why suffering?

So often in this world, we hear the questions about why “good” people suffer – and it doesn’t matter what type or degree of suffering it is, there’s something in us that says it’s just not fair and we want to know why. 

My cousin died in December of 2006.  She was 46 years old.  She was a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a teacher, and a friend.  She was deeply loved by all who knew her and she experienced suffering for more than half her life.  When she was 20 years old, and in college, she was diagnosed with hodgkins disease.  She endured the treatment and experienced a few years of reprieve.  And then the disease came back.  And she went through treatment a second time – it seemed the treatment had effectively defeated the disease.  But several years later she needed to have her stomach re-routed because a portion of it was so badly damaged from the radiation treatment.  She had only one functioning kidney and her heart was weak.  She spent many years enduring pain & sickness and her physical body that at one time was healthy and whole became a frail frame for her strong and beautiful spirit.  In November of 2006, she had no other options except to endure yet another surgery to re-route her digestive system in hopes that she would regain the ability to process food and nutrients.  And then came the news that cancer was found in her stomach.  My cousin underwent surgery that resulted in the removal of part of her intestines and part of her pancreas.  Three days later, while still in the hospital recovering, she experienced some heart problems (at one point her heart stopped and the nurses had to revive her) and she was moved to ICU.  Sunday afternoon, she vomited and what came out of her tiny body indicated that her internal system was in serious danger.  She was rushed into emergency surgery and the doctors discovered that her internal organs were dead (it seems that the earlier heart problems had caused multiple blood clots that attacked her organs and blocked the blood flow that kept them alive).  At this point, there was nothing the doctors could do for my cousin.  She came out of surgery on a ventilator and was pronounced dead around 8:30 Monday morning. 

My cousin suffered.  Continuously.  And probably everyone who knew her would say she was a “good” person.  So the question comes – why do “good” people suffer?  

It’s interesting that we don’t often question why “bad” people suffer.  It seems to make sense that a “bad” person would suffer because they would somehow deserve it.  But it doesn’t seem like “good” people deserve to suffer.  The why of suffering is something we do not know.  But there are a few things we do know. 

First, suffering entered this world when Adam & Eve sinned and it will exist until this world ends.  In the Bible Jesus tells us that “In this world (we) will have trouble.” (John 16:33)

Second, suffering is a reality for the “good” and “bad” alike and it isn’t a measure of what we deserve (although we do sometimes bring about suffering because of the choices we make).  The fact is, “good” and “bad” are relative terms depending on what you are comparing.  God’s standard of goodness in a person is actually perfection/holiness – “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)  And according to scripture, no one meets this standard. (Romans 3:10-12)  Praise God we don’t get what we deserve!

Third, for those who know Jesus, suffering is temporary.  There will come a day when our lives on this earth end and we begin our new life in the presence of the risen Christ where pain & suffering do not exist.

Do these truths make pain, suffering, or death any easier to endure.  Maybe not.  But we can trust God.  He is still God even when we don’t understand.  And He is still our only hope. 

As for my cousin, she was a beautiful person, full of life and smiles, and she cared deeply for the people around her.   I will miss her presence here, but I rejoice in the new life she is experiencing – a life with no trace of cancer, no hint of pain, and no sign of death!

“Therefore, we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all .  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18


 
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