Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
For our fifth episode on the problem of evil, we ask, “What might help people who suffer?”
Scripture is full of sufferers and those who helped them. Let’s look at three.
Job, the second most famous sufferer in the Bible, had comforters who tried helping him with theology. They said, “God rewards good people. God punishes bad people. If you’re suffering, you must be bad. Confess your sin! Change your ways.”
When Jesus met a blind man, the disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Their mindset for dealing with suffering was, “Let’s find someone to blame.”
When Jonah and shipmates were terrified in a huge storm, Jonah provided the solution: “Throw me overboard!” he said, giving another helpful model for managing suffering.
How often, as in these stories, comforters don’t comfort and sufferers aren’t helped. God rebuked Job’s friends, telling them their favorite theology was wrong. Jesus squashed the disciples’ blame-game by telling them neither the blind man nor his parents were at fault. Throwing someone overboard, a strategy much favored by politicians today, solved the sailors’ problem. But scripture doesn’t elevate this solution to a preferred model for helping sufferers.
However, the Bible does offer some helpful suggestions for sufferers and those who comfort them.
First, scripture points out that suffering has many causes.
Jonah’s storm was a consequence for his disobedience. Job’s troubles were initiated by Satan to resolve an argument with God. Jesus said the man’s blindness wasn’t because someone did something bad–it was an opportunity for God to show up and do something good! Yes, suffering has many causes. Don’t trust simple explanations that suggest only one cause or one solution for suffering.
Second, scripture shows various ways to deal with suffering.
Job, for example, found it helpful to shout angrily against his comforters and God. Suffering helped Jonah think clearly about obeying God. Jesus, the Bible’s most famous sufferer, patiently endured torture, crucifixion, and death. Paul told us to rejoice in our sufferings, because they teach us to hope in the future God has for us (Rom 5).
Those are some of the options for dealing with suffering. So don’t trust those who have only one strategy and one message for everyone who suffers.
Third, scripture discourages us from making unkind theological comments on other people’s suffering. Job’s comforters made things worse by accusing him of sin. Jesus’ tormentors said, “He saved others, himself he cannot save”; but they had no clue about the cause of his suffering, or what kind of help he needed.
Our father, we do not understand the causes and cure of suffering. Yet, we believe you are present with all who suffer.
Teach us, like Jonah, to take responsibility for our actions and to reverse our bad decisions.
Teach us like Job, to rage at injustice and evil, and to hear your voice in the storm.
Teach us to be like Jesus, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame.
O father, lead us through the thorns that infest our world, through the pain around us, through the evil within us, until we love you truly and follow you faithfully. Bring us at last to that holy place where you banish suffering forever, and dry our tears, and cure our fears.
I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.
YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube