One of Suffering's Greatest Benefits
It is reported that Oscar Wilde, the British playwright, once said that there was enough suffering on any given street in London at any given time to prove that there is no God. For millennia, skeptics, agnostics, atheists, and infidels have pointed accusing fingers at the suffering in this world, and have demanded that such evil and pain militates against the concept of an all-powerful, all-loving God. Even Christians have been faced with faith-trying episodes of suffering in their lives. How could a loving God allow such bad things to happen to His human creations?
In this brief article, an in-depth study of that question cannot be undertaken (for an in-depth look at this topic, see Major, 1998). It is, however, the case that one small aspect of the problem can be presented: suffering in the lives of humans can lead them to establish a right relationship with their Creator. Consider Manasseh, the king of Judah, as a case in point. In 2 Kings 21, the Bible records that Manasseh “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (vs. 2). He “practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums” (vs. 3). But his sins did not stop there; rather, he acted “more wickedly than all the Amorites who were before him” and “made Judah sin with his idols” (vs. 11). In addition, the text records that Manasseh “shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another” (vs. 16). This evil king seemed to be rotten to the core, and beyond hope of turning to God.
Due to his sin, the Lord sent the army of Assyria to raid Judah. The Assyrians captured Manasseh and led him away with hooks (probably nose hooks) and bronze fetters to the land of Babylon. In this destitute condition, when Manasseh’s suffering was at its worst, the Bible records: “Now when he was afflicted, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his king. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God” (2 Chronicles 33:12-13, emp. added). Upon regaining the throne, Manasseh removed the idols and foreign gods and re-established worship of the one true God. Only through his “affliction” did Manasseh realize that he needed God.
So it is with many today. The cares of this world have a way of keeping people from contemplating their actual relationship with God. Yet, when suffering hits their lives, the real issues of life often come into much clearer focus. C.S. Lewis once wrote that pain was God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” David, the inspired psalmist, in a prayer to his God, wrote: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Psalm 119:67). It is a sad fact that some people never look up to God until they are laying flat on their backs. Do not be deceived into thinking that all suffering and pain is “useless.” On the contrary, “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3).
Major, Trevor J. (1998), “The Problem of Suffering,” Reason & Revelation, 18:49-55, July.