I. Why do we have suffering in our lives?

A. Suffering is not an authentic (real) existence

Influenced by Neo-Platonist philosophy, Augustine stated that evil is not something which exists in its own right, but is rather the absence or lack of good. For example, lust is misdirected love. Blindness is the absence of perfect eye-sight. In this sense, God is not responsible for evil i.e. God creates good things but evil is out of the absence of good.

B. Suffering is inevitable

Our nerves can sense both pleasure and pain; our emotion can feel both happiness and frustration; water can clean and drown us; fire can warm and burn us. We either accept both the good and bad features of everything, or abandon everything! If you don't want to take the risk of relationship breakup, don't date and marry. If you want to avoid the frustration of receiving a poor grade, don't go to school. Some branches of Buddhism, which emphasize "emptiness" and "nothingness," appear to be a cure to pain. Actually, the so-called solution is simply not to pursue anything!

C. Suffering is still the best of all possible

Lebniz stated that there are many possible ways of things happened. We humans, as finite beings, can only experience one possible outcome. The almighty God, however, foresees all possibilities and gives us the best of all possible worlds. For example, if I were hit by a car in Mill Ave., I might regret not to go somewhere else. But if I had gone to University Ave., I might have been run over by a truck.

D. Suffering is the result of natural laws

God has created a world governed by natural laws. If we violate these laws, we suffer the consequences. If two cars crash into each other at 70 m.p.h., the passengers, according to the laws of physic and biology, will be seriously injured. Can God change His laws at that moment of collison? He can, of course. If so, then we would have lived in a much worse world--a chaotic and unexpected, rather an orderly and certain world.

E. Suffering is the by-product of good things

Teilhard de Chardin, a well-known Catholic theologian and paleontologist, asserted that evil and suffering are the by-products of evolution. In his view, both God and the world are changing (evolving). Eventually the world will reach the Omega point (the destiny) but evil and suffering occur throughout the evolutionary process. This abstract theological thought is well-expressed in the movie "The shoe of the fisherman." In the movie, a Russian priest who had spent twenty years in jail was released by the Soviet Union. Later he became the first non-Italian Pope. This new Pope shocked the Archbishops by several "radical" actions and speeches. For example, he wanted to appoint a young theologian who endorsed the thought of Chardin. Further, he told the Archbishops that he almost killed a guard in the Soviet jail when he attempted to protect a prisoner; violence seems to be justified at that moment.

F. Suffering is the result of free will

i. We humans have the free will to choose to do good or evil for ourselves and others. Can God stop me when I exercise my free will to rob, rape and murder? Again, He can. But if so, this is a world of human robots! More importantly, without free will, good is no longer good and evil is no longer evil i.e. hunting a rabbit by a lion is not considered "a murder" because this act is out of instinct.

ii. Because of our free will, we humans should take full responsibility of our actions. Dr. Roberta Hestenes, Chair of World Vision (the world largest Christian relief organization), said, "I have never forgotten and will never forget walking into an orphanage ward in Rumania where every child had AIDS. They had used a needle to infect these children. Any my cry, which was deep and still goes on, was not why does God do that? My cry was Why have humans used their freedom in such a horrible way-to wreak this kind of destruction on innocent children."

ii. It does not imply that evil resulted from our free will is not under the control of God. God can turn evil into good. For example, imperial British took over Hong Kong out of their profit-mind. Later God let Hong Kong becomes a safe Haven for refugees from Communist China. Driven by self-serving purposes, Europeans conquered the North American continent and brought tremendous suffering to native Americans . But God makes America to contribute to the whole world.

