With the current financial crisis, people are asking more than ever, why there is suffering in the world. Why do these bad things happen? Put another way, we often ask, how can a good God permit so much evil? That is a question everybody has in one form or another. It is certainly a topical issue, because the level of suffering in the world has increased significantly in the past few weeks because of the economic crisis.
The current economic crisis continues to get worse by the day. Very few people and very few countries have been left untouched. We’re hearing about stock market declines and bank failures in Brazil, England, Germany, France, Russia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, India, and even little Iceland. There isn’t a person reading this who hasn’t been affected in some way or another by this financial crisis.
Using this financial crisis as a backdrop, I’m going to discuss the issue of suffering. Before I get started, I want to say that no matter how much we to try to explain suffering, any explanation is small comfort to those who are going through a trial. Explanations may eventually help us to cope, especially as we begin to see God at work in the crisis. By looking analytically at why suffering occurs, I am in no way trivializing what anybody is going through or has endured. What we have are partial answers at best, and they fall far short when somebody is going through a painful period in his or her life.
Please note that some material in this post was based on the book The God Questions by Hal Seed and Dan Grider, published by Outreach Publishing, © 2007
Types of Suffering
It may help us to cope when we understand the different types of suffering. As I see it, there are three types of suffering, and they are all inter-related. Since we consist of body, mind, and spirit, there are three corresponding general types of suffering.
1. Physical Suffering
The first type of suffering is physical in nature. With physical suffering, we tend to think of physical pain. Anybody who has a chronic condition knows that pain can pretty much dominate your life. Other types of physical suffering are loss of mobility, loss of various functions or abilities, and deterioration due to age or disease.
2. Emotional Suffering
Physical pain can often cause the second type of suffering, which is emotional. Other types of emotional suffering are grief over a loss, clinical depression, worry, fear, anxiety, and other forms of emotional distress. When we think of loss, what comes to mind is the death of a loved one. However, there are many other kinds of losses resulting in grief: loss of a job, divorce, broken relationships, financial loss, and loss of independence.
The loss facing just about everybody today is financial loss. Even those who aren’t wealthy have experienced some sort of financial loss, and many are at risk of losing their job if the economy really slows down. Such a financial crisis can result in grief, worry, anxiety, fear, and even anger. It’s in such times when we must look to God for help, because man-made institutions will let us down.
3. Spiritual Suffering
The last type of suffering is spiritual in nature. Spiritual suffering can also cause emotional and even physical anguish. We see spiritual suffering in quite a few places in the Bible. Perhaps the clearest example of spiritual anguish is Our Lord’s agony in the garden, which we read about in Mark 14:32-36
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”
And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” NRSV
We see another instance of spiritual torment when Jesus was on the cross:
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46, NRSV)
How often have you and I felt abandoned by God! You and I have also experienced spiritual suffering when we have carried around a load of guilt; or we haven’t forgiven someone; or we have been burning with hatred, bitterness, or resentment over something. Don’t carry that baggage any longer – turn your hurts over to Jesus.
More on the topic of suffering in a future post.