The Christian tradition is haunted by a significant mark: Suffering. The question that arises from this suffering is if God is the omnipitous being that Christians believe Him to be, why would He let His people, whom he loves, suffer great pains and horrible deaths? According to premises derived from theologians and followers of the Bible, God is “all loving”. If that is true, then God would not want His people to suffer, but by just looking around us we see that suffering, in fact, is happening. If there is suffering going on that God does not want, then He would be able to stop that suffering since He also believed to be “all powerful”, yet suffering still goes on. Why? Hopefully by the end of this paper I will be able to answer that for myself.
Suffering needs little support for its existence, for things such as the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel’s book, Night, documents the suffering of the Jewish people and his own personal suffering during the Holocaust. This massive amount of suffering is very hard to justify. How could God let this genocide take place?
To answer that question we must further examine the original premises that we based the first conclusion upon: God is all-powerful and God is all-loving. To say that either one of these postulates are true would disrupt the foundation of the Christian beliefs. So we must dig deeper and look at the thought that “God does not want suffering”. Since suffering indeed happens, and God being the all-powerful individual and could stop suffering from happening if He wanted, then God must want suffering to happen for a reason. That’s strange, since we are saying God is also all-loving. God must need suffering to happen for a reason, but at the same time not necessarily want it to happen. What reason could God have for letting people whom He loves die horrible and painful deaths? Not only do these deaths effect the person, but also all the people who have been touched by that person because they suffer as well.
To say that God may not have control over who suffers and who does not makes Him seem like he’s not all-powerful, so God must play a part in this suffering. There are two reasons one can formulate that might give justification to this terrible suffering. One might be that we suffer as a test to prove our faith in God can survive no matter the circumstances. We see this test arise in the book of Job. Job is a man whom has done no wrong, has a great family, and a strong belief in God. According to the Bible, God puts the fate of Job’s in Satan’s hands. Satan reaps everything from Job except for his life. Job never questioned the existence of God or His almighty power, but Job did question God’s silence throughout his turmoil. When God finally answered, Job was rewarded for not loosing faith and “…spoken of Me what is right”(Job 42:8). Job suffered a great deal and still did not loose his faith in God, and in the end God gave Job “twice” what he had before. Job passed God’s test of suffering. In Wiesel’s Night we see a different situation.
Wiesel, like Job, had strong convictions about his faith. During the course of the book we see Wiesel’s faith weaken with the increasing suffering of the Holocaust. We see him go from praying and weeping to “Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever”(pg. 32). Wiesel obviously did not pass the inquest as Job did, that is, he lost some of his faith about God’s “absolute justice”(pg. 42). Could God have been testing Wiesel and his fellow Jews to see if their faith was as strong as they believed it to be? The difference between Job the Holocaust was that God never hurt Job’s body, however the Jews were slaughtered by the thousands. Maybe if Wiesel and his Jewish people all had kept their faith strong, then they might not have suffered such a great loss, but we will never know that for sure. There is another account of God testing His people in the story of Adam and Eve.
God put Adam and Eve in a situation to test wether they were worthy of something. But worthy for “what”. Maybe God is trying to let us know that there is something waiting for us when we pass away like Heaven. It would be feasible to say that God would only want those who are true to Him. This notion of Heaven also gives us something else to get us through the terrible times of our own personal suffering.
When the serpent deceived Eve and persuaded her to eat from the tree of knowledge, she failed the test that God set in front of her and Adam. Because of this, we all now suffer from humility and Original Sin. This test differs from the first two in the way that Adam and Eve were not suffering before they ate from the tree, the suffering came after the fact. Why would God want us to experience this suffering when we had no suffering in the beginning? This brings me to the second reason God could let us suffer: Suffering in order to know what “good” really is. There really is now way to understand how good we have it in life until something is take from us.
I personally have seen this sort of thing happen to me. I played football all through high school, and my teams were never that spectacular. My Junior year was our best year up to that point, we went 7-3. That team graduated the entire offense, expect for myself, needless to say the outlook for my Senior year was grim. During the off-season the team worked very hard because we knew how tough the road was ahead. We started off the season surprising everyone with a 3-0 mark. Everything was going good until our homecoming game, which we knew was going to be a tough game from the beginning. Right before half-time, I threw a pass to my receiver, and right when I did the teams Big stud defensive end hit me underneath my face mask on my chin. The hit had broken my jaw. Of course I did not know that at the time, so I managed to finish out the rest of the game, which we lost. I went to the doctor the next morning and the x-rays confirmed that my jaw was indeed broken. They said I was going to be out for 6-8 weeks, however the season had only 5 weeks left. I was devastated! I did not know what I was going to do because this kind of thing had never happened to me. I was our team’s only quarterback and I accounted for about 75% of the team’s points. I felt like I let the team down. I had it so good in the beginning, and I never realized it, and I was punished for that via a broken jaw. Fortunately I got a second opinion, and I never missed a game, but I did loose a step. But it did not matter how I was playing; it was just so good to get back into the mix again. The end of that season felt like I had accomplished more than any of the seasons prior to that because I had that period of suffering in the middle. Maybe that was God’s way of telling me that I was taking my good health for granite, and He let my jaw be broke to show me how good my life actually was.
Suffering is always going to be painful no matter if God is the one who is doing it to us or not. What we need to realize is that suffering with faith in God is much more justifiable than suffering without. In I Peter it says “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”(I Peter 4:16). So suffering as a Christian is all right because it means that you share an aspect of Christ’s life, and you should continue to praise God. “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good”(I Peter 4:19). This is our answer: Have faith in God, through the good times and especially the bad, for during the bad times is where our faith will truly be tested, and when the “Problem of human suffering” arises, it won’t seem like much of a problem at all.