By David Yount
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The inclination to blame God for human suffering or to deny his existence altogether has waned in the last century. As a journalist, I am inclined to credit my profession for this change in public attitude. Newspapers and television have made it abundantly clear that most human pain is self-imposed or is inflicted by one human being on another.
Consider that we have endured a century of total war, with worldwide suffering and atrocities on a scale not previously known. God was not to blame; people were.
Nor is God involved in random accidents that leave human victims, nor in the devastation caused when nature acts according to its laws. We may curse water when it floods and drowns, fire when it burns, volcanoes when they erupt and wind when it destroys property.
But intelligence equips humankind to confront natural forces, if not always to control them, then at least to moderate their destructive power.
Jesus himself warned about the fragility of houses built on sand, so we do best to insure ourselves against accidents and natural tragedies.
If many people continue to live in want, it is because the rest of us allow it. If a plane falls from the sky, it is because it was badly designed, maintained or flown.
I am impressed that people who suffer tragedy are disinclined to blame or deny God because of their misfortunes. Instead, we thank God that our losses weren't worse and ask his help in rebuilding our health, our homes and our lives.
Admittedly, physical and mental suffering is something else altogether. Chronic pain is senseless and debilitating. Death is the portal to eternal life; but when many Americans die, they are no longer the persons we knew in life. The health professions could do a better job of pain management, but why does God seemingly stand by when his own creatures decline?
The best answer I know is that God went through this before, when he denied his son's plea that he be spared torture and crucifixion. Human redemption was accomplished through God's own pain and death. That does not mean that all pain is redemptive, but it does suggest that our transformation into creatures worthy of happiness with our creator still involves suffering.
People often ask me what words a Christian can use to console a person in pain. My reply is that Christianity is a hopeful faith, but not an especially comforting one. What we can do is to imitate Christ in his generous acceptance of suffering.
Many people are inclined to treat even minor discomfort as pain, and to complain about any condition short of nirvana. The persistence of drug abuse demonstrates the human insistence on instant and carefree bliss.
In reality, some suffering appears to be an unavoidable part of the human condition. Fortunately, people of faith possess Jesus' own example of putting pain to good use.
David Yount is the author of 14 books on faith, spirituality and confident living. He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22153 and firstname.lastname@example.org.