Ebola virus virion (image courtesy commons.wikimedia)
By Spencer D Gear
If you are suffering from heart disease, cancer, epilepsy, or the beginning stages of dementia, perhaps you have questions like I have. Why is there so much suffering and evil in the world? During 2014 we have seen around the world some horrific evil and suffering. I’m thinking of:
In this slaughter by the Taliban, 145 people were killed in this military-run school on 16 December 2014. NBC News in the USA reported in ‘Death “All Around Me”: Victims Relive Pakistan School Massacre’:
Pakistan was plunged into mourning Tuesday after Taliban militants in suicide vests laid siege to a school, massacring 132 children and 10 teachers during eight hours of sheer terror. In total, 145 people were killed, including three soldiers, officials said.
Peshawar government high school (photo courtesy Commons.wikimedia)
BBC News Africa reported on 23 December 2014, ‘Ebola: Mapping the outbreak’:
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was first reported in March 2014, and has rapidly become the deadliest occurrence of the disease since its discovery in 1976.
In fact, the current epidemic sweeping across the region has now killed more than all other known Ebola outbreaks combined.
Up to 21 December, 7,580 people had been reported as having died from the disease in six countries; Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the US and Mali.
(image courtesy commons.wikimedia)
Malaysia Airlines MH370 disappeared off the face of the earth on 8 March 2014 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. BBC News reported on ‘Missing Malaysia plane MH370: What we know’.
Malaysia Airlines MH370 original destination (image courtesy commons.wikimedia)
Then terrorism came to my home country of Australia with the siege and deaths at the Lindt Chocolatw Café, Martin Place, Sydney. See: ‘As it happened: Tributes flow for Sydney siege victims killed in Martin Place Lindt cafe shootout’ (ABC News, 16 December 2014).
Lindt Cafe siege two days later (photo courtesy commons.wikimedia)
But we could tell of much more evil and suffering in our world.
Does suffering have a purpose?
A Christian medical doctor wrote this on a Christian forum in the UK to which I once was contributing:
As a doctor, I have theoretical knowledge about many illnesses; but actually being ill gives you a completely different kind of knowledge. Instead of being a spectator, you become a patient and suddenly you can see and understand things that were previously invisible or incomprehensible to the professionals trying to help you. And so for almost every significant medical condition there exists a patient support group, through which people can share their experiences and give each other practical and emotional help.
In the UK, many charities have been started as the result of an individual going through a period of suffering, and thus becoming aware of a need. When it comes to motivation, there is nothing like personal experience!
Dr Mary Verghese (1925-1986) was training to be an obstetrician in India when a road accident left her paralysed from the waist down. As a result of this, she became acutely aware of the lack of help for the many disabled people in India, and she went on to become one of the country’s first specialists in disability and rehabilitation. (You can read her story in the book Take my hands by Dorothy Clarke Wilson).
My personal encounter with pain
My response was:
Sometimes the reason for pain and suffering is not always readily discernible. I suffered 3 bouts of rheumatic fever when I was aged 6, 10 and 12 – the most excruciating pain of the knees and ankle joints I have ever encountered. The memory remains today and I’m approaching older age. It was so severe that the hospital had to put a metal hoop over my legs so that not even a sheet could touch my legs as that would exacerbate the pain. I was not allowed to sit up. Now that was a challenge for a child.
As a result I have had leaking mitral and aortic valves of my heart all my life. I now have had 5 open heart surgeries since 1983 (the last in March 2013) to insert mechanical mitral and aortic valves, and repair the tricuspid valve. I’ve had to deal with multiple medications, including warfarin, and regular INR blood tests since 1983.
The primary biblical help I can get for this suffering is in James 1:2-4,
Count it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (ESV).
It is designed to bring me as a Christian to maturity and faithfulness in my Christian faith. It is not designed to make me angry with God, but I sure understand the consequences of original sin. Oh, how I long for that sweet relief that ‘away from the body and at home with the Lord’ will bring.
I know the purpose is maturity. But I do have moments when the going gets so tough with breathlessness as I walk.
Mitral artificial (prosthetic) heart valve
It’s a tough call
What is the origin of evil? If God is sovereign, does He cause it or allow it? You may have a loved one who suffered or is suffering. You may be suffering personally. These are important questions to you and to me. I don’t find a lot of churches addressing them as there are some tough issues here.
God did not create the world the way it is today. His original world was perfect (Gen. 1:31; Eccl. 7:29). The repulsive evil in our world came about by the fall of Adam into sin (Gen. 3). We cannot blame God for the ugly sin in our world. God gave Adam the free will to choose: ‘You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’ (Gen 2:17 NIV). He chose evil. See Genesis 3:4-7:
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves (NIV).
I’ve written elsewhere on the issue of pain and suffering. Why don’t you take a read?
Ukraine 1922 (image ‘Human suffering’,courtesy commons.wikimedia)
 Deborah#15, September 23, 2014, UK Christian Web, ‘Reasons why Christians suffer’. Available at: http://www.christian-forum.co.uk/index.php?topic=12674.15 (Accessed 2 October 2014).
 Ibid., OzSpen#17, 2 October 2014.
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 May 2016.