The Medicine Chest
Finally, to the "medicine chest" then - what does the Bible have to say about suffering? If there is a God who is loving, why does he allow such suffering?
1. Suffering wasn’t part of God's original plan.
The world was made by God and it was very good. There was no suffering or death. Suffering results from what Christians call "the fall" - human beings deliberately deciding, when presented with a choice, to choose evil.
2. God allows suffering - bad things happen to good people. The book of Job is a mysterious book that deals head-on with the question of suffering. It shows us that God is in control of everything, including evil.
Job’s friends argue like this:
"You are suffering
God is fair and gives us what we deserve
Therefore you have done something really wrong"
Job (whom we know hasn't done anything particularly wrong) is unsurprisingly not impressed by this and replies along similar lines but coming to a different conclusion:
"I am suffering
I haven’t done anything really wrong
Therefore God is unfair"
God eventually answers Job out of the storm, but he only gives him a partial answer. We can see the big picture behind God's purposes while Job can’t. Job continuously complains about what is happening to him and says, "if only someone had written down my words in a book". Which is, of course, ironically, exactly what did happen.
But that wasn't any help to Job at the time and in that sense, we are all "Job" - we are in the suffering story and can struggle to see any rhyme or reason in it. When we meet God everything, I believe, will click into place. But how to live in the meantime?
Job senses his need of a person to help with his suffering, a friend, an advocate, and a mediator, someone to represent him, someone to help him, someone to get alongside him.
Now, finally, here comes the good news for all of us experiencing suffering. God didn't leave us (as we deserve) to the consequences of our own sin and to deal with suffering on our own, but decided to intervene, to come on a rescue mission to offer us a way out of suffering. And that rescue mission involved God himself suffering.
3. Luke says this 'Jesus just before he was arrested and crucified prayed this “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.’ (Luke 22:42-44).
When we look at our own suffering there is nowhere else to go but the cross. We must always end up at the cross. We can’t make sense of our suffering without looking at God's suffering on the cross.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who protested against the persecution of the Jews. As a result he was sent to a concentration camp and was executed on Hitler's order just before the war ended. Shortly before this, he smuggled out of his cell on a scrap of paper these words: "Only a suffering God can help us".
Now how can the infinite God who made the universe and is far above any change - what theologians call "immutability" suffer?
God can suffer because he became human and he, therefore, can and did experience suffering. Truly, and this is mind-blowing, the infinite God who made the universe is also a personal God whom we may very reverently say "knows what it’s like" to suffer.
God chooses to redeem the world through suffering himself. God, therefore, knows what it’s like to suffer, but he does it voluntarily because he is perfect. I have no choice over my suffering, it just happens to me. Of course, if I did I would stop suffering straight away and so would anyone sensible. But God chose, in the person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to suffer.
Why? Because he loves us.
God, also we should add, deeply sympathizes with us in our suffering. "Jesus wept" at the tomb of Lazarus.
But he also does something about our suffering - he comes on a rescue mission and by suffering freely, he opens up a way of escape from the evil that causes the suffering.
4. Revelation. "God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” (21:4,5)
We can all picture a small toddler who trips up in the garden and who scuffs her knee and runs crying to her father. He sits her on his knee, takes care of the wound, and pulls a tissue out of his pocket, and wipes away the toddler's tears. The toddler is comforted and soon stops crying and runs back off to play.
This friend is the amazing and indeed staggering image that we find right at the very end of the Bible. God himself will 'sit us on his knee' and wipe away all our tears and pain. All suffering and pain and even, I suggest, the memory of suffering will be removed. Everything that's gone wrong will be made right. Evil itself will be defeated and destroyed.
How? Through Jesus's death on the cross.
Why? Because he loves us
What should our response be?. Trust in the suffering servant - the Lord Jesus Christ.
Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards mankind sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature and to suffer death upon the cross so that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility, grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also have our part in his resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.