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The Problem of Suffering: A Response from 1 Peter

 

The Problem Considered

Philosophers and theologians have suggested various ways to find meaning. I am not going to comprehensively overview them here, but I have selected a representative few.

Where is God when we suffer?

H. S. Kushner a Jewish rabbi, who has devoted his life not only to serving God but serving humanity, is faced with profound suffering himself when it is discovered that his son has a terminal illness.7 In his little book he expresses his anguish not only because of the situation but because it appears that he has been abandoned by God. He analyzes the situation, suggests a solution and urges his readers to not take their anger and despair out on God. He explains that the imperfect world in which we live, filled with suffering, pain and death was not created by God but was brought about by the fall of man himself. Hence, he concludes, it does not help to blame God since it is not his will that anyone should suffer. The problem with this view is that although it suspends God from blame, it also limits his power in relation to his own creation. This view, although not universally shared, is fairly popular.

A flower in Death Valley. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Lewis8 acknowledges this same angle—that pain, suffering and death are a result of the ‘fall’. He says, however, that God allows people to experience pain in order to enable us to:

Realize that all is not well with our world.

Recognize our inadequacy and our need for God.

Choose pain so as to surrender our wills to God “not my will…”

From these premises, Lewis draws several conclusions. Among these are:

The present world with its “toys” was never meant “to possess my heart; my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is in Christ.”

Suffering develops great beauty and strength of spirit and therefore should not be eradicated. It is necessary to balance the evil in the world.

The paradox of Christianity is that poverty is blessed and yet should be removed.9

Lewis gives us insight into the inadequacy of philosophy when attempting to cope with the anguish of pain and loss. He chronicles this anguish in his book, A Grief Observed, written after the death of his beloved wife, Joy. McMahan comments, “A Grief Observed represents [Lewis’] journey from the world of analysis into the whirlwind of experience.”10

Suffering is the means to know God better.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, philosopher and theologian at Yale University, is also an example of a philosopher who is confronted with personally experiencing the issues he has analyzed.11 He explains his response in the context of lamenting the anguish of losing his 25-year-old son in an accident. He suggests that suffering is the means to know God better. He makes several profound points in relation to the role of the suffering of Jesus himself:

 

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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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