Sunday, 28 November, 2021
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Biblical perspective on human sufferings

Biblical perspective on human sufferings

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No sane person enjoys suffering. It limits our capabilities and is often accompanied by physical pain or emotional distress. The Bible gives a rich insight into the variety of causes of, and responses to, suffering, but also declares that only God knows the answers to many of our questions about why particular individuals suffer.

A woman lies in a hospital bed. The cancer that started in her breast has spread. Her vertebrae and bones are now riddled with disease and she requires high doses of pain killing drugs to numb her senses. Her threeyear- old daughter stands silently, gently holding Mummy's hand - confused about why she is so different from just a few weeks ago.

In another scene a soldier pulls the trigger of a gun, blowing a hole through a young child's head while his parents watch in desperate helplessness.

Human suffering exists. For people who hold no belief in a god it is just one of the hallmarks of this purposeless and often cruel universe. For people who believe in many gods it is an indication that some are good and others bad - get on the wrong side of an evil god and you are in trouble.

But for Christians suffering poses a problem. How can an all-powerful, all-loving God allow suffering? Why did he set the universe up in such a way that suffering is possible, and why doesn't he intervene when suffering gets out of hand?

Throughout the Bible many people experience different forms of suffering that arises for a wide variety of reasons and people respond to it in many different ways. By looking at some of them we can gain insights into God's attitude towards suffering, whilst recognising that there will always remain elements of mystery and that we will never fully know his mind.

Any Christian understanding of human suffering draws from a Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation. In the opening chapters of Genesis God presides over creation and repeatedly says that what he has made is 'good', even 'very good'. (1) Many Christians believe that this shows that when God initially created the universe there was no suffering in it. Many believe that human suffering began in the Garden of Eden. (2) Others say that for God, creation was good not because it was free from suffering, but because it had set up a system that served a purpose. That purpose was to develop a physical and living entity that would worship him.

The exact timing and process whereby suffering entered the world is controversial amongst Christians and tied up with different views on the age of the earth and evolution. All agree that the Bible describes how suffering increases when created beings decide to disobey God and ignore his advice. Indeed the further people stray from a proper relationship with God, the more they can expect the entire system to dysfunction and for that dysfunction to bring about suffering.

(3) Human suffering, then is not surprising as an overall concept, though none-the-less difficult to make sense of in individual circumstances.

 

Courtesy: Human Journey Newsletter