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The reality of suffering, and the Gospel confronting culture

Published: 29 March 2014 (GMT+10)

The issue of death and suffering is one that comes up frequently. R.W., USA, wrote:

Wikipedia.orgdearh-suffering
There is always the issue of suffering. My question is simple and you may wish to look into this matter from a different view. What do we declare as suffering as a human view and the idea of suffering from the view of God. God allowed his own son to experience suffering. What if God views suffering as we know it to be something totally different. The question that many ask is why would a good God allow suffering and why would God allow people to go to hell. The answer is simple. He doesn’t. I submit that the definition for suffering is a Webster definition and not that of God. A person breaks a leg, they suffer. People die in a hurricane, they suffer. A love one is loss, they suffer. A child is infected by a parasite, they suffer. Christ was beaten, hung on a cross, He suffered. God does not for example get in the middle of a hurricane and sets aside those He wishes to not experience harm, just as God does not stop a person from jumping in front of an oncoming car.

, CMI-US, responds:

Dear R.,

If we were happy and comfortable in a fallen world, it would not point us to the Gospel.

I think that as Christians we can say that God works for a believer’s ultimate good—and that is only fully manifested in the Resurrection. And of course, this often involves intense suffering along the way as we suffer various tragedies. But I think your thoughts trivialize suffering a little; any answer to death and suffering has to acknowledge its reality if it is going to be effective.

God’s definition of suffering must be the same as ours (even though His perspective is vastly greater). If words can mean completely different things (the word ‘suffering’ means ‘blueberry’) to the people that are trying to communicate then transmission of accurate information becomes impossible. God’s logic and our logic must be the same or else we can’t really know anything, because all knowledge comes ultimately from God.

Suffering is real, it is sometimes unbearably intense, even for believers. God allows suffering because of sin. While He may intervene at any point (and we may never know how often He does), God allows the consequences of sin to play out. I think for several reasons:

  1. It is a reminder that there is something terribly wrong with the world. If we were happy and comfortable in a fallen world, it would not point us to the Gospel.
  2. For the unbeliever, it is a warning and a foretaste of the judgment to come. Even the most intense suffering in this world does not compare to the hopelessness of eternal judgment apart from God or any hope of redemption.
  3. For the believer, God uses suffering for our eternal good. While this is difficult to understand, we can see instance after instance of it. For instance, Joni Eareckson-Tada became a quadriplegic after a swimming accident that left her body paralyzed. She went through intense depression and even now suffers from chronic pain (she is also a cancer survivor). Yet she has said she is thankful that God put her in her wheelchair, because He has used her disability to bring her closer to Him as she depends on Him, and it is also a platform for her ministry. There are so many other instances that I can think of where mature, faithful Christians have gone through suffering only to have it bring them closer to God as a result.

Jesus came into the world and suffered, not just on the Cross (though that is of course the most important part), but throughout His life as He lived a normal human life. He had to experience the entire human life in order to not only save us (i.e., pay for our sins), but also make us righteous in God’s sight (we could not be credited with His righteousness if He had not lived a righteous human life).

I hope these few thoughts are useful.


S.H., USA, writes:

Dear CMI,
Firstly I want to thank you so much for your ministry and what you do; your efforts have produced much fruit, and have helped me to take Scripture seriously at its claims, with evidence.
Please continue to answer questions, expose lies and give answers for the reason you hope :)
My question is this:
Do Christian missions/missionaries destroy the culture of the native people groups in the land they are in?

Lita Sanders responds:

Dear S.,

Thanks for writing in.

How missionary activity impacts the culture of previously-unreached people groups is one of the controversial aspects of evangelism. Critics often use phrases like ‘Christianity destroys people’s culture’ to cast Christianity in a negative light. But I think there is more to consider about this issue.

The history of religion shows that there are no depths to which humans will not descend in the worship of their false, demonic gods.

Many cultures, isolated from the Gospel, create intricate systems to try to placate their gods and other spirits. This includes child sacrifice, ritual rape, and various forms of murder, not to mention the general fear and oppression of the religions. There is often some awareness of spiritual reality, but divorced from the Gospel this turns to animism and demon worship.

There are obviously some parts of culture that are beautiful and should be preserved. Clothing, architecture, art and music styles are all part of a particular people group’s heritage and can be admired ‘culturally’. But who can admire the former Indian practice of sutee, where a widow would be burned on her husband’s pyre? Or the ritual cannibalism practiced by many cultures throughout history? The history of religion shows that there are no depths to which humans will not descend in the worship of their false, demonic gods.

So the Gospel itself will change the culture, but for the better. Also, evangelism also brings with it exposure to the modern world, particularly for tribal peoples in various parts of the world. Some people think that this is a bad thing in and of itself. But put yourself in the place of the person being affected; is the possibility of better technology for getting food and clean water, medical care, and contact with the outside world such a bad thing? Certainly no one should be forced into a way of life they don’t want (i.e., if someone wants to reject computers and fast food, then fine!). But surely there is nothing biblical about idealizing more “primitive” ways of life.

A book that goes into this in detail is One Human Family by Dr Carl Wieland.