I was reading about a man named John Templeton who back in the 1940s was a well-known evangelist. With Billy Graham, they conducted evangelistic rallies and conducted campaigns throughout Europe. Billy Graham, of course, went on to be a well-known Christian leader, respected throughout the world. But not may people heard much about John Templeton. Why? Because he let go of his Christian faith and became an agnostic. He stopped believing in God. Why?
Here’s what happened. He was reading through Life magazine, and it contained a photo of a black woman in North Africa during the time of a devastating drought. She held her dead baby in her arms, looking up to Heaven with a forlorn look of agony on her face. Templeton said: “As I looked at the photo I thought, Is it possible to believe there is a loving or caring Creator? How could a loving God do this to a woman? Who runs the rain? I don’t. He does, or so I thought. How could God stop rain from coming and virtually destroy a baby and virtually kill its mother with agony, when all that was needed was rain?”
Now, that’s not an easy question to answer, and Templeton’s response and action could be repeated many times. How do we come to terms with unfairness and suffering in our world? Does God still love his people, and yet allow suffering to happen each day? It’s not possible in this short talk to answer this in length, but I can give you some key points to think about.
It’s very unfair to blame God for the suffering in our world, or the suffering you’ve seen in others. People say, If you’re a God of love, why did you let this happen? The Bible is realistic about this topic. The book of Job is a good place to start. Job is a man, a good man, who was upright before God. Yet he suffered physical pain, and lost his possessions. He did not deserve the loss of his property, the tragic loss of his children, the loss of his health. He suffered the rejection of his friends who all criticised him for sin. But he had not sinned, and his personal integrity was intact. So we learn that suffering is not always the result of sin, and God does not send punishment on his people by making them suffer.
The Bible tells me I am created in his image, and that I am made to live in harmony with him and other people. But love cannot exist where there is no freedom of choice. And this matter of free-will is crucial. When I wanted to marry my wife, I didn’t grab her by the throat and say, Listen, you will love me or else. That’s not love. God loves us so much he gave us freedom of choice, and sometimes our own choice can lead to unfortunate results. The Bible says, “…a man will always reap just the kind of crop he sows.” (Galatians 6:6 – TLB).
There is pain and suffering in our world, and in Jesus day people believed, like Job’s friends, that sin resulted in suffering, and God was angry and sent punishment on everyone. Also, he lived at a time when suffering was blamed on the person or his parents. Jesus said this was wrong thinking, and it would be helpful to read Luke 13:1-5 where this topic comes up, and Jesus said some suffering is due to the cruelty of others or to faulty places like the tower of Siloam that collapsed and killed 18 men.
This is such a complex topic that we are probably left with more questions than answers. But God knows what suffering is like when he allowed his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to take our sins on his own shoulders and he suffered a painful death for us. But think for a moment of his own life where there was pain of misunderstanding, loneliness, cutting criticism, rejection, public humiliation, and then crucifixion. And because he experienced pain and suffering, he is able to help us. Hebrews 2:18 (TLB) says, “…since he himself has now been through suffering, he knows what it is like when we suffer…, and he is wonderfully able to help us”.
In a strange way, God often takes our suffering and uses it in a wonderful way. I’m reminded of Helen Keller, blind and deaf from childhood, who said, “I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God”.
Dr Edward Wilson, who died with Captain Robert Scott on his return back from the South Pole left his testimony behind him. He said: “This I know is God’s truth, that pains and troubles and trials and sorrows and disappointments are either one thing or another. To all who love God, they are love tokens from Him. To all who do not love God and do not want to love Him, they are merely a nuisance. Every single pain that we feel is known to God because it is the most loving touch of His hand”.