The Problem of Pain

There are many bright and hopeful things in this world. There are also tragedies that make us despair. Incurable illness, oppression, abuse, war… this is the Problem of Pain, and people have always struggled with it.

The problem begins in the Garden of Eden. Our ancestors walked with God in the cool of the day, but they did not love Him enough to respect His limits. Remember, love is the only thing that He is asking of us (Matthew 22:36-40). Like Adam and Eve, we could have lived forever. But humans generally prefer sin (Jeremiah 17:9).

Imagine if everyone got everything we ever wanted. Even then, given time, most of us will never be satisfied with “enough.” Squirrels don’t know how many nuts are enough for the winter. Humans have the same genes. We have a constant craving for something more (Proverbs 27:20).

Nearly all of this world’s pain is caused by sin. If humanity could restrain itself from greed and pride, there would be little reason for violence and oppression (see Mammon and the Libertarians). Although this is the Devil's will, cynics and Fatalists say it is God's will (see Another Gospel). But God does not want to ruin what He called very good (Genesis 1:31). Our food, water and air might be free of the pollution created by someone trying to make money. Many diseases might not afflict us if we cared enough to wash hands and wear masks when we might be sick (1 Peter 2:16). So (aside from natural birth defects, aches and pains in old age, and a few other illnesses that kind doctors can't cure) pain can't be blamed on God.

When we see the Lord, we will apparently understand many things that are mysteries in this life (1 Corinthians 13:10-12). If we can believe it, it helps to know that every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4). But the problems come when we don’t believe it. One common reaction is that God doesn’t care, but to believe that, there has to be belief in something other than the Bible (Psalm 34:18, Matthew 5:4, John 11:35, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). 

God certainly restrains evil and intervenes in human affairs (Job 1:10), but He also allows evil to operate, within limits (Job 1:12). Though humans may struggle to understand how to prevail in God’s court, there are profound lessons to be learned in the process (Job 32-42). 

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28   

If you can believe the Bible, then all pain is going to do some good. If you can’t, all the pain is for nothing. Nearly every Christian will say that understanding how the universe works is worth all the pain and suffering.

They say pain is a teacher, and, what does not kill us makes us stronger. There is a connection between suffering and getting closer to God. Most humans are prone to get what they want the simplest way possible. But seeking after God and learning deep lessons are not simple. 

I tell you the solemn truth, you will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into joy. When a woman gives birth, she has distress because her time has come, but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the suffering because of her joy that a human being has been born into the world. John 16:20-21

God would have preferred that His own dear son would not have to suffer (Luke 22:42), probably more than anyone ever has. Hopefully, His suffering shows us how we are prone to rebel against what is good and right, and how little God deserves it. 

Though it doesn't make sense to human reasoning, we can avoid suffering by following the law of love (Matthew 22:36-40). But humans often don't understand that. So we seem to need suffering, in ourselves or others, to bring out our God-like character. This may seem like cold comfort for those in the middle of real pain. Hopefully though, everyone will see that the pain is not so sharp as we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).