The Mystery of Suffering

J. R. Miller, 1905

The why of suffering, has ever been among the most serious problems of life. When Jesus showed sympathy with a man who had been born blind, His disciples started the question, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind?" They were quite sure that somebody had sinned, and that this blindness was the result. That was the common belief of those days. It was thought that anyone who suffered in misfortune or was overtaken by calamity, had sinned, and that his misfortune or calamity was visited on him because of his sin.

The old question, why the godly suffer and the wicked escape suffering—is to many a perplexing question. Only the other day a brilliant literary woman who has fallen into misfortune, wrote, "A depression blacker than you can conceive is now upon me. I know I never can write again. And both my sister and I are penniless—worse, in debt. I write this to ask you, in view of this irremediable disaster, what you think of God." This pitiful cry is from one half-crazed by misfortune—but there are many others who, more sanely than this poor woman, persist in asking the question, in time of great trouble, "What do you think now of God?"

A sorrowing father, after watching by the dying bed of a beloved child, said, "Had it been in my power to bear her pain for her, how gladly would I have done it! I could not bear to see her suffer; how is it that God could?" The problem of the why of suffering, presses on every life, on every heart, in some way, at some time.

We remember that even Jesus, in one terrible hour on the cross, asked, "Why have You forsaken Me?" in the awful mystery of His own suffering. Faith did not lose its hold, however, for it was still, "My God, my God," even when the bitter cry was, "Why—why have you forsaken me?"

There is no one of us who may not some time cry out in the darkness, asking, "Why this pain, this suffering, this mystery of trouble?" It is a relief for us to know that the gospel has its answers for the question. Jesus gave an answer to His disciples that day on the street.

First, He told them plainly that their beliefs were not true. He said, "Neither did this man sin, nor his parents." He did not mean that the man and his parents were sinless. He meant that the misfortune of blindness had not been brought on him by sin. Nor did He mean that sickness, blindness, and other diseases and calamities are never due to sin. Many times they are. Sin does, indeed, bring curse and calamity to many lives. But Jesus here guards His disciples against supposing that always, that as a rule—suffering comes from sin. It is a fearful mistake to say to everyone who has trouble—that he has committed some sin and that his trouble is in punishment for it. Nor should a godly man say, when he is visited by affliction, "I wonder what I have done—that God is punishing me so."

Jesus did not merely say that the old belief that sin was the cause of all suffering was untrue; He gave a wonderful solution of the mystery of trouble. He said that the blindness had come upon this man, "that the works of God should be made manifest in him." We are not to speculate and guess about the cause of any man's trouble, wondering whose fault it was—but are to set about at once doing all we can to relieve his suffering or heal his hurt. This man's misfortune became an occasion to Jesus for a miracle of mercy. If it had not been for his blindness, this opportunity of manifesting this work of God, would have been missed. Every time we come upon a human need, suffering or sorrow in any form, there is an opportunity for us to manifest the works of God by showing kindness, by giving comfort, by helping in whatever way it may be in our power to help. If one is sick in your home or among your neighbors, it is a divine call to you to do the gentle offices of love, to minister in self-denying ways, to do the work of God beside the sick-bed. That is why the suffering is permitted.

It may be the divine purpose—that we ourselves shall be benefited by our trouble. No human life ever reaches its best possibilities without pain and cost. One tells of visiting a pottery shop, and seeing a vessel whose pattern was blurred and marred, the design not brought out clearly. He asked why it was, and was told that it had not been burned enough. It would have been well worth while for the vessel to have had hotter fires and to have stayed longer in the furnace—in order to have the pattern wrought out in greater clearness and distinctness. May it not be that many of us miss much of the finer possibilities of spiritual attainment, because we are not willing to suffer?

Sometimes we are called to suffer for the sake of others—that they may be made better. The highest honor God gives to anyone in this world—is to be a helper of one's fellows. There are those whose lives shine as bright lights among men. They are usually quiet people, not much heard of on the streets. But they carry the marks of Jesus on their faces, in their characters and dispositions, and they are unselfish helpers of others. The weary come to them, and the sorrowing, the tired, and the hungry-hearted. They seem to be set apart by a holy separation, as helpers and comforters of others, as burden-bearers, as counselors and friends of those who need such aid.

Who does not crave to hold such a place of usefulness, of influence, among men? But are we willing to pay the price? No life can become strong, quiet, helpful, a rock in a weary land, a shelter from the storm, a shadow from the heat, without the experience of suffering. We must learn the lesson of beautiful life—in the school of self-denial—the school of the cross.

One writes of a poet whose pen was facile, who wrote many brilliant lines. The world listened and was charmed—but not helped, not inspired to better things. The poet's child died, and then he dipped his pen in his heart's blood and wrote—and then the world paused and listened and was blessed and quickened to more beautiful life.

Before we can do anything that is really worth while in helping our fellow men, we must pass through a training of suffering, in which alone we can learn the lessons that will fit us for this holier service.

Another mission of suffering is for the honor of God. Satan said Job's piety was interested piety. "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him. You have blessed the work of his hands. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has—and he will renounce You to Your face." Job was left in the hands of the Adversary to disprove this charge. His sufferings were not because of sins—but that the reality of his religion might be proved.

When we are called to suffer, it may be as a witness for God. We do not know what may depend upon our faithfulness in any time of stress or trial. It may seem a small thing, for instance, to complain and fret when we are suffering, and yet it may sadly blur our witnessing. God wants us to represent Him, to illustrate the qualities in His character which He would have the world know. A Christian in a sick room, is called to manifest the beauty of His Master in patience, in trust, in sweetness of spirit. A Christian in great sorrow, is called to show the world the meaning of faith and faith's power to hold the heart quiet and at peace, in the bitterest experience of grief and loss. We are witnesses for God in our sufferings, and, if we would not fail Him—we must show in ourselves the power of divine grace to keep the song singing in our hearts through pain or sorrow.

There never can be any gain in asking "Why?" when we find ourselves in trouble. God has His reasons, and it is enough that He should know why He sends this or that trial into our life or our friend's life. There is always mystery. The perplexed and heartbreaking "Why?" is heard continually, wherever we go. We cannot answer it. It is not meant that we should try to answer it. The "Why?" belongs to our Father. He knows; let Him answer and let us trust and be still. God is love. He makes no mistakes.