The Burning Question of Needless Suffering

by Howard Glass

The character/nature of a question is often determined by the one who asks it.

This question about why good people suffer is a hard one. My Christian friends don't give it much thought; they simply trust God. But we live in a skeptical age, with science providing high tech devices to awe us and books penned by atheists decrying reliance on God. Satan knows opportunity when he sees it. The world likes the question.

When I was small, my Dad and I went to a distant town to help a friend do some important outdoor work. It was the bitter part of winter. Dad made a living working outdoors and had heavy boots. However, our budget didn't permit costly thermal boots for growing boys. I was soon suffering, in danger of frostbite. Dad watched me closely. I never complained when outside play meant cold feet, so I tried to be a good soldier.

When I reached the point of tears Dad took me across the street to a café, bought me hot cocoa and let me watch through the window. The place was cozy-there was a kind waitress and all-and I certainly needed the respite. But soon I became anxious to go back to the merciless chill on the other side of the window. They were suffering without me and I belonged with them.

It wasn't just that I was a kid and hated my bootless status. There is something noble, something manly and humanizing about suffering for the sake of others. People feel called to it. We cherish the feelings we get when we help a person in distress. Perhaps we are never more godly. The idea of being a Good Samaritan is honored even by those ignorant of its origin.

I once had a brainstorm for a worthwhile ministry idea. I mentioned it to a brother, who answered by suggesting that I begin the work immediately. I was taken aback. That put a whole different light on the idea. I have since found myself using the response to others a time or two. Maybe when people ask, "Why does God allow meaningless suffering?" God responds, "Why do people allow meaningless suffering?"

The best response to a problem is to do what we can to solve it, not bemoan the fact that it exists. There is an old cliché about God helping people who help themselves. It isn't scriptural but the idea has some merit. Maybe we can't end all suffering but we can work at it. Christianity revolves around the image of a suffering God because in a world of pain, a suffering God resonates.

Some misery we must accept. Man cannot stop a tsunami or an earthquake. God is sovereign-may His will be done. But there is much we can do to mitigate or eliminate suffering. There are such opportunities everywhere and many are at work. If only needless self-indulgence got half the attention that needless suffering gets. Can we honestly question God's tolerance of suffering when so much that mankind could do goes undone?

Howard Glass is a freelance writer who serves as a small-group leader at
the East Main Street Presbyterian Church in Grove City, Penn.

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