I just finished teaching a five-week adult class entitled "Making Sense of Suffering" (http://tinyurl.com/ygyka5z). It wasn't an easy class to prepare for, let alone teach. If you're like me, you'd just as soon not focus on suffering. You'd prefer to deny it, avoid it, or otherwise postpone it. Teaching the class made me realize that suffering is universally relevant: far from being esoteric or academic or theoretical, suffering is a very real and painful part of everyone's life. It has immediate application to each person, regardless of their background, belief, or lack thereof. People pay attention when you teach on suffering.
My class began with a general philosophical introduction to the problem of pain. The classic conundrum goes something like this: if there's a God, and this God is good, and this God is all powerful, how can there be suffering? Drop one of these three conditions and there's not much of a problem. The first class then looked at the Bible's explanation of suffering. The Book of Genesis, chapters 1 through 3, tells the story. In creating human beings as free moral agents, able to choose good or evil, God allowed for the possibility of evil, sin, and death. In response to our poor choices, the Bible tells of God's grand rescue story to love back into relationship a wayward people.
We then looked at Suffering and Job (not suffering and your job; that's a different story). This classic biblical book gave us many insights into the spiritual dimensions of suffering, the freedom we have to get angry with God, and some painful mistakes we can easily make in trying to help those who suffer.
Next, we looked at Suffering and Hope, how God responds to our sin and suffering in the death of Jesus Christ. In his life among us and his death for us, Jesus embraces and experiences every dimension of our human pain. His resurrection gives us the assurance that there will be an end to suffering and a glorious new life to come. Amidst our suffering, God is shaping us into the image of Jesus, teaching us how to endure in hope, and offering us a platform to bear witness to the world of God's love in Christ.
Finally, we looked at Suffering and Help. I outlined several do's and don'ts in how we might give comfort to the suffering. We followed up the class with a two-part video series by Louie Giglio, "Hope--When Life Hurts Most" (available here: http://tinyurl.com/yk83q85). It's been a powerful season for studying suffering...and an exhausting one. As I mentioned tongue-in-cheek to the Sunday School class this week: "I'm done with suffering." As if.
Suffering dogs our heels. It's a sure thing. As Jesus said in John 16:33: "In this world you will have trouble." Affliction. Persecution. Suffering. Guaranteed. But on this week which leads to trouble, we also have this assurance: After guaranteeing trouble, Jesus adds: "But take heart, I have overcome the world." Christ is with us in suffering. Jesus knows it first-hand. But Jesus suffered to this good end: all who humbly trust in his sacrificial suffering for their sins will share in the power of his resurrection life to come. Death will not be final for us; we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth--where there will be no more weeping, pain, or death. Jesus suffers once and for all. Ultimately, that's what's good about suffering.