The fact of suffering is without a doubt one of the most significant challenges to faith in a gracious and benevolent God. A God who is good and the suffering of ‘innocents’ just doesn’t seem to add up. When confronted with suffering the impenitent often responds by shaking his fist at God and accusing him of failure to prevent suffering at the very least. Meanwhile he accuses others of using faith in God as a crutch or superstition or that the believer is feeble minded.
The big question when people are confronted with suffering is, “where is God in all of this?” This question plagued the Jews during the holocaust of World War Two as they witnessed the systematic genocide of their people. They thought they were God’s chosen people! “Where is God?” whispered several bystanders as the guards hanged a young Jewish boy for insubordination. “Where is God?” implore the anguished parents of a teenage boy who has committed suicide. “Where is God?” cry the multitudes as raging floods sweep hundreds of villagers to their deaths in India. “Where is God?” people wonder as a hurricane wipes out a few suburban streets in the south of the United States of America. For many people these tragedies just don’t make any sense so faith in God becomes meaningless for them.
Perhaps they see God as remote and uninvolved. They see him as the great architect of the world, all powerful all wise, but aloof, somewhat like Buddha; legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, a serene detached look on his face apparently unaware and unconcerned about suffering in the world. The solution to suffering offered by a god like Buddha is to be like him, detached from the world. This is clearly not in any way a Christian depiction of God but one which I suspect is becoming more and more prevalent in our communities with the increasing interest in Eastern religions and deistic ideas about God everywhere.
Others try to deal with suffering by focusing on meeting people’s needs. Healing services are offered as an immediate remedy to the suffering of the sick and the spiritually burdened. Worship services are often designed to be therapeutic, visual, and light-hearted. The main focus is on the many blessings Christianity promises to provide believers in the present life. While some of these things are not to be denied they don’t really deal with the root cause of suffering which includes sin and its consequences. Thus the ultimate solution to suffering may be minimised or even completely ignored.
Therefore, we proclaim Christ crucified because the truth is that God, (though his ways are much higher than our ways) suffered with us in order to alleviate our suffering. This was so from the beginning. At the time of the fall of man into sin, God’s suffering for his people was predicted in Genesis 3:15, “you will strike his heel.” Later the Lord “grieved” and his “heart was filled with pain” because of the wickedness during the days of Noah prior to the flood. In the days of Israel’s suffering in Egypt God saw the plight of His people and heard their groaning and was ‘concerned’ about them. Around the time of the exile God’s concern for his people was reflected in the words of Jeremiah when he said “I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” Meanwhile the way was being paved for the coming of the Suffering Servant, God incarnate, the one whom Isaiah said would be crushed and made to suffer for his people’s sins.
Compare the perpetually serene, slightly smiling and detached Buddha to that lonely tortured figure on the cross. Nails were driven through his hands and feet, his back was lacerated with lashes of the whip, his arms almost wrenched out of their sockets as he hung there, his strength ebbing away. His mouth was dry and swollen. He even refused the vinegar laced with a substance to numb the pain. He suffered God forsaken darkness. This is our God! He is deeply concerned about sin and suffering. He knew that the only way that he could remove such suffering from us was to fully enter our world of flesh, blood, tears and death. He suffered with us and for us. Yes there are still many questions about suffering, but we know that our Covenant God has been there. He was there at the cross of Christ and His suffering which was of infinite value will in the end remove every tear. To Him be the glory.
Mr Hans Vaatstra is the Minister of the Reformed Church of Dunedin.
Back to the Article Index
Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / email@example.com / revised May
2000 / Copyright 2000