Surprised by God’s Response to Suffering
By Susan Grittman
Many people ask, “If there is a God, why doesn’t he do something about the relentless, ugly, deplorable suffering in our world? Does he not have the power to change things? Or does he not care?” Neither answer is consistent with what Christians have read in scripture or experienced in our lives with God. God has shown this clearly through Jesus Christ. I realize many people who read my blog who are not Christian have no clue what Christians believe about Jesus except that we portray him as the man hanging on a cross who we proclaim is the savior of the world. They ask, “Why would you worship a weak and vulnerable God?” So here is the quick answer as to why we worship him.
God came down into our human suffering in person through a man, his own Son, whose heart was so pure and full of love that he is described as sinless. His love was so great that he endured human suffering in solidarity with us in order to heal and save us. How does his crucifixion and suffering on a cross save us? He shows us that the power of love is greater than the power of the sword or control.
Jesus healed the sick, forgave those who hurt him, reached out to people on the margins of society including them in his circle, and spoke of a loving God who is like the best Father anyone could ever want. His teaching challenged the religious and political authorities, but his words mesmerized the masses who were in need of hope for God’s kingdom to reign in the world. He was crucified by the political authorities at the insistence of the religious authorities while his closest friends abandoned him out of fear. BUT GOD raised his Son Jesus from the dead on the third day. There were many witnesses who saw him, spoke to him and ate with him after he was brought back from the dead. A dead man coming back to life shows God’s power! Jesus forgave those who denied and abandoned him, proving his unconditional love for them. Then he put his Spirit within them, and gave them the mission of spreading the word that God’s power was greater than the evil inflicted by men who crucified him to silence his message.
The same men who had recoiled from defending Jesus due to fear were now empowered to spread the good news. They were bold, fearless, willing to risk death at the hands of those who still wanted the message silenced. For me, the transformation of these men is one of the most convincing evidences that they had seen a risen Savior. They wanted everyone to know the truth that would set them free. They preached Jesus’ message of love and also the good news that Jesus had conquered death and had made the way for them to live with him in eternity on the other side of the death and resurrection of the physical body.
So I come back to the question that is so pervasive among both doubters and seekers of faith: “Why doesn’t God do something about the relentless, ugly, deplorable suffering in our world?” The answer is that HE DID. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son into the world so that those who believe and follow him will not perish but have everlasting life. He has not erased suffering but he promises we will not suffer forever. And for the time being, he enters our suffering to help us through it. At the cross we see the shocking truth that God’s answer to human suffering was to suffer with us and yet to overcome it! Love is transforming! The extravagant love of this wounded God can heal us. If we will practice love like Jesus did, following his way of self-giving love for one another, doing to others as we would have them do to us, lifting up the weak, forgiving one another and giving relationships a new beginning – then the pain and suffering we experience would be minimized. (I use the word “minimized” because even if there was no sin, there is still human vulnerability due to acts of nature and disease.)
I have to admit I have asked God why he allows evil to thrive. The answer is that God has given us the gift of free will, and God is not one to take back his gifts! But based on human choices that have caused so much of human suffering, God’s response is the gift of salvation through Jesus the Christ. Salvation is by grace alone, not by earning it through our works. Our works of love are our response to the gift of our salvation.
I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today.
I know that he is living, whatever foes may say.
I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer,
And just the time I need him, he’s always near.
He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, he lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.
(United Methodist Hymnal, No. 310)