Suffering may not be pointless

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the second part of the answer to the third question.

Suffering may not be pointless
‘A good and powerful God would and could prevent suffering so, since suffering exists, God cannot exist.’ So the argument goes. But this presumes that suffering serves no purpose; that it is pointless. Someone might say, ‘I can see that some suffering has purpose (pain warns us of illness). But what about the suffering of a child? What about so much suffering?’ But just because I can’t see the point doesn’t mean there isn’t one. To conclude there’s no point reveals an enormous leap of faith – faith in our the ability of our reason to understand life.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers and then falsely imprisoned for many years. No doubt he often felt his suffering was pointless. But it meant he was in the right place at the right time to save thousands of people from famine. Looking back he could say to his brothers: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’ (Genesis 50:20) We normally don’t get the chance to look back like Joshua and see the point. But that doesn’t mean there is no point.

The Bible tells the story of Job, a man who lost his property, his children and his health. Job demands answers from God and God does respond. But he does not come to answer Job, but to question Job. ‘Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me’ (Job 38:2-3). Job did not make the world, nor does he govern it. Job has no idea what the creatures ‘behemoth’ and ‘leviathan’ are for. The only sense they make, they make to God. The natural order and the moral order are incomprehensible to us. God is ultimately inscrutable. Job doesn’t receive answers; he doesn’t get a theory. But he does receive God. ‘Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know … My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’ (Job 42:3-6) C. S. Lewis writes:

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer’. It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’ Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswer-able. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.[1]


[1] C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, Dent, 58-59.

One thought on “Suffering may not be pointless

  1. Pingback: Why does God allow so much suffering? « But God…

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