For many people living in the West where the cultural bias is towards an expectation of everybody being healthy and living longer, sickness readily becomes seen as the main focus of one’s “suffering”. But, suffering is a far broader concept than struggling with physical, emotional or mental illness.
The Dictionary defines suffering as
– A serious pain that someone feels in his or her body or their mind.
– A situation in which something painful, harmful or very unpleasant happens to you.
– Being badly affected by an unfavourable event or situation.
– The bearing of pain, inconvenience or loss; pain endured; distress, loss or injury incurred.
This paper seeks to widen our understanding and handling of some of the real life situations of suffering that confronts us on a daily basis. But, because of the breadth of the subject, it has been necessary to be selective on what areas and aspects of the subject to include. The hope is that the following material will help build a working Biblical framework for further thought and study on the subject.
Setting the scene
“Act of God” is a legal term for events outside of human control, such as sudden floods or other natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible.
And the opening decade of the 21st Century has seen its fair share of them!
Europe Heat Waves (35,000 dead)
China Earthquake (70,000 dead)
Iran Earthquake (43,000 dead)
Guatemala/El Salvador Hurricane (1,638 dead)
Asian Tsunami (275,000 dead)
Global Swine Flu (11,800 dead)
Hurricane Katrina (1,800 dead)
Haiti Earthquake (230,000 dead)
Pakistan Earthquake (75,000 dead)
Pakistan Flooding (1,800 dead)
Myanmar Cyclone (146,000 dead)
Russian Heatwave (15,000 dead)
Notwithstanding, the sobering effects of these particular statistics, the United Kingdom based charity Oxfam has stated publicly that, “the number of people hit by “climate-related” disasters is expected to rise by about 50%, to reach 375 million a year by 2015”.
(For a helpful article on the issue of natural disasters see, “Do natural disasters disprove God’s existence” by John N. Clayton at www.whypain.org )
Not everybody blames “God” for these disasters, but standing in the bus queue, supermarket checkout, or in conversation over a pint at the pub, it is still very common to hear people raise the question of why the “Almighty” does not step in to prevent such devastation to property and human life? Or to put the question in more familiar apologetic terms, “How could a good God allow suffering? How can you believe in God when there is so much suffering and evil in the world?”
Michael Ramsden writing in a recent article on suffering says that in the Western world today, “the existence of any form of pain, suffering or evil has been regarded as evidence for the non-existence of God. If a good God existed, people say, these things wouldn’t. But they do and, therefore, He doesn’t”.
(It is interesting to note that in the same article, he states he has never been asked questions about God and suffering when travelling in India or other nations riddled with the daily realities of suffering!)