One of the thorny issues that believers are confronted with when facing an aggressive unbeliever is the problem of pain and suffering. The story of life on this planet is largely one of painful existence; as there is so much war, crime, disease, destruction, broken lives, broken dreams, broken relationships and all the suffering that comes from these things. No one escapes or is exempted. And the daily news tells us that things are not getting better. In fact, we may be on target if we believe that things are getting worse. We just cannot get around the fact that this life has a lot of pain and our attempts to anesthetize ourselves with pleasure, power and possessions simply does not work. It never has and never will.
So, the unbeliever pointedly asks, “where is this good God of yours?” “How can you promote the idea of a loving God inhabiting this universe when you everywhere see senseless destruction, abuse of innocents, rape, murder, horrible diseases, terrible brutality and so much more?” These, of course, are not trivial matters. But the perspective of these unbelievers is wrong. And, unfortunately, the perspective to too many believers (especially those holding to prosperity theology) is similar to unbelievers. Both have a one-world view; that is, the focus is exclusively on this present life on this present earth.
The Necessary “Two-World” View. A number of times in past articles we have referenced a “two-world” view; which we have described as living in this present world but with a clear focus on the world to come. The Bible speaks often about the incredible future that God has planned for His people and makes it abundantly clear that the best is yet to come. All of this is based on the restoring, reconciling work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. If all we do is focus on present pain, we will not do well. Biblical prophecy is a significant part of the answer to the problem of pain.
Prophetic Truth is God’s Answer. Biblical prophecy supplies the needed perspective as is seen in the words of the Apostle Paul.
“For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us….For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now…even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” Romans 8:18, 22-23
What an accurate description of life on this earth. But also, what an accurate perspective. Present suffering and pain is so far superseded by future glory.
The Apostle was no ivory tower theologian who was isolated from life in this world. He says the following in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.
“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Just in case we might misunderstand his “momentary, light afflictions” we need to review his life experiences in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. Most of us would not think of these as light afflictions if they happened to us!
Without having a clear view of what is coming, this present life will likely be seen as a very bad, senseless joke. Image you have a scale where you place a brick on one side. The brick is so heavy that the scale is completely weighed down on that side. The brick is pain and suffering. If that is the totality of the situation then the brick encompasses all of life and is not offset by anything. We look at the brick, focus on the brick and perhaps curse the brick. But if we should place Mt. Everest on the other side of the scale, all of a sudden the brick is not so formidable. In fact, Mt. Everest so totally dominates that the brick is seen as nothing. Paul is right. The sufferings of this present life are not to be compared with the coming glory. C.S. Lewis in his book “The Problem of Pain” agrees with Paul.
“A book on suffering which says nothing of heaven, is leaving out almost the whole of one side of the account. Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the sufferings on earth, and no solution of the problem of pain which does not do so can be called a Christian one.”
Satan and sin. The Scriptures are straightforward in their declaration that presently Satan is the “god of this world.” And since, according to Jesus, he is both a liar and murderer, what should we expect would be taking place in this world, his realm. Does not his rule bring about an abundance of suffering and pain? And furthermore, it is a self- evident truth that sin always has consequences. That is the way, the moral universe was built. Sin produces all kinds of bad things. The woman who has contracted cancer might ask why God allowed it, but might it possible that her smoking of two packs of cigarettes a day played a part in it. The man who is lonely and depressed might wonder why God has allowed this to engulf his life. But then, again, perhaps it was his adulteries that are now bearing their fruits. The point should be obvious that God can hardly be charged with maliciously bringing pain and suffering into this life when sin, Satan and man himself are the causes.
Heaven and the New Earth. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, God has been working at bringing a complete (and enhanced) restoration of everything that was lost in Eden. Paradise, unhindered fellowship with God and a life of great purpose and significance is what God is bringing us to. Psalm 16:11 reminds us that “in Thy presence is fullness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever.” While heaven is our temporary residence if we should die prior to end time events, it is the new earth that will be our eternal dwelling. A world free of sin, death, crying, disease and pain; exactly what God originally designed. We will not be living as disembodied spirits floating around in the clouds. We have been built to live on the earth and to the earth we will go. The Apostle John states that he saw “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). The Apostle Peter says that believers look “for a new heaven and new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). A new earth is being created to be our residence forever.
The fact is that the new (a fresh version of the old) earth is so wonderful that God Himself is going to come down and “live with” His people. And where He is, there is fullness of life and joy (Rev. 21:1-5). And that is undoubtedly why Peter informed us that “righteousness dwells” there. Nothing vaguely resembling sin will be part of our experience.
The Resurrection Body. Our physical bodies were defective from the day we were born. Our legacy is genetic deficiency. We may escape for some years the noticeable breakdown of body parts, but it will catch up to us all. In Psalm 90, Moses observes that man’s years are basically 70 in number. If we happen to go beyond that 70th year, our experience will be “labor and sorrow.” In other words, the physical body will wear out and fail. So, it is a great and wonderful revelation when we learn that we are going to receive, at the resurrection, a new body which will live forever free of pain and problems. It is a body which is built to live on this new earth with no possibility of breaking down. This was all part of God’s original design and it will come to pass. THE BEST IS YET TO COME.
A Concluding Thought. The problem of pain and suffering is very real and would be an overwhelming issue if not seen through the lens of biblical prophecy. The need today is to return to biblical prophecy and learn what God says He is going to do. There, in His prophetic word, God has told us much about what awaits His children, and it is the “eternal weight of glory” which dismisses present pain and suffering. The critical matter is, therefore, to know that we are indeed children of God by new birth through faith in Jesus Christ. As believers, we need to focus on the wonderful and profound truth that God is good. Yes, He is.