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Why is there suffering in the world?

Bernhard Meuser
26. May 2020

There are people who claim to have an answer to the question of suffering in this world. I have never believed them. No book in this world (even including the Bible) can give me an answer to this question. "Evil in the world,", says the YC 51, "is an obscure and painful mystery. "One day our eyes will be opened, and maybe our mouth as well, but in wonder. We will be able to ask God himself, "Why did you let all this happen? Why all these tears of the lost, all this suffering of innocent children? Could you not have at least stopped that?" Suffering also made even Jesus become insecure for a moment. Shortly before his betrayel, he sweated blood, and in great anguish addressed questions towards a seemingly silent heaven. His father did not stop his crucifixion — and Jesus did not shy away from horrible suffering.

© Photo by Il ragazzo on Cathopic

No Answer, but a Solution

The heavenly father has not given us an answer, but a solution. To put it another way, he has given us a redeemer. YC 101 says: "Christ, our Redeemer, chose the Cross so as to bear the guilt of the world and to suffer the pain of the world. So he brought the world back home to God by his perfect love." What is the meaning of dying out of love? And what use is it if one more person dies in the midst of millions of others dying?

The Christian faith is based upon two assumptions. We find the first assumption in YC 51: "One thing, though, we know for sure: God is 100 percent good. He can never be the originator of something evil." God would not be God if he — as some practitioners of Eastern religion or some esotericists say — is at the same time good and evil. Such a God could only be despised. If God is not the orginator of our plight, then who is?  

Looking for the Guilty

"God does not want men to suffer and die", says the YC 66. This is the second great assumption. The blood and tears of humanity often originate in human and natural causes. It is not only those monstrous tyrants, who sent whole nations into Concentration Camps or who let 30 million farmers die of hunger. No, it is also us "little people" who cause suffering and contribute daily to the plight of this world. Sometimes we do this in more remarkable ways, like when a small shop owner refuses to serve Jews at the counter, or in more common situations, like when we act harmfully and competitively towards our colleagues.

We are free to destroy our fellow human beings and our surrounding environment. A black fog of sin has encroached upon and silently poisoned all that exists. Even natural catastrophes like tsunamies, earthquates, and pandemics somehow in a deeper sense seem to mysteriously mirror the atrocities which human beings inflict upon each other as if it were nothing. People ask themselves: How on earth did we manage to spoil and destroy all the good, true and beautiful things that we find in creation? It is easily imaginable that the creator of all things may now struggle to recognize his own creation.

© Photo by Marcin Czerniawski on Unsplash

Paradise Restored

"God does not want men to suffer and die. God’s original idea for man was paradise: life forever and peace between God and man and their environment, between man and woman," says YC 66. How did we lose paradise? Well, God did not create us as puppets; He made us in his own image, and therefore gifted us with an ability that only God and we humans have: a nearly boundless capacity to choose and act freely. What a risk! This kind of freedom can turn you into a murderer. But God's plan for us with regards to our freedom is different: "God would like us to decide in favor of our happiness; we should choose God freely, love him above all things, do good and avoid evil insofar as we are able." (YC 285) Is the world a failed experiment by God? Would it not be better if God would send the great flood one more time so that this corrupt humanity would drown alongside his suffering earth once and for all?

God is not like that. "God is love" (1 Jhn. 4:8). The YC 33 says, "Faith holds fast to this promise, although the experience of suffering and evil in the world may make people wonder whether God is really loving." God is doing something incredible: He does not destroy us. At the same time, he is not carelessly looking away. He allows the full force of human tragedy to touch his heart — a heart full of mercy. He sent what he loves the most — his son — into our realm of death. This is supposed to tell us that where people suffer, God suffers as well. Sometimes we say, "he is suffering like an animal." No, here we see someone suffering like God. Even more: God does not suffer like a human being, but as a human being, so as to tell us how he feels in his most inner being. He is suffering in order to prove to us his unconditional, perfect love — a love without boundaries, a love that gives its life for the other. He suffers so that no one can say, "I know of a place you do not know, God: my sufferings!"

God does not merely perform some kind of demonstration ("Hey, look, I am innocent, and I am also suffering because of your suffering"). In his universal compassion, the creator of the world forged a path back to paradise, a bridge over the abyss of death. Christians have very good reasons to believe that Jesus Christ is the only way, the only bridge to life. "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved," says Acts 4:12.

Jesus – the Bridge to Life

Jesus takes all that upon himself which for every human being, and even for God, is almost too horrible to watch. We are the ones who should atone, especially for the crimes we commit. Yet he atones in a different way. We are the ones who should pay the bill, especially for our omissions. He pays all the bills. We are actually the ones who should suffer, especially for those things which we brought upon ourselves. But it is He who carries all the suffering of sin upon the cross. We are the ones who should die as a penalty. He dies for us in the most horrible manner, a way invented to torture criminals to death in ancient times, so that we might have a path back to paradise.

And then the miracle happens: He, who took upon himself all the plight of sin and endured all those sufferings until the end, does not remain dead. The father takes him out of the realm of death. Christ lives, and he shows himself to the witnesses of his resurrection as a living, touchable person. The resurrection was not an isolated event in history. The resurrection of Jesus is our "life insurance". It is the bridge that leads us out of transience and futility. How? It would be beyond the scope of this article to explain it here. But this much can be said: "Because death is now no longer the end of everything, joy and hope came into the world. Now that death “no longer has dominion” (Rom 6:9) over Jesus, it has no more power over us, either, who belong to Jesus." (YC 108). Christians have the wonderful assurance that, when all suffering comes to an end, the sun of Easter will rise.

With the Sun at your Back ...

With the Sun at your back, you can understand why some people can even say, "Thank you, God, for putting a few obstacles in my life. They made me stop and think and brought me back to the way of life!" In any case, it is true what St. Francis de Sales realized: "Heavy as the mountains would be the suffering you bear alone. But it is a yoke, where the Lord helps you to carry it, and he carries you and your suffering." ∎

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