Right at the outset, it’s important to state there are no easy answers, and you should never trust someone who claims to explain the mystery of suffering in a few sentences! The mystery of suffering has puzzled people down across the centuries. One of the most searching and most poetic books of the Bible which perhaps we don’t read as much as we should is the book of Job, which explores precisely this subject. Job is a man who is God-fearing and upright yet he loses everything. His situation is made all the more difficult by the cheap comfort and easy answers his friends give him. In the end it is Job who is restored to a right relationship with God, and it is his comforters who are declared not to have spoken rightly.
Of course some would see the whole question of suffering as arguing against the existence of God. But does removing God from the equation actually help us? If this world is ultimately all there is, and all we can do in this one brief life is try and avoid much suffering as possible, then our existence is bleak indeed. If the dead are not raised, then all we can really say to the question of suffering is, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die (1 Cor 15:32). But this is not so much a solution, as escapism. And the danger when we are focused on seeking our own pleasure is that others suffer. After all, without God, what morality and what laws do we live by? What ultimately is the impetus that makes us love our neighbour as ourselves?
But the question of suffering also makes us wrestle with our own understanding of God. If we imagine God to be a remote and unapproachable deity who is somewhere “out there”, then all we can say when we look at the state of the world is that He must be a peculiarly insensitive God, a creator who seems not to care one jot about the painful experiences of all he has created.
This for me is one reason why believing in a God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is important. We say how difficult the doctrine of the Trinity is to understand. But what it tells us is firstly that at the heart of God is a relationship of love. Whatever else love means, it is personal and it involves communication. The Trinity tells us at the very least we have a God who not only made us, but understands our deepest emotions and wants to communicate with us. Although the book of Job does not give a neat and tidy answer to our questions, it does at least climax with God speaking in a way that Job can understand, and Job answering back to God.
But there’s more. The heart of the Christian faith is about this God not standing aloof from this world, but actively engaging in it. That’s why the symbol of our faith is a cross. It’s about Jesus the Son of God entering into the pain and brokenness of this world and taking onto Himself the very worst form of human suffering in order to restore our relationship with God our Heavenly Father. This does not mean we have a neat and tidy answer to the original question. But we know enough at least to know that there is a God who loves us and understands us, and is worthy of our faith and trust. We will still cry out on occasions, “How long, O Lord?” and even, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” but in spite of our experience we can trust that we have a God who hears our cries.