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The Problem of Suffering: A Response from 1 Peter

 

Rebecca Skaggs with Thomas Doyle lead us into a biblical and thoughtful look at the reality of suffering.

 

The Issue

Why is there suffering in the world? Further, why does it appear that often “good” people suffer when the “wicked” often thrive? Where is God when people suffer individually and collectively? For centuries, both philosophers and theologians have sought to analyze the issue and suggest a coherent and reassuring response to it. In the face of actual suffering, however, these philosophical and theological concepts often fall short.

Believers have a particularly difficult task in understanding suffering since they firmly believe that God cares and is able to alleviate suffering yet he often does not. C. S. Lewis, who himself cried out in anguish when his beloved wife died a painful death from cancer,1 frames the dilemma for believers as follows: “If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures happy, and if God were almighty, he would be able to do what he wished.” The logical conclusion follows then that since the creatures are not happy, either “God lacks goodness or power or both.”2 This perspective causes a seemingly irreconcilable paradox.

The problem of suffering is so difficult, that some choose to avoid the issue altogether. Oliver McMahan in his study of the Pentecostal view of suffering provides evidence that “unfortunately, the Pentecostals and charismatics in the United States have not historically allowed the world to observe its grief. [they have] neglected, avoided and even worked hard to deny the experience of pain and grief.”3 He makes the point that an emphasis has been made on miracles, healings, signs and wonders leading to “a parade of power without penance or pain.” According to McMahan, “a painless Pentecost” leads to power struggles, pride, and “puritanical doctrinal disputes.” He notes the obvious absence of accounts of those who were not healed, miracles which did not happen.4 Of course, there have been some Pentecostal scholars through the years who have called for the consideration of the issue of suffering, pain and grief.5

Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper?

It is clear that this issue must be addressed. Studies in various disciplines show that the effects of grief can be impacted in different ways. Sociologists suggest that the worst of the problem is that suffering seems senseless, since often ‘good’ people suffer and those who perhaps deserve to suffer in fact thrive. Studies show that spirituality can help to add meaning to traumatic events. Victor Frankl (1963), the classic author on the value of personal meaning to cope with suffering, concludes that a sense of meaning enables people to cope with even severe cases of suffering.6

 

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2008

About the Author: Rebecca Skaggs, Ph.D. (Drew University), is professor of New Testament and Greek at Patten University in Oakland, California. She also holds an M.A. in philosophy from the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, Berkeley. Her commentary on 1, 2 Peter & Jude (2003) is published by The Pentecostal Commentary Series (Continuum).

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