“I just want to feel better.”
“Everything hurts too much.”
“This suffering is making me depressed.”
Would you agree with any of these statements? Have you ever felt this way? Generally in our culture people would rather avoid pain for the sake of pleasure any day of their life and for any situation in which you find yourself.
“You can endure a lot of suffering
when your heart is set on a purpose –
but if your heart is set on comfort,
you can’t endure any suffering at all.” G. Wilkerson
So, in the prep room for my recent lumbar discectomy surgery this week, my doctor greets my wife and me with a “religious question”.
“Here’s one for you, preacher,” he says.
“If a loving God didn’t want people to suffer so much in this world, why did he create suffering?”
Now, I’ve learned to observe body language and delivery in rather smug rhetorical questions like these, so I’m paying attention. Besides the nurse is administering the IV at this point and I’ve had nothing to eat or drink since midnight and no pain meds yet, so I’m a little edgy to say the least. The question was really meant to distract me from the IV needle procedure as it rolled off doctor “slick’s” tongue so eloquently. It was very well played for the timing of a significant timely back surgery and 4-week anticipated recovery.
He continued, “I mean, all people want today is comfort, but they don’t want maturity. That only comes through suffering.”
I fired away, “All we have to ask, if we’re not supposed to suffer is, why did Jesus suffer so much, and he himself is God.”
Quick as that, IV is in, saline drip started, rolling of the gurney, kisses to my wife, down the hallway and into procedure room. Lights, camera, action.
Seconds later I’m in recovery trying to open my eyes to the shouts in the room and the cold blankets and overhead fluorescents. Mr Olson, you did just fine. Everything went according to plan. They took a bone spur to alleviate the sciatic and your going to be good as new. No more suffering, no more pain. Mr Olson?! Wake up now.
Bells and whistles, IV drip tubes and finger-pulse clip, ice chips and ice packs, heating blankets and wraps to avoid blood clotting. This is going to be fun.
So doctor “slice & dice” got me thinking. Did God create suffering? Is this all His doing? Does God want us in pain? Does He enjoy that process in our lives? Wouldn’t this entire existence have been easier if we didn’t have suffering in the first place, like in the garden back at creation?
Yeah. That’s it. God didn’t create suffering, he created free will and gave mankind the choice to obey or the choice of … death, sin and distance from Him. Suffering is part of that, so God did create suffering (technically) but it wasn’t designed for us originally. Adam blew it by indulging rather than obeying God. This gets deep because one might say, “Oh, so if I obey God my suffering goes away”? Not exactly.
Because of “the fall’s curse” we endure suffering. It’s part of our world, unavoidable but useful now in the hands of God for His good work in shaping us to be like Jesus.
Maybe these beeps and noises in the recovery room are messing with me, or the meds are taking effect but again, it occurs to me, God didn’t create suffering for us, we chose it. God now uses it to draw us back to Him on a pathway if pain. It’s like the only way to relationship with God is on pain’s pathway. Look at Jesus, who endured the pain of the cross to make the only possible pathway back to relationship with God. Suffering is a tool for God’s use in drawing us to himself. Now, if our entire culture rejects pain and suffering at all cost, is culture essentially rejecting God?
Why do bad things happen to good people? I don’t like that question really because we play the judge in that question and place value on good or bad things happening. It’s an opinion of good or bad. Same with people. We assign good or bad to a person based on what? Exterior behavior. If a person does good, they are good and vise-versa. Who are we to judge? But it’s a cliche so let’s roll with it.
Here’s my point, people don’t want pain or suffering. It’s natural. I mean look at all the self care habits and dollars spent in a year. Billions are spent on pharmaceuticals to avoid or manage pain. (I should have picked that career path, sheesh.) Doctor “nip & tuck” told me, “hey preacher, you know why your kind and mine will always be employed?” No, why? “Because there will always be sin in this world, and there will always be pain. Job security.”
Not bad thinking for a spine guy.
Let’s not ramble too far. Why is there pain & suffering? God gave us a choice to seek him His way, through obedience, or to be chased and sought by him (since the fall) through pain’s pathway of suffering. God doesn’t want us to suffer for anything, although he uses this pathway to get our attention and grow us closer to being like Jesus. He let Jesus take in the worst suffering of human kind. Tortured to death. Mocked by thousands. Rejected, betrayed, denied, forsaken. Why? So a pathway would be paid with pain to take our real suffering away. Not physical suffering, this is just temporary. No Jesus’s pain takes the place of our real suffering and loss away, that separation from God is now mended in Jesus.
Sounds like God is a masochist. Sounds like someone had to pay for this to make it right. Like that time you threw a rock through the window and dad said, “Someone’s gotta buy a new one, and I didn’t throw that rock.” Maybe that was just my experience.
I don’t think God is like that. I don’t think He’s a “pay up” or get out kinda God.
Too much love.
I think Jesus is the “new Adam” in Hebrew Adam’s name means dirt. Jesus is the new dirt, the new creation. The new way for God’s pathway to be made right. When Jesus didn’t sin, ever, it was God’s way of saying people can live the life I created. People brought sin into the world, but God uses that suffering and pain as a way to form us into his likeness, like Jesus.
So, doctor “fix it”, when you ask “If God didn’t want is to suffer so much, why did He create it?” There’s my thought. He didn’t create it for us, but He gently uses suffering in us as a pathway to Jesus and restoration with God. Out of love, not payback. For our maturity, not masochism.
I don’t want pain either, as much as the next guy. But I do want to be drawn closer to God, so I’m at a crossroads. “God, this hurts and I don’t like it, but if it means you’re drawing me closer to you and we walk hand in hand, do whatever you want. Didn’t someone say, “Take this cup of suffering & death from me, YET, not what I will, rather Father, what you will”? Oh yeah God, you said that in Jesus.
Make me like that guy, just remember to be a little gentle. Pain still hurts.