suffer?” There are several potential reasons, but to have an answer is to know the mind and will of God, which is impossible. We teach, believe, and confess that God is omnipotent (or all-powerful), so he could stop our suffering with just a word. Sometimes he does stop suffering and sometimes he doesn’t. One day, when we meet in Paradise, I’ll be able to ask him why I had to experience so much pain in my life, but until that day, I can offer some ways to look at and think of suffering. These ways won’t always help; I can’t promise that, but it might help you turn your thinking and allow you to grow through the suffering.
Today, I’ll share one reason or way of looking at suffering my pastor shared in a recent sermon. We were studying Mark 6:45-56, the story of Jesus walking on the water to meet his disciples in the boat. I learned something new about this Gospel reading: Jesus waiting. He saw his disciples straining against the wind, but he waited to go to them.
This is how we know that he didn’t go to his disciples immediately: verse 47 says, “when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.” We don’t know the exact time, but people usually consider evening anywhere from 5:00-9:00pm—after the afternoon hours but before we start calling it night.
The next verse says Jesus saw them fighting against the wind, which was causing them to make very little progress in their trip across the sea.
Then it says, “And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.” We’re now far past evening and gone into the fourth watch of the night, which is between 3:00 and 6:00am.
Jesus waited. He saw them struggling and suffering out on the sea against the heavy winds, but he waited.
Why did he wait? Is he a cruel God? Did he have fun watching his disciples fight against powerful winds for hours? Does he not care that his people are fighting?
No. No. No.
Well? Why do we struggle in the world? Why do we have to fight powerful enemies and feel horrible pain and sadness?
This world is not perfect. It is not what God the Creator intended it to be when he made the heavens and the earth. After the rebellion (or the Fall of Man), the world ceased to be paradise. It was no longer the perfect earth God intended. It was a world full of sin, destruction, and death.
This is the world we live in: not paradise, at least, not yet. We live in a world full of sin and sorrow, pain and hurt, suffering and death. And that’s because we rebelled from God’s command. We are full of sin, turning constantly away from our Creator to the master of deceit. That brings suffering to our lives.
And yet, we all know God could stop all the pain and suffering, but he doesn’t. If he did, the world would become pretty close to paradise again. If we never felt pain or sorrow or sadness, if we never had to suffer, would the world be perfect to us? Would we then cling to the world instead of clinging to the Word of God? Would we yearn to stay on the earth forever?
God doesn’t want that. He’s got greater things in store for us. The Paradise. That’s what’s waiting for us.
Jane Eyre’s dear friend Helen talks about this in one of the first few meetings they have. Jane is questioning her about Miss Scatcherd’s abuse and how Helen can stand it. This is Helen’s response:
“We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world: but the time will soon come when, I trust, we shall put them off in putting off our corruptible bodies; when debasement and sin will fall from us with this cumbrous frame of flesh, and only the spark of the spirit will remain, the impalpable principle of light and thought, pure as when it left the Creator to inspire the creature: whence it came it will return; perhaps again to be communicated to some being higher than man—perhaps to pass through gradations of glory, from the pale human soul to brighten to the seraph! Surely it will never, on the contrary, be suffered to degenerate from man to fiend? No; I cannot believe that: I hold another creed: which no one ever taught me, and which I seldom mention; but in which I delight, and to which I cling: for it extends hope to all: it makes Eternity a rest—a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss. Besides, with this creed, I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last; with this creed revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low: I live in calm, looking to the end.”
Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Wisehouse Classics, Sweden. 2016. p. 33.
Like Helen, we too can forgive instead of taking revenge. We can stand tall over injustices because we look to the end—to the ultimate day when Christ returns. God gives us the strength to fight the winds that push us. He gives us the strength to wait for the final day when he will take us home.
And until that day, maybe you, too, can adapt the motto I’ve chosen for my daily life: Perhaps Today. I heard this at a recent Bible study, and it’s already changing my day-to-day attitude. How would your day change if you were living as if you knew for certain Jesus would be coming back that evening? What would you do differently? I encourage you to think about this in the morning when you wake up. Perhaps Jesus will return today. What should I do today to prepare for his return?