G. Suffering is not losing but reverting

Spinoza argued that suffering is painful if we think that we are entitled to own our properties. But originally we do not possess anything. Losing what we have is just to revert to our original state. For example, being blind is painful when we compare a blind person with one who has healthy eyesight. But what if we compare him with a stone that cannot see at all? In the beginning of the universe neither humans nor stones take their current forms and no one or nothing have eyesight. When I am a fetus inside the womb of my mother, I didn't have eyesight, neither. Job said, "I came to this world with a naked body. And I will leave the world in the same way. The Lord is the giver and the Lord is the taker, too"

H. Suffering may be the work of Satan (Job 1:6-12; 1 Pe 5:8-9)

i. Why does God allow Satan to test us? Because God is able to make good out of evil. e.g., An American asked a Chinese: 'Why, if God loves us, does he let the church in China suffer so much?' The Chinese Christian's response: 'Why, if God loves us, does he let the church in the West suffer so little?' Lev Timofeyev, imprisoned by the Soviet KGB, wrote, 'The most vivid prayers of my life were in my prison cell, which is the closest place to God.' One of the saints said, 'The cross is the gift God gives to his friends.'

ii. The bottom line is that God does not let Satan test us beyond our limit . As promised in Paul's letter to the Corinthians: but God [is] faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear [it]. (1 Co 10:13)

I. Suffering is the work of God

i. Pains may be inflicted by God as a chastisement (Deu. 8:5; Pro 3:11-12; Re 3:19; Hebrews 12:5-9; 1 Co. 11:31) when we commit sins and do not correct ourselves. Recently I suffer from allegery. A friend warned me that some anti-allegery drugs counter the symptom by desensitizing your nose. It may be dangerous because your nose may not be able to sense warning signals even if the air is harmful to your health. Pain is 'good' when it alerts us to problems that need to be fixed.

ii. Bad things happen to good people. We are not in a position to judge others' suffering as a consequence of sin. In contrast, suffering may be a blessing from God--God intends to train us to be mature and robust.. There is a common saying states" "No pain, no gain."

II. How should we respond to suffering?

A. Moral calling--"How" but not "Why"

When pain happens, there is a moral calling. God makes us suffer in order to let us be sympathetic to other people's pain (2 Cor. 1:3-4; Romans 12:15). It is our moral responsibility to help others out. Thus, encountering pain we ask the question of "how" (What to do to relief suffering?) instead of "why" (Is it caused by natural laws, humans, God or Satan? Is suffering an authentic existence? Is the consequence the best of all possible worlds?). First, it is unlikely for us to find the answers to the preceding questions. Second, even if we find the answers, we have no control over them. However, in regard to the factors that are controllable, we should still ask why (e.g. Is the cancer caused by air pollution? Should we tighten the law of vehicle emission?).

B. Watch out warning signals

In 1994 when I attended the conference of the Judgment and Decision Making Society in St. Louis, a psychologist presented a paper regarding the serial nature of tragic decision making. i.e. a severe consequence results from many decisions and some of them seems to be "no big deal." For example, before Titianic hit the iceberg and sank, the captain had received at least seven iceberg warnings but chose to ignore them. Ten miles away from the coordinate of Titianic, there was another ship. When Titian was sinking, it sent out both the SOS telegraph and rockets many times, but that ship did not respond! Watch out signals from God and don't be a spiritual Titianic.

C. Hope for the best

Suffering is the ultimate test of character. Tolstoy in his Confessions says people respond to tragedy four ways. Some are scared and mentally fly from it, perhaps soaking in drink to forget. Some despair and commit suicide (or want to). Some are grimly stoical: their heads are 'bloody but unbowed'. Finally, there are those who meet it bravely, believing there is sense in it somewhere. Christianity goes a step further, and asserts that suffering can be used: many works of social justice have followed a tragic event or experience (Rowland Croucher, 1995). In this sense, we still hope for the best during suffering.

D. Prepare for the worst

In the book of Job, at last God gave back everything that Job lost. Some theologians argued that the beginning and the end were inserted later to the book. Here I will not go into the debate of Biblical textual comparison. But, what if Job did not get back those God took away? When we suffer, we somehow hope that eventually God will alleviate our pain and even return us something better than before. If God still keeps silent, shall we still love God and do good? Sir Henry Moore said, "If we are being rewarded for every good deed, then every body will choose to do good. But that is not the case, and therefore, we need the courage to do good."


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