Last week we looked at the fact that suffering in the world often leads people to question if God is there, and even if He is good. This week I will put forward the first of my theses about suffering. As I said last time, it is one that has the potential to be fairly controversial when you first hear it, but please give me the time to explain, and then you can continue to disagree with it.
The first thesis is that suffering, in and of itself, has no meaning.
As I said, on first reading, that statement may sound controversial, and it probably is, but I want you guys to understand that suffering and evil are NOT GOOD. That is one thing that I want to make clear throughout this post, so I may say it again, you cannot say that something evil is good. Suffering and evil are not things that God has created, as much as there are theories and theologies out there which make the claim, “God is the author of evil and suffering.”
In my opinion, they are not things that are within the realm of creation, they do not exist by themselves, rather, what they are is a lack, a deficiency, a privation, and absence. If we read the Genesis account, there is no mention of God being the one to bring evil, suffering, or sin into the world.
That it is malevolent, that it has a purpose, that suffering is a force in the world, that it fights against God. In some ways (depending on how you want to define those terms) it does, but what is darkness except the absence of light? What is evil except the absence of good? What is suffering except the absence of wholeness?
To say that suffering has a purpose, that it is useful for something, that it is… good… is to try and name something good that is evil, to go against what God has said. To try and baptise them with a holy meaning is to try to do something that only God can, we are not the arbiters of good and evil, we simply name the things that God does.
These things are bad – we cannot look at them and say that death is good, that suffering, sickness, disease, the holocaust, these things were not good! They are not good! We cannot fall into the trap of saying that these things are good, that they served some sort of eternal purpose.
Now, what I’m not saying is that God cannot use these situations. God is sovereign, and he is able, as it says in Romans 8:28 to work all things together for the good of those who love him.
What does Joseph say to his brothers?
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…
God is able to turn these situations around, but they are not good in and of themselves. I want you guys to come away from this post hearing this:
Someone who is paralysed in a car crash is not a good thing.
Someone who deceives and manipulates is not doing a good thing.
Cancer in a child is not a good thing.
Hunger, starvation, people dying from preventable disease is NOT a good thing!
These things are not good, they have no value in themselves, they are not worthy of that. To say that they have value is to place a worth on them that they don’t deserve and should never have. Suffering and evil are not worthy of value! Think about when God had finished creating the world, was evil, sin, and disobedience a part of that? No, not at all! God had finished and was resting when Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent. Evil was not allowed into this creation by God, but by people, and so we cannot say it is good, to do that is to take the place of God and to try and say that something we created was good. Do you see the parallel, God creates and names it good, so we try and do the same thing, we allowed this thing into the world, it must be good, because we want to be God!!!
Not so! These evils are called so for a reason, and they serve no purpose in the world, not in and of themselves. This is the great conclusion of the book of Job. His friends all try and come up with reasons why Job is suffering, the most common being, you must have upset God, and so he is punishing you! We know from the context of the book that this is not true, but no real reason is given for why Job is suffering, none of the characters including Job, get it right, and God’s response is a bunch of questions! Read Job 38-42 and see if you can spot an answer that God gives to Job…
God can use suffering for our good, but he never says that it is good.
Question: Why is it so tempting to say that something not good is good? Why are we always looking for a reason when we suffer?
Featured image credit:
Hoach Le Dinh