Pain, Suffering and the Goodness of God

If we label God "good" while simultaneously believing that God consigns multitudes to unending pain for his "glory" before they're born, what deity would we label "evil"? - Greg Boyd

I paraphrased this quote for clarity.

The interesting thing about this idea of a good God wanting people to suffer is that there is a sense where enduring hardship does bring Glory to God, but it's the endurance of hardship with integrity, not the hardship itself that brings any glory to anyone (including God). Seen in this light, pain and suffering cannot be understood as being a desired part of God's plan, but rather as something closer to unwelcomed enemies which now must be dealt with and utilized.

This topic usually brings up the question of God's power and ability to deal with pain and suffering. Namely, many of us question whether God can stop suffering. If he can, one must wonder if God even wants to. This creates a logical dilemma: if God can end suffering, then why doesn't he? If God doesn't end suffering even though God can, then doesn't that make God a nasty person? Or if God can't end suffering, then doesn't that mean God isn't all-powerful?

The short answer is that it depends ....

What if the immediate abolition of suffering now would create an even worse, deeper kind or amount of suffering later on? Would God still be nasty for allowing current suffering in that light? Could this be an acceptable reason why some suffering is allowed to go on now? I would say yes, but only to the point of acknowledgment that the suffering exists. I firmly believe that God does not want people to suffer, so I am firmly committed to fighting against suffering so that people may know God's peace.

Or what if allowing some suffering now would produce repentance and full restoration of relationships in someone's life, but stopping the suffering would produce arrogance? Would God be nasty for allowing the suffering to happen?

These quips hopefully serve to illustrate the idea that the solution to the problem of pain and suffering is not what our culture has deemed proper. Medicating and placating pain away only shelves it, and can even deepen pain's grip on our lives.  Think about the person who drinks to forget about their past. Medicating that pain only makes it worse over time, not better. Or think about the reason that person even has pain in their life - perhaps it's been the direct result of someone else who never dealt with their pain (this is the case more often than you want to know).

I believe that the solution to the problem of pain and suffering is to actually face it - not with medication, but with vulnerability, perseverance, endurance and hope. To be fair, sometimes medication is necessary. But it's no the catch-all answer we've been told it is. Suffering is a part of the human experience, and it is one that the bible gives an honest account of in terms of the nature of the existence of suffering. I'm not talking about some ancient man and woman disobeying God and eating some fruit. I'm talking about all of us trying to find our own way through life despite the mounting evidence that every time we (as individuals, as churches, as cultures) decide for ourselves how we should live, we create a wake of disaster. Yet it is clear, even from my own observations in my life and the life of others around me, that as much as pain can absolutely derail our ability to progress and grow, pain can also be one of the greatest tools we have for growth. So in a sense, I am actually talking directly about that ancient man and woman who ate some fruit and were deceived by a talking snake because the truth of that story and so very many other biblical accounts isn't just that it happened, but that it happens.

It is hard for me to conclude that a good and loving God likes or wants to see people suffer. I know that some people find it easy to see God like that - for better or for worse. Yet something in my bones tells me this way of seeing God - as a punishing God - isn't right. So, I think that a good God would want people to progress, remain faithful even in the midst of suffering, and be restored and resurrected to full life. The idea here is that God's desire and plan is not to see us suffer, but to see us faithful, restored and resurrected to new life. Now if we are to embrace this as the truth, then no matter what suffering may come our way, we might be able to endure it with at least some perspective, and perhaps even joy, because we trust that God can redeem suffering, no matter how dark.

We trust that no matter what happens, God is for us, with us, ahead of us and within us.

We trust that God's perspective is much larger than ours, and that whatever is happening, God's desire is for us to become whole people, fully alive, and full of deep joy.

By Ryan McGuire


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