Dr. Chad Meeks is the Associate Pastor at Cedar Heights Baptist Church in North Little Rock and an adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He enjoys reading, hanging out with his family, hiking, and exploring the deep mysteries of Sumatra coffee.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To read part one of this article by Dr. Chad Meeks, click here.
There is one issue every Christian must grapple with: suffering. Whether wanted or not, suffering will happen in this life. It isn’t something normal people go looking for, but it is a reality.
Several months ago, my oldest son collapsed to the floor with severe abdominal pain. Writhing and screaming, he claimed that it was the worst pain he has ever had in his life. As it turns out, he was experiencing a random onset of acute pancreatitis. Doctors don’t know why it happened; and though it is unlikely to happen again, there are no guarantees.
Suffering is inevitable, unwelcomed, and traumatic. So why would God allow such a thing?
In my last article, I discussed what is generally seen as the philosophical problem of suffering and evil. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good, why would He allow bad things to happen? In this piece, I’d like to home in on a biblical or theological answer to the question.
Suffering and evil are not foreign topics to Scripture. In fact, we see suffering and evil from the very beginning of Scripture. Scripture has much to say about suffering, but there is a specific point I’d like to draw out here.
The brute reality is human suffering and death exists because sin exists. According to Scripture, when Adam and Eve fell, their sinful nature was passed on to their progeny, and this original sin has been passed on to all humanity ever since. This means the suffering you and I experience in our lives, is a consequence of the sinful state in which we live. As punishment, suffering and pain became perpetual human companions.
The consequences for sin are cosmic and eternal. This fact is sobering and should be a constant reminder of the significance of disobeying a holy God. But why did God create a world in which suffering and pain are even possible? I gave something of an answer to this question in my last article, but to be direct: Scripture never really gives us an answer to this question. All we can do is conjecture philosophically, but Job seems to put us in the right mindset.
Job is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) books in the Bible. It recounts an ancient Semitic man that experiences hardships brought on by Satan. His livestock were taken or killed; his children are killed; and he is struck with a case of boils. Job experienced extreme suffering. Suffering that was not brought on by himself, but by Satan. God isn’t even directly involved in his suffering, though God has certainly allowed it.
Like any of us, Job seeks answers—he wants to know why such grief has overtaken him. After poor advice from his friends and wife, in chapter 38 of Job, God speaks. At the beginning of the chapter, we are not given a generic Hebrew name for God: we are told “Yahweh answered Job.” Yahweh is the special name of God. The name was so sacred that it was rarely spoken. The use of the name here signifies the importance of what follows. To put God’s response to Job in a crude, yet simple, way: “Job, listen, I’m God; you are not. So hush and trust me!”
Though blunt and stark, God’s response to Job should inspire hope and encouragement. Here, God essentially tells Job: “I’m in control. Rest in my sovereignty.” God is wanting Job to take comfort in His providential hand over all of life. This still doesn’t mean Job avoids suffering and pain. So divine comfort does not come from the avoidance of pain and suffering. Divine comfort comes from knowing that in spite of suffering and pain, a good and gracious God—the same God that sent His Son to die for me—is in control. And His plan, the plan that is far greater than any human could ever devise, is better than what we may have chosen for ourselves, but it is the one that will bring about God’s greater purpose.
But there is an edifying purpose behind suffering that we should not overlook. In my next article, I will focus on how God uses suffering for His glory and our spiritual benefit.