The Problem of Pain
What does it mean to have a God who willingly suffers with us? Recently, I was able to interview Andy Frye on God’s presence in our pain. The problem of pain can be incredibly difficult to talk about and understand. When a friend is suffering, we are called to mourn and weep with them. But from a big picture perspective, what is the purpose of pain? How can we best understand suffering in light of our faith so that we can be better prepared for it when it comes?
In our culture, suffering is generally seen as something to be avoided. If there is no God, our suffering is completely meaningless. There is no greater significance and nothing redemptive in suffering. An atheistic worldview encourages us to run from suffering and towards pleasure. If this life is all that there is, why not live for whatever makes us feel good? Similarly, from a Buddhist worldview, if our existence is merely an illusion, suffering does not matter. But this means we cannot be angry with injustice or evil because it does not really exist; if everything is illusion, then our suffering is illusory and insignificant. In both of these views, there is no redemption or hope, and yet everyone suffers. What we need is a worldview that helps us go through suffering and transcends our very real pain.
A Different Perspective
Christianity offers a different perspective. God’s Word tells us that suffering is a result of sin, and that it hurts God even more than it hurts us. Biblically we are all victims of the sin that entered the world in Genesis 3, but we are also all perpetrators (Romans 3:23). Typically we want the freedom of being human, but not the moral responsibility that comes with our choices. While we cannot explain all the ways of God to man (the problem of theodicy), the biblical story tells us that we all bear responsibility for sin and its effects in the world.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. Our God is a God of redemption. Sin cannot go unpunished so God came down in human form to suffer for us and with us. Even before his death, Jesus suffered with others, meeting Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ grave and weeping with them in true empathy. Today, God continues to empathize with our suffering. The Spirit intercedes and even groans with us (Romans 8:26-27). Andy compared the Father heart of God to a parent’s groaning and empathy in watching their child suffer.
A God who Suffers with us
The answer to the question of suffering is, interestingly, another question. Why would God create us in the first place, knowing that we would sin and suffer and that, by creating us, redemption would only be possible by sacrificing his one and only son? And yet, the God who suffers with us still chose to go through with it. Almost ironically, the answer to the mystery of a good God allowing us to sin and suffer is His love. This love is incomprehensible. But it can bring us immense comfort in our personal suffering to know that God chose to suffer in our place before the creation of the world. As Andy pointed out, this allows us to now suffer with others. We are called to bear one another’s burdens and find comfort in knowing that God is ultimately carrying it in his hands.
Andy concluded by sharing that nothing is beyond redemption. If the death of God can be used for good then so can your story. As Joseph told his brothers years after being sold into slavery, “What you intended for evil God used for good”. Our God is sovereign over all. And when we cannot understand, He is here, suffering with us.