Those who read my post at Christmas know that I have been thinking about suffering. Gilbert Meilaender in his book, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, makes the point that Christians have available an understanding of suffering that is different than that of much of our society and that difference causes us to see a number of bioethical issues differently. When those of us who care for the sick are caring for those who are suffering our Christian faith can provide resources to help people find comfort and peace in the midst of suffering. However, we need to be careful because some of the ways we can respond to suffering may not be true to the truth of scripture and the reality of our world.
Two days ago I had something happen that made me think about this. I was driving from my morning job at Taylor University to the medical office where I work in the afternoons. My truck spun out of control on a patch of ice and off the road into a ditch where it flipped over and landed upside down. As I came to a stop hanging from my seat belt I realized that I was alive and unhurt, at least until I released the seat belt and landed on my head. In the end all I had were a few scratches and was able to crawl out of the cab and walk away. I felt very thankful to be alive. Many who have heard about the accident have responded by expressing thanks that God was watching over me and protected me. I too am thankful, but those thoughts bother me some, because I know that God often allows bad things to happen even to those who love him. Yesterday, Andrew Smith, who played basketball at Butler University where my son played in the basketball pep band, died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 25. Over the weekend the father of a student here at Taylor had an unexpected heart attack while driving and died suddenly. Two years to the day prior to my accident my wife’s mother, one of the godliest women I have known, died of ovarian cancer after years of dementia. Why would God save me from dying in an accident, but not save the lives of these others? There is no reason that I deserve to live more than any of them.
One of the things that my Christian faith helps me come to grips with is that much of the suffering that we go through in this world is random. It is not fair. Suffering may at times be due to things we have done wrong, but many times it is not. When Jesus’ disciples saw a man born blind who Jesus healed, they asked whether it was due to what he had done wrong or what his parents had done wrong that he was born blind. Jesus responded that it was not due to anyone’s wrongdoing. (See John 9:1-3) Scripture teaches us that God originally created the world good and the suffering that exists in this world is due to the brokenness of this world that resulted from the rebellion of humanity against God. That makes us all susceptible to suffering and it is not based on what we individually deserve.
Shortly before my accident on Monday I was listening to Jeff Aupperle speak in chapel about his own suffering. Jeff works in the Calling and Career office here at Taylor and was telling that he and his wife had gone through a miscarriage of one baby followed a year later by the miscarriage of twins. They had no answer for why their babies had died. He shared that he and his wife had been able to come to grips with their suffering by learning to hold both what they did not know and what they did know at the same time. They did not know why their babies had to die, but they did know that God loved them. God had proved his love through Jesus’ death on the cross for each one of us.
We frequently do not understand why specific people suffer in the way that they do, but we do know that Jesus loved us enough to suffer for us, and we know he understands our suffering. We have someone we can turn to in our suffering who understands and can help us through it, even when we cannot understand it. Knowing through Jesus that God loves us allows us to trust that he will do as he has promised and work in all things, even our suffering, for our good.