Our Human Outcry
As Ellis watched the police car enter his driveway, he braced himself for the bad news. The officer handed Ellis the driver’s license of his seventeen-year-old daughter, Heather, and then delivered the tragic news that she had just died in a fatal car crash. (Read more about Ellis’ story on page six.)
“When Heather died, I questioned God’s love for a long time,” Ellis recalled.
Years later, Ellis’ wife began suffering from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and she eventually succumbed to it. Ellis remembers crying out, “God, you have taken away my entire family!”
He admitted that the loneliness he felt was beyond description. However, his experience in losing his wife was different compared to the loss of his daughter. This time, he found strength in knowing that his wife and his daughter were in heaven because of their faith in Yeshua the Messiah. In the midst of his loneliness, Ellis began to experience the presence of God.
“I saw God’s grace and His mercy in a way that I had not expected,” he declared.
Ellis Goldstein experienced a time of intense pain and suffering, but he emerged from his loss with his faith intact and thriving. However, some people have difficulty relating to Ellis’ faith-filled response to pain and suffering in the world. Some might say the evil in the world is too overwhelming and too purposeless to make belief in God reasonable.
The experience of suffering is a universal human condition. Each of us experiences it to one extent or another. We see it all around us: the horrors of war, natural disasters, sicknesses, and death. The tragedies of life force us back to the age-old question: Why is there suffering and how could there be a God who allows it?
Suffering in the World
From the ancient Greeks to the great philosophers of the Jewish and Christian traditions, and even within the Bible, humanity has sought the meaning of suffering in light of the existence of God. In the modern age, we have been told that the universe is a mechanical, cold, empty place that merely consists of “particles and progress,” a phrase used by the University of Southern California philosophy professor Dallas Willard. The world simply has no meaning beyond its own bewildering existence.
But Jewish philosopher Mortimer Adler once responded,
The world is a cosmos, not a chaos. The universe has some order. Even those who doubt the perfection of its order, or who point out how it is marred by evil and irrationality, affirm an order or structure, according to which the universe hangs together and is in some degree intelligible to man.
A reasonable and consistent view of the world should account for both the presence of suffering and the reality of ultimate good and beauty. We need to discern between two questions: Is the world innately impersonal and imperfect with suffering simply part of the whole picture? Or, is suffering a blot on a once-perfect creation—a symptom of something that somehow went horribly wrong? If the latter question is correct, we are faced with the following questions: What went wrong? Is there possibly more to the story that gives some type of meaning to suffering, failure, war, poverty, disease, and death?
A cold and chaotic universe with no God to give it order and meaning can never answer the questions about suffering that are also part of our existence. If it is all just about “particles and progress,” then why are we wired to seek and search out meaning that does not exist, that should not exist? Why are we striving to better our lives through justice, policies, and spirituality if every supposed experience of goodness results in meaninglessness at worst and happenstance at best?
What do you think? Is this the worldview you are willing to sign on to? Or is it possible that there is something more?
The Quest for Meaning & the Problem of Pain
A life with no God and no meaning—some of the best and most brilliant people have tried to live with that viewpoint—and failed.
But the question is, to what will we turn for meaning and why? If faith is needed to believe in either the Bible and the reality of God or the theories of philosophers and world religions, then why choose one over the other? Either way, we are still left standing at the precipice, searching for something to hold on to that gives meaning to our suffering and pain. Why should we simply dismiss the Bible or faith in a personal God? Are the alternatives so attractive?
Ironically, our identification of suffering as disruptive to nature and reality, or just evil, reflects our understanding and hope that something greater and good exists. We know that suffering and evil are real whether we ourselves are affected or not. Something in us revolts against them and drives us to do something to help.
The existence of good is to be expected if a good God exists who created a universe designed to reflect His goodness. A perfect God of harmony and order would also want His creation to live in peace. This is exactly the way the Hebrew Scriptures describe God’s design of the universe. After He created everything (time, matter, energy, immaterial realities) out of nothing, He declared it was “very good”—tov me’od (Genesis 1:31). This accounts for the splendor of a serene forest and the intricate functioning of the human body.
What it does not account for is the pain and injustice inherent in our world. We can no longer call the universe tov me’od. It may have been good after God first created the cosmos, but something seems to have gone wrong.
Beauty and Ashes
Our world is like a beautiful masterpiece on canvas that has been ripped with scratching fingernails; looking at it now, it is simultaneously a masterpiece and a tragic mess. What is the reason for the intensifying wars, natural disasters, disease, and poverty we live with and hear about every day, not to mention our personal troubles and heartaches? When we ask the question, “Why is there suffering in the world?” we are really asking, “What went wrong?” There is so much beauty and good in our world that it is hard to explain how there can also be so much pain. Is there a reason? A solution? Is there a way to understand how such good and beauty and suffering can coexist?
A Solution to the Question of Suffering
Even if the Bible has never been a consideration before, let us consider for a moment that the Scriptures may be a good place to look. Surely, it is hard to deny that the Bible takes its place among the great treasure troves of wisdom for the ages. We can at least ask, “What can we learn from the biblical stories about suffering and how to find joy and happiness in this life?”
The Scriptures aver that the reason for the universe’s decay goes back to a bad decision the first human beings (yes…Adam and Eve!) made to break the good and moral order God created (Genesis 3). When finite human beings turned their back on the infinite God who made them, it brought about a rupture to the universe that continues to wreak havoc today—unleashing evil, suffering, and injustice.
God could have chosen to leave us alone in our suffering. However, a good, loving, and all-powerful God simply chose not to let us go our own way.
Indeed, God offered to repair what was broken. The story of the people of Israel, as recorded in the Bible, is the story of the divine Artist’s efforts to restore the world. The story begins with our father Abraham, continues through Moses and the prophets, and culminates in the coming of the Messiah, whom God appointed to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4) through His suffering and death. Ultimately, the power of the Messiah will do away with all the evils of the universe, fully repairing the world.
He became human to join us in our sufferings and to experience first-hand what it means to be alone, to suffer the pains and disappointments of this life and even the judgment for sin while hanging upon a tree outside of Jerusalem.
We still experience tears today as we live in an imperfect universe. Even so, there is hope. We already heard it from Ellis’ experience: In the depths of his greatest loss, he experienced the comfort of God’s grace and mercy. That is what our Creator can do for us through Yeshua the Messiah: He satisfies weary souls, comforts the brokenhearted, and grants mercy and forgiveness to those who have been hurt and even those who hurt others. Because He Himself has suffered unjustly, He sympathizes with us and is willing and able to carry us through our grief. Suffering is not a reason to turn away from Him; no, it is the very opposite. What the Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote hundreds of years ago is still true. Ellis understood this, and so can you!
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power” (Isaiah 40:28).