The Mystery of Suffering


My experiences to date, especially with those who I've met in prison, lead me to believe that the greatest single factor that stops them from becoming a Christian, is this mystery of suffering. The two questions that I've been most frequently asked, and find so difficult to answer are - 'Where was your God when I was being abused as a child?' and 'Why does your, so called, loving God allow other innocent, helpless people to suffer?'

It will be difficult but I'm going to attempt to give an answer as best I can but first I will have to go through some other simple beliefs that may help you Listener to understand where I am coming from. While you are listening many other unanswered questions will come into your mind, all I ask is that you listen through to the end and then perhaps listen again at a later date.

Firstly, I believe that there really is a God who created the Universe (you can check out my talk on 'Does God Exist?). Secondly, out of sheer love, he filled our world with living creatures that have each been given instincts on how to survive and breed and thus create their next generation. Thirdly, in his creation of men and women God did something very special and built into them, as well as their natural survival instincts, a sense of right and wrong plus the freedom to choose which of these to follow.

Some say that in doing this God took a great risk and, sure enough, Adam and Eve messed everything up and choose to turn their back on God's love and go their own way. This single act is the source of most of the suffering in today's world. But we can't just blame Adam and Eve because when we honestly examine our own lives we see clearly that we have each done the same. As the prophet wrote 'We - every one of us - have strayed away like lost sheep! We ,who left God's paths to follow our own'(Isaiah Ch 53:6) . And although there is plenty of good about, we can still see all around us many examples of selfishness and a animal like 'survival of the fittest' mentality. So, unfortunately, this gift of freewill also allows the strong to take advantage over the weak and thus suffering becomes part of the deal.

But I don't personally think that God took a risk in giving mankind this freewill but believe that knew exactly what he was doing. He had a plan in mind from the very beginning to set us free and let us make a mess of things and then, at a time of his choosing, he was then able to show us how much he loves us in sending Jesus to save us - The Bible tells us -'For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anybody who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16). God's whole purpose in creation is to eventually have a place, that we call heaven, filled with individuals who have learnt, from a lived experienced in this world, what it is to eventually become the unique person he created each of us to be.

Think on this for a moment - when Jesus rose from the dead God could have gone a stage further and eliminated Evil altogether. Nobody is sure why he chose not to but in doing so he has provided a place where we can each choose who we become. Unlike the other animals, we have been given a conscience and are able to chose between good and evil and thus decide our own destiny.

Our problem, in God allowing evil to continue, is this flaw within each of us, inherited from Adam, that makes the bad the more attractive option. It's as if we each have a 'Good Guy' and a 'Bad Guy' living within us, with the 'Bad Guy' having the advantage. But, while on this subject of 'badness', I hope that you listener have not taken on board the lies that suggest that it is something only in the DNA of a certain people or is inherited in the bloodline of a family. The truth is that every one of us are sinners born into a 'fallen world' and who we initially grow up into is, in the main, a result of our environment. This is where we all become what I call 'Damaged Goods' (check out my earlier talk). Then as we grow we often make the wrong choices (check out my talk on 'Choices'). But the fact is that we need a place where, unlike God controlled robots, we can learn from our own experiences. We need to be able to take the wrong paths, realise our mistakes, and then choose to return to the right one. There is an old saying that 'The man who never made a mistake, never made anything'

But along side this growth we also need to understand that whatever wrongs we do, deliberately or by mistake, is freely forgivable by a God who wants us to learn from our mistakes. This is so unlike the world that always demands it's 'pound of flesh' But in God's eyes, although we deserve to be punished, Jesus has already taken our punishment upon himself and thus allows God to be Merciful to those who admit their mistakes and ask for forgiveness (check my talk about 'Un-forgiveness') Our God has provided a place where we can learn for ourselves the consequences of our actions and that 'we reap what we sow'

God's primary interest in each individual is the formation of their character because this is what we take with us when we die. If there was no suffering for us to experience for ourselves, and observe in others, then how could we each learn sympathy and compassion and how to help those who are worse off. Yes, he is interested in the things that we've done while in this world but when we meet him face to face its our hearts and character that he will look at before making a judgement upon our future.

To recap, God has not only given us a freewill to chose between good and bad but has also provided a place to live and learn for ourselves the consequences of our choices. The whole of our lives is a learning experience and it's far nearer than we could ever imagine to 'A boy named Sue' as sung by Johnny Cash

So, what's the solution? Should God take away our freewill and make us like robots not able to choose? No, because even this would be no good due to the survival of the fittest rule of life that in itself causes much suffering.

So you see Listener, there isn't a simple solution to this mystery of suffering. All we can do is each play our part in helping to minimise it. There is, for example, sufficient food and water in our world to met everybody's needs but many of those that have will not share with those who haven't.

Jesus came to show us the way and he is only a prayer away should we ask for help. Join with me now in this closing prayer - Lord Jesus, forgive us for the times when we have cursed and blamed you for the suffering we've experienced in this world. Forgive us for the times when we, like lost sheep in need of a shepherd, have gone our own way an played our own part in adding to the suffering we see all around us. Help us to learn from those times when we have made the wrong choices. We invite your presence into our hearts now and ask for your guidance for the future. Amen.


Contents are Copyright 2007 Ken Mainey

Taken from or