Chuang Tsu Kung
Suffering is a universal issue faced by all people, from ancient times down to today, Chinese and foreign. All religions try to provide a solution to this reality of human life. As Christians, our attitudes and viewpoints on suffering reflect our understanding of our faith.
There are two extremes which Christians should try to avoid. Firstly, the over-simplified view of "a Righteous God"; and secondly, the popular "success theology" so prevalent in today's culture.
Job's three friends are representatives of the "Righteous God" theory. They insisted that since God is righteous, He will never make people suffer without good reason. Therefore suffering must necessarily be the consequence of a person's sin. They ignore the fact that there may be other reasons for people to suffer, and so are quick to condemn the sufferers, resulting in a second hurt suffered by the victims.
Those who emphasize "success theology" often deny that there can be any positive meaning to suffering. They claim that God does not wish man to suffer, and that He is able to heal and to remove every kind of discomfort suffered by man. The only reason a man suffers is because he does not have the faith to claim God's power to heal. As a result, the majority of people who attend miracle healing sessions without receiving healing, have only themselves to blame. They, too, are hurt twice over.
Regarding the issue of why even Christians encounter suffering, there are some things we need to understand. Firstly, Christians have no automatic right to be immune from suffering. And secondly, some sufferings are indeed a direct consequence of our sinning; this is called "God's discipline" (Hebrews 12:5-11). However, suffering is not necessarily the consequence of our own personal sin, but rather of the sins of all mankind (for example, natural disasters, cancer). Thirdly, even if we are entirely innocent, God may choose to purify us through suffering (I Peter 1:7), or to soften us and make us more caring and able to comfort others (II Corinthians 1:4-6). Overall, suffering is for our own good (Romans 8:28)
When suffering comes to us, what should we do? We should take the following steps:
1. Look to God for enlightenment, as, in a spirit of self-searching, we admit our sins and repent (Psalm 139:23-24)
2. Look to God in faith (Psalm 42:8-11; 121:1-2)
3. Bear our suffering in patience (James 1:2-4)
4. Face our suffering with a joyful attitude (Acts 5:41-42; Romans 5:3)
5. Express our feelings to God in prayer (Psalm 4:1)
The author has a D.Th. degree in Missions from Trinity College. He is currently pastoring a church in Boston