7 things to keep in mind as we work through ideas about God and the problem of pain

I once heard someone make this comment in relation to our attempts to better understand the problem of suffering and pain in the world -- “When you’re in the midst of pain, it really doesn’t matter what our opinions about it may be.” For a moment, I agreed with their comment. That is, until I reflected on it. Why? Because a flawed view of suffering can actually cause us to experience even more pain.

Our experience of pain can be intensified when we believe that God’s hand was directly responsible for it. Click To Tweet

For example, if we hold to a model that maintains the idea that God determines and orchestrates everything that happens, the good as well as the bad, such a model will only increase our experience of suffering. That is, our experience of pain can actually be intensified when we believe that God’s hand was directly responsible for the suffering.

As a result, it is imperative we take the time to carefully reflect on the problem of pain, our experience of it, and God's role within in.

Here are seven things we need to keep in mind as we work through ideas about God and the problem of pain.

1. We need to remember that Jesus isn’t behind our pain, but walks with us in it

When things went wrong in people’s lives, whether it was about their physical or spiritual condition or some tragedy that happened to them, I don’t recall Jesus ever looking for the hand of God in it. Instead, he had compassion on suffering people and treated them like casualties of war. He expressed God’s heart by bringing relief to people’s suffering (Greg Boyd, Is God to Blame? Pg. 14).

2. Jesus’ public ministry reveals that God was against, not behind, all the evil in the world

“The thief has come to steal, kill and destroy. But I have come to bring life, and to bring it to the full” (John 10:10).

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).

Jesus was and is expressly concerned with bringing healing, restoration, and life to those afflicted by the evil one. God’s kingdom (loving reign) was inaugurated upon the earth with the coming of Jesus and was revealed throughout his public ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.

In the career of Jesus of Nazareth – in his words, his miracles, his encounters with all sorts of people, his model of service to others, his majestic superiority cloaked in kind humility – is the beachhead, the foothold, the first ground staked out in God’s great project to reclaim the cosmos from the evil that corrupts it.

Jesus' public ministry reveals that God was against, not behind, all the evil in the world. Click To Tweet

In the public career of Jesus, as he touched people with gentleness and healing, as he spoke with unparalleled authority and aptness, as he moved with steadfast purpose toward his final confrontation with the powers of his day, we see flashes of God’s pure shalom amid the swirling murk of our world (John Stackhouse, Can God be Trusted? Pg. 113).

3. God’s agenda has always been and will always be redemptive in nature

Only God has the unique ability to take what was intended to bring harm, redeem it, and bring good even from it.

This is what Jesus’ ministry was all about; taking what was broken and restoring it to reflect the goodness and wholeness of God’s loving kingdom reign - a foretaste of the kingdom come finding expression in the kingdom now.

4. God doesn’t need or require evil to bring about good, but can use even it to do just that

If God required evil in any way, it would make evil good, which it clearly is not.

5. When God redeems our suffering, it can occasion personal growth

This has been my experience on more than one occasion. A person can oftentimes learn patience when they have to wait. A person can learn wisdom when they reflect on the good and bad times in life. A person can become compassionate toward others when they endure challenge, difficulty, and pain.

In times of sorrow, God comforts us so we in turn can comfort others in their sorrow.

God doesn’t require evil and suffering in order to bring about good, but he does redeem it, changes its trajectory of harm, and uses even it to occasion good.

6. When God redeems our suffering, it can occasion community growth

Shared suffering can help build true community. Pulling together in a common crisis, setting aside petty differences in the service of a larger goal, turning ones attention from the neighbor to focus upon a larger threat – all of these aspects of coping together with a danger or disaster can form and strengthen communal ties (John Stackhouse, Can God be Trusted? Pg. 62).

7. Our suffering is temporary

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1b-3).

Final Thoughts

So, as you can see, it is very important to properly frame our pain in light of what God has done in and through Jesus. It can bring greater clarity into the disoriented mess that suffering often brings.

We also see that God's plan has always been redemptive in nature and that He alone has the unique ability to take what was intended for harm, redeem it, and bring good even from it.

Perhaps this is the greatest lesson of all.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Jeff is a columnist with ChristianWeek, a public speaker, blogger, and award-winning published writer of articles and book reviews in a variety of faith-based publications. He also blogs at jeffkclarke.com