Conflicted between faith and suffering

What is the role of faith and prayer in the painful and perplexing drama of human suffering?

I believe in a God whose love is so great that He is love. I also believe in a God who is so powerful that He is all-powerful. But sometimes my belief causes me to struggle.

When I see sad and desperate situations, compassion compels me to help and to pray. This is where I am sometimes confused by faith. Some struggle because they doubt; I struggle because I believe.

My faith is unwavering in the fact that God can do something to help those who suffer. But when I cannot do anything to alleviate the pain and suffering (especially of those I love),  and my prayers for them do not alleviate their suffering, I struggle to understand why God does not seem to answer the cries of my heart for those in need. 

I realize that I am not the first to be conflicted between faith and suffering. I resonate with the psalmist who asked, “How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Ps. 13:1-2).

More than once, I have identified with his cry: “I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. Come near and rescue me…” (Psalm 69:3, 16-18).

Like the psalmist, I also struggle with an apparent uneven distribution of pain and suffering. This is the age-old question of why righteous people suffer and the wicked appear to have health and prosperity.

But then I have strong reservations about anyone being righteous enough to lay claim on a good life from God. I do believe in the verdict that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). I also believe that “the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death is such a horrible word and an even more horrible experience. But it is the just verdict pronounced over sinners like me. I am slowly experiencing it every day of my life.

I believe that there is a sad back-story to our suffering and a glorious end-story for those whom God loves. Yet pain in this life is often hard to reconcile with God’s love and power. The agonizing question I face is why God chooses to allow pain and suffering when I am praying so much for its relief. Why doesn’t He answer my agonizing prayers for those who suffer? I cannot endure superficial answers to this real-life question.

Skeptics offer answers ranging from atheism to deism. But for honest people, these alternatives only lead to deeper levels of despair. They also force a degree of thoughtless dishonesty which I cannot permit. If I must choose between “no God” or “a God who means well but either cannot or will not do much to help” I am left with even more perplexing questions on more levels than human suffering. I would have to sacrifice large amounts of intellectual integrity to accept these conclusions.

With my questions, I also know that other great questions are worthy of reflection. Why does God choose to love and to forgive rebellious creatures? The back-story of human sin explains the source of human suffering better than any other explanation (and there are not many others). So why would I think we deserve to have it better? Why do I feel that God should intervene? And what would intervention look like on a world scale?

If I desire for God’s love and power to converge to rescue us from our misery, isn’t this exactly what happened when God entered our world of suffering in the person of Christ and suffered for us ? (see: II Corinthians 5:17-21). Finally, why does God provide such a glorious end-story for forgiven sinners?

On a cultural level, I admit that I have become accustom to (and even impatient for) solutions to pain and suffering. Advancements in science and medicine have strengthened my expectations. Is it possible that I am conditioned to hold unrealistic expectation for health and gregariousness? Do I have a place for sadness and suffering in normal life?

These are not theoretical questions for me. They have been real to me for most of my life. When my father came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis in his mid- thirties, I learned what it was like to carry a prayerful burden for a suffering loved one. It profoundly shaped my life and, gratefully, did not lead to bitterness. I learned so much about God’s sustaining grace and His redeeming power to bring good out of pain and suffering. I continued to learn when I entered pastoral ministry and chose to care about many others. Some key scriptures that carried me include: II Corinthians 1:3-11; 4:16-18;12:1-10; James 1:2-9; Psalm 62:8; Proverbs 3:5-6.

I will continue to pray and trust that suffering has a purpose even when I cannot see it. I will pray with one eye on the back-story and a hope-filled focus on the end-story (see: Colossians 3:1-4). When God’s loved ones enter the place He has prepared for them, ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (see: Revelation 21:1-6; John 14:1-3). I find myself longing more and more for this day; for this place.

Steve Cornell

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Assurance, Evil in the world, Mad at God, Mistreated, Pain, Sin, Suffering, Theodicy, Trials. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Conflicted between faith and suffering

  1. Sydney Orr says:

    Dear Steve,

    I appreciate your truthfulness. I appreciate you being deeply and completely you. Suffering and faith is so complex. Then God as an omniscient and omnipotent Being can become an intolerable idea. Who wants to believe in something or someone who we cannot understand? The problem of suffering and evil are an enormous stumbling block. It even creates a horror and uncertainty of the world. It gets to a point where if God allowed the world to be as it is must be sadistic, an evil god.

    Because of suffering in my own life I have almost deteriorated into true craziness — insane paranoid delusions. My mental connections have went haywire and my thoughts have been uncontrollable, even scaring me when I do not want to be scared. My mind has raced wildly, becoming terrified of my fear and then to realize I cannot possibly escape my fears as they originate in me. My thoughts have terrorized me where the world became terror because my mind was filled with terror.

    I have went into a state of inner emptiness so I could continue life. And yet I have had a certain image I could become with God only to find myself as nothingness. This brings out an agnostic or atheist mind because I do not like my value to be nothing. In the deepest part of me nothingness communicates rejection and makes me feel completely rotten at the core of my human nature. And I realize my ego is nothingness and it resists observing how I am nothing. From my nothingness I now feel I need to forgive, so I can begin to let this limited ego mind go more completely. Forgiveness seems to be this place of radical acceptance of my life. It even seems if I am true to forgiveness there can be no clinging to the endless activity of my mind.

    Yet I am struggling to forgive within this being nothingness. There is no place to build myself up for the next catastrophe. This nothingness is not as familiar orientation with the world and there is no building up knowledge to deal with life. There is constantly this thinking “There is not an enough of me even for me.” And I realize no amount to studying, learning or hoarding will make it any better to deal with this nothingness. Yet when I look truthfully at my nothingness it is more of an emotional detachment to deal with my suffering. It is the rejection of my feelings and my need to be nurtured.

    The last few days I have been transferring my faith into and within my suffering. This faith is beyond any beliefs and learned procedures. From it I am beginning to place my faith into a non-attachment to suffering and even a radical acceptance to suffer. There feels like when I am present and abiding into my Essential nature this does not cling to anything inner or outer. This non-attachment is breaking my ego mind out of this need to cling to the endless activity of my mind as a source of identity and orientation in the world. Suffering is becoming less personal, where I do not need to attach my identity based on my thoughts, on my feelings, on my body and on my perceptions.

    Maybe your faith is asking you to no longer attach your view to suffering and maybe your faith is moving you toward a compassionate forgiving. This place is where nothing “sticks” in your consciousness and there can be no more bases for the limited ego mind. The knowing-ness and awake-ness of this mind is forgiving and present to what is Essential. Even when things go wrong to the ego’s perspective this real faith knows what is true, deep within, cannot be harmed. This faith is an inner freedom to suffer and an inner freedom to be spontaneous to whatever emerges in the moment.

    I realize my thought has holes in it, but I feel our ego personally needs this place where everything arises and disappears. Our faith needs forgiveness. It is dropping our images of God and learning to be in the immediate contact with the rich and delightful contact with my true self as Being. Real faith, within suffering, may even have a creative flow and our true nature partakes in the whole of life as one enormous creative dance. This place there is no ego agenda or project and just a direct understanding God is doing a good job.

    Your presence is significant!

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