Having recently celebrated Easter, Holocaust Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day, I want today to write about Suffering and correct a huge theological mistake that many Christians have made over the centuries.
The theory put forward and believed by many is that all suffering is a sign of divine displeasure. That when men are good and godly they do not suffer, for God blesses them. When they do suffer it is because they have ceased to be good and godly. They have sinned, and all suffering is punishment for sin. The beauty of this formula is that anyone can grasp it. It solves the mystery of suffering and explains everything. If you suffer it is just reaping what you have sown. There is really no mystery to solve. It has only one major defect - it is not true.
There are 2 great teachers in the Bible who teach about suffering, Job and Jesus. The book of Job absolutely destroys the idea that all suffering is a punishment for sin. While justice means there should be consequences that we all suffer when we sin - don’t for one minute try to tell me that babies and children suffering is due to them or their parents having committed a sin. Reincarnation is built around the theory that if babies suffer and die they must have sinned in a previous existence. If good and righteous people have terrible diseases, it can only be explained by the sins they committed in a former life. The main purpose of the doctrine of reincarnation is to force all of reality to fit that wrong theology formula.
Job knew that God disciplines those he loves and that some suffering is due to sin, but he refused to accept it as an explanation for all suffering, and especially his own. You cannot just take a truth, even a Biblical truth, and impose it on all of life's experiences. It is a Biblical truth that men reap what they sow. It is a Biblical truth that sin leads to suffering. It is Biblical truth that God disciplines those he loves. It is a Biblical truth that God often tests us, with suffering. Many of us only grow emotionally and spiritually through the experience of suffering. No one will deny that these are sound Biblical truths. Nevertheless, they do not fit every specific case and they didn’t fit Job’s.
The Bible tells us Job was an upright, righteous man who loved the Lord. This means that any theory of suffering that does not take into account that even the most righteous can suffer terribly is false. His suffering had nothing to do with sin. Tragic things can even happen to the innocent. One Rabbi states:
Jesus and the Father experienced suffering at the Crucifixion. God understands our pain, he suffers right along with his children, Too many don't ask for help. Jesus during His ministry relieved people’s suffering as much as he was able - healing them, feeding them, loving them and teaching them. It is what He still longs to do for people, not just after death, but here and now. Suffering will be with us until His return. It is our job to follow in his footsteps and help relieve as much suffering of others as we are able. If we or others are suffering He is only a prayer away.