What is the most common reason that non-believers have for not believing in God – particularly the Christian God? They are not being able to understand how a supposedly all-loving God could allow so much pain and suffering in his children. It is a hurdle that many simply can not get over. As physicians we see so many people in pain and suffering. Dealing with people in this condition is what our vocation is all about. It is essential to have a clear understanding of this topic lest, we too, fall prey to our doubts.
Before discussing what value may be gained in suffering, we went over two misunderstandings about the relationship between our belief in the Lord Jesus and our trials. The first is the mistake of thinking that the trials and disasters of our life are sent to us by God as a punishment for some past sin. We shared stories of how we had seen christians do and say terribly hurtful things under this supposition. In John 9:1-5 Jesus is directly asked who’s sin caused a blind man to be born blind. Jesus answers that it is not someone’s sin but it occurred to show God’s glory and then he restores the man’s sight. As we discussed latter in the evening, this is one of the innumerable instances when God uses the bad things in life and turns them to good. The second misunderstanding about suffering is the mistaken belief that if I am born again and turn my life over to Christ then my life will be trouble free. Holding such a belief is a recipe for despair when the inevitable trials and pain of life do come as they come to everyone at some time in their life. We are clearly warned to expect this in our christian walk in passages such as 2Cor 11:23-28 and 1Peter 4:12-13.
So why do these bad things happen to good people? The entire Book of Job is about trying to answer this question. There is simply no answer since we do not have the eternal prospective of the heavenly father. Just as Job’s troubles arose out of an agreement between God and Satan (Job 1:6-12) that Job had no awareness of and would never have awareness of, we do not know why most things befall us or our patients. The most common question a patient asks after being told they have a certain diagnosis is ‘Why me? Why did I get this?’ In most cases we do not have an answer. I sometimes tell my patient, “I don’t do why, I can do when and where and what but why often remains a mystery.” One thing we do know is it is not a problem inflicted by God on the person. God is all loving and wants nothing but the best for us. He created this world to be a perfect world without sin and it is only through humankind’s prideful, sinful behavior that we have the world that we now live in. This entire world is God’s Plan B, not his first intention. We suffer bad things because we live in a sinful, fallen world but exactly what brings a specific trouble into our life we often never know. What we do know is that God can use all bad things and turn them to good (Romans 8:28).
So God does not inflict the bad on us but he certainly allows it. The rest of our discussion centered on the values that can be gained by suffering through a trial:
- We draw closer to God in our suffering. Just as Christ suffered for us, when we suffer we grow to appreciate better what he did for us. There are numerous passages in which Paul extols the value of the sufferings he has been through. Rom 5:3-5 declares that our suffering enhances our perseverance and character and leads to greater hope in the Lord. Several examples of this were shared.
- Teaches us to comfort others better in their suffering. Having gone through a trial is one of the best ways to gain empathy for others. One of the hardest things about going through a difficult trial is the frequent feeling that you are alone and that no one understands the problem. This is why support groups are effective means of support. 2 Cor. 1:3-6 urges us to comfort others through their trails.
- Builds Dependence on God. Doctors have an innate desire to achieve and rely on themselves to solve a problem. But there are often problems that no one can solve by themselves or even with others. It is those times that we have to fall down and turn it over to the Lord. A great example of this is in Daniel 3:16-18 when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are about to be thrown into the fire. Not only do they proclaim there total dependence on God to save them but also if he chooses not to save them, they still will believe in their God. This is the kind of faith in God we all wish to aspire to.
- Displays God’s strength through our weakness. We shared about patients we have had that displayed extreme strength and courage all because of their faith in God. In 2Cor 12:8-12 Paul talks about a “thorn in my flesh” that he suffered with and that the Lord did not relieve. He states that he had learned that the Lord’s grace was really all he needed and therefore he was made stronger despite the thorn.
- Suffering gets us ready for heaven. The suffering we endure is more bearable when put into the prospective that this is our temporary home and that there is a perfect heavenly home awaiting us. We shared about patients we have had who were believers who, because of their faith in the next life, had a much easier and peaceful passing. Paul urges us to fix our eyes on that unseen eternal life and not the present one filled with momentary troubles (2 Cor. 4:16-18).