I sprained my ankle while running last night. And as I limped back to my airbnb through the crowded streets of an unfamiliar city, I became very frustrated with God and the fact that, if He supposedly cares about our suffering, it sure seems contradictory when He allows bad things to happen – great or small, painful, needling, pointless, tragic, or vexing. And with the volume of people on this world that are constantly experiencing problems and pain, to Him it must look and feel and sound like a blaring cacophany of suffering emanating from our pathetic planet.
Zooming out from my petty inconvenience of a sprained ankle, my angst brought to mind all the types of suffering that are truly devastating. Abuse; death; kidnapping; chronic pains and sicknesses; life-changing injuries; starvation; car wrecks; political upheaval; exploitation; rape; wars. I couldn’t help but wonder, for the countless time, whether all the things I try to believe about God’s goodness are actually true. How could a good God allow this? How can He constantly stand back and watch as the stark, broken realities of our world crush people under its weight? If He could actually change that, which I do believe He can, doesn’t the fact that He doesn’t make Him a monster?
And, if asked, I wouldn’t even request that He constantly intervene to mitigate the suffering. The question that plagued my mind last night was why, knowing how much suffering would take place, He wouldn’t just end things altogether – put us out of our misery. Why has our mechanism continued to whir? Why have the lights not gone out? Why does the sun doggedly continue to rise over the plumes of human suffering?
As I considered all this, a couple verses in 2 Peter 3 came to mind. “8 Bot do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
It seems He must have had lots of everyone’s in mind. Peter apparently believed He has a purpose for letting the world continue to tick on.
Then this morning, when I opened to what I planned to read today, the ironically appropriate heading made me smile.
James 5, a section entitled “Patience in Suffering:”
“7 Be patient then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! 10 Brothers, as an example in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
The bit that struck me most was the analogy about a farmer waiting for a crop – the hint that suffering is purposeful and perhaps even necessary. The New Testament authors had a lot to say about suffering – probably because there was a lot of it going on amongst their audiences. In Romans 5, Paul writes that “3b …Suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” These were people that understood suffering. And if they were able to read a passage like that and not throw the parchment out the window in disgust, maybe I should be willing to try as well.
These passages were written roughly 2,000 years ago. I believe the common understanding for the very early Church was that Jesus would likely show up again within a lifetime. Fifty or sixty years has stretched to over two millenia. That reality adds more gravity to these words. Perhaps God does have much more infinite a perspective on why the unfathomable volume of suffering perpetuated by our existence is worth it in the end.
No matter how I grumble or wallow about my temporary woes, still the sun, and God, keep showing up. He continues to hold this place together and allow not only the suffering, but the beauty and the goodness, to bloom. Today I’ll try to practice trusting that He understands better than I do and has a purpose in the suffering, big and small.