The question of God and suffering is one which perplexes many hearts and minds. While the predicament is nothing new, it is always current. Why do evil things happen in the world, and yet God seems either unwilling or unable to do something about it?
Unfortunately, there are no quick or easy answers to this apparant conundrum. For the person who is experiencing their own valley of pain, it is an immense challenge to provide any kind of answer that can sooth the rawness of bitter experience. Glib retorts like ‘it was God’s will‘ are not only deeply unhelpful, but totally unrepresentative of the heart of God. Though well intended, it unwittingly portrays him as uncaring, aloof, distant and un-compassionate. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The whole point of the biblical narrative is that God has personally intervened in our fallen world. He is more familiar with suffering than we will ever know, and he has the scars to prove it. His intervention cost him everything. It is a stupendous mystery to think that the immortal God was not only born as a man, but died a death so cruel that it is beyond comprehension what he endured. The latter was the price Jesus paid for the falleness of humanity, and to bring about the hope of his Kingdom on earth.
Yet, even after 2000 years since the events of the cross, we still live in a profound tension: the world as it is today (fallen) – and the world as it will be one day (renewed). That’s why Jesus taught us to pray ‘Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven‘ (Matthew 6:10).
One day, everything will make sense. However, as we await the full manifestation of God’s Kingdom on earth, suffering is part of our pilgrimage because of the fallen state of our world. This is not a defeatist reflection, rather an exhortation to lean into the protection of God’s grace. Surely this is one of the reasons why Jesus taught so much about faith? As believers, we are not exempt from suffering – but we journey through life in the confident hope that God will renew all things (Matthew 19:28-30). Our posture is one of trust. This means we can ask the difficult questions during times of suffering and God is not offended by them. He simply longs for us to follow him, even through the darkest valley’s of our lives.
After Jesus had risen from the dead, a disciple called Thomas was racked with doubt, and adamant in his refusal to believe unless he saw Christ’s scars for himself. A whole week passed before Thomas eventually got to meet Jesus. Those seven days must have felt like a life time. However, when Thomas finally saw the wounds, his hardened heart melted in an instant as he cried ‘My Lord and my God‘ (John 20:28). How utterly compelling this moment must have been.
God has wounds. Far from being distant and aloof, he is acquainted with suffering more than any of us could possibly grasp. His scars are the proof of his love for us. Interestingly, Jesus said to Thomas ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed‘ (John 20:29).
In times of challenge, our greatest act of faith is to keep following Jesus. That’s why Hebrews 10:35 says ‘Do not throw away your confidence‘. Suffering is temporary, even though it sometimes feels like an eternity. But one day, we will meet Jesus face to face. When we see his wounds, our hearts will melt, just like Thomas. In that single moment, everything will make sense.