One argument atheists like to use when trying to prove that God does not exist is the problem of suffering. I admit it is a difficult argument to address because there is so much emotion associated with suffering. How does one explain an innocent child suffering and even dying from cancer? Turn on any newscast and you'll find story after story of innocent people suffering. It's easy to see such stories and wonder why God does allow such suffering to exist.
In the past few weeks I've been studying the issue of suffering as part of my preparing a four-week series of sermons on the topic that I will begin sharing in a few weeks at our church. One of the interesting comments I came across in my study was the statement that many Christians have never developed a theology for suffering. I must admit I had never thought of a theology for suffering before.
Suffering is not a subject that is addressed very often from the pulpit. I don't remember ever hearing any of my pastors preach on the topic. In my own preaching I've certainly referred to suffering in any number of sermons, but I've never preached a series on the subject before that would attempt to more deeply explore the problem of suffering in human life.
Maybe this failure to address suffering from the pulpit is one reason many Christians struggle so much when they experience suffering in their own lives. I've seen Christians struggle greatly with their faith when they go through deep suffering in their lives. I've seen some walk away from the faith due to intense periods of suffering in their lives or in the lives of their loved ones.
I've also seen Christians who have suffered greatly maintain a calm confidence in God. They didn't approach suffering from a fatalistic perspective; they just had confidence that God would bring them through their trials. Although the storms blew hard against them they were able to stand on a firm foundation and maintain their trust in God. These men and women had developed a theology of suffering long before the storm hit, and their faith could not be shattered.
Have you developed such a theology around suffering? If you are a pastor, are you preparing your people for the suffering that is common to all who live in this fallen world? I do hope you are not preaching some kind of a rose garden Christianity that is all butterflies and sunshine because if you are your people may not stand when suffering comes into their lives, and it will at some point.
I really pray this series of messages will help some of our folks who are going through dark times in their lives right now and will prepare all of us for difficult times when they do come. I also pray that it speaks to those who may not have invited Christ into their lives previously because they believe He failed them at some point in their lives.
The atheists do have a strong argument when they ask how an all-powerful, all-loving God can allow innocent people to suffer, but it's not a difficult argument to counter when you have a good theology around suffering. This is one sermon series I am looking forward to preaching!