Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver, is about a predictable community. They have no colors, no seasons, no cars. They have no weather, no poverty, no wealth. They just “are”. Population control, job placement, family placement, medicines for everything conceivable, and food rations. The collective memories of all time are held by one person, for the purpose of providing wisdom to the council of Elders who runs the community. People have the memories from their life, but nothing of history or anything outside of their own community. Jonas, the protagonist of the story, is chosen by the Elders to have the Job of Receiver. He is selected to get all the memories from the Giver, to hold. He starts out with memories of sailing on a tranquil lake, a ride on a sled down a snowy hill, and a tour of the Serengeti. But the Giver had promised him that the job would hurt. All he had were positives. One day, Jonas reminded him of this promise and the Giver sent him back on the lake…for a sun burn. Then it was the memory of the broken arm from another sled ride. Again, it was the Serengeti, but with a tusk-less, bloody, elephant, an abandoned calf, and poachers. Jonas was the only person in the community who now knew what it was to suffer.
Suffering is just one universal experience that we all face on this earth. Everyone will sit beside a hospital bed and watch someone they love dying. All of us will feel the sting of betrayal from a close friend or family member. There is no escaping the touch of natural disasters, cancer, abuse, and hatred. The result of all of these being suffering. Throughout Scripture I have traced 6 reasons why suffering comes our way:
- Bad Decisions: Genesis 3. In Genesis 1-2, God creates everything and it was “good” except for the woman who was “very good”. They live in the Garden where God takes care of them. And in this garden, they live out the purposes that God has for them. The one stipulation, “Don’t eat from that tree!” But they disobeyed God and every (and I mean every) purpose given to man and the earth was marred by that decision. Eve wanted to rule over Adam and Adam now has to plant Round-up Ready soybeans because weeds are taking over his garden. Man has fallen in his relationship with God and the Earth is under the same curse of death. Cancer is mutated cells, tornadoes tear apart cities, fires destroy communities because we live in a fallen world. People lie to one another, betray at the drop of a hat, abuse and neglect, because of decisions made. We hurt one another and we have been hurt by one another. All because of decisions.
- Bad Community Life. It’s one thing to be hurt by a stranger, but what about by the Church. In Numbers 11, the people of God are wandering around in the wilderness. God has been feeding them manna and quail every day for 40 years. Still they think back to the fish and fruit they ate in Egypt. Sure, they were slaves and all, but it was like Golden Corral back there. Who wouldn’t trade a life of slavery for a good spread. So they complained to Moses. Moses says to God concerning their complaints: “They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11.13-15) If you have attended Church at some point in your life, I am will to bet you were hurt by someone. I have too long of story to tell about my own hurt right here. The truth is that I have also been the one doing the hurting. But before we give the Church a bad name, it happens anywhere you have groups of people. Rodeo Associations, PTO, Bible Studies, the Elks Club…not too make light of Scripture but Matthew should have written: “Where two or three are gathered…there will be division.”
- Bad Enemy. First Peter 5.8 describes Satan as “prowling around like a lion.” Job saw that first hand. If you remember the story, Job had it all. The family, fame, fortune, integrity, and everything a man needs to live a full life. Then Satan met with God. The NIV says that God asked Satan to look at Job’s life. The Hebrew, on the other hand, would indicate that Satan was already watching Job’s life. Gods question was this: “Satan, why have you set your heart of Job?” Satan wanted to destroy Job. Satan took everything from Job, save 3 friends and his wife, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. And in the midst of his suffering Job writes: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.” (Job 3.3-4) There is a very real enemy. For years I discounted his presence. I am one of those people who believes that you get hang nails from dry cuticles, not from the devil, still, C.S. Lewis words in The Screwtape Letters ring true. The Demon Screwtape is talking to his nephew Wormwood and advises him this:“I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves…I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”
- Bad Events. Elijah was the prophet when Ahab was the King. Ahab, with the help of his wife Jezebeel, built altars to foreign gods, had an open exchange policy with any cult religion, and then began to purge their country of prophets. Elijah looked around and left. (more on that here) On the way out of town, resting under a tree “he asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19.4) It is not hard to look around at the events of the world and realize the suffering that is coming as a result. Gas attacks in Syria, drug wars in Somalia and Mexico, human trafficking and human rights violations in Qatar and to what end: a billion dollar soccer stadium for the World Cup. A sports celebration of World unity. Events of the day can bring suffering. 9/11, Challenger, OKC bombing, JFK, MLK, and this list doesn’t end there.
- A Good Message. Jeremiah was preaching the words that God had given him to speak and act. In Jeremiah 19, God had tasked him with the purchase of a clay pot. He was to then take said pot and throw it down and break it in front of the people. Then say: “just like the pot I just broke, so God will bring another nation to break you!” God, like Drago from Rocky IV says: “I must break you!” As a punishment for their rampant idolatry, God is punishing their sin by sending them into Exile. The message doesn’t go over well and the people are a tad upset. A priest takes particular offense to the message and had Jeremiah beaten and thrown in the stocks (Jer. 20.4). Jeremiah was preaching the message God had given him and now he is locked up. Jeremiah laments to God this: “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you—a son!” (Jer. 20.14) Have you ever been serious about sharing your faith with someone and it cost you a relationship? Maybe you shared an opinion with some friends and now things are awkward? It could be that you took a Godly stance to an issue and things are no longer the same? I am not comparing, nor calling what we in America go through as persecution, especially in light of the hundreds of thousands being killed every year for their faith in the Middle East or locked in prisons in China and North Korea. I am, however saying, that when a concerted effort is made to let people know what we believe, there will be pushback and it may lead to suffering.
It is a universal problem. The only way to leverage it, is to view suffering through the crimson colored blood, the black darkness of a closed tomb, and the vibrant light of the morning sun as it shone on the rolled away rock. Because Jesus went to the cross, laid in the grave, and then left his tomb empty, hope can be born from the womb of despair.