Why Must There Be Suffering?

Rocky ground. I listen to a contemplative podcast most evenings before bed called Pray as You Go. I absolutely love the quiet, reflective time it provides to listen to scripture and sacred music and then converse with Jesus.

Tonight's podcast opened with a scripture reading from the gospel of Matthew. A lawyer asks Jesus, "What is the greatest commandment?" After reading the scripture passage, the podcast narrator noted that of all the questions someone could have asked Jesus upon approaching him, this one was foremost in this particular person's mind.

What question, the podcast narrator asked me to consider, would I choose to ask Jesus if I could ask him anything at all?

I don't normally give questions like this much thought. When I have a question to ask Jesus, I just go to him and ask him. And when I think about those momentous times, like what I might want to ask God when I get to heaven, I don't expect that any list of questions I bring will be nearly as interesting as the reality of beholding God's presence for real.

But tonight, I spent time considering the question, and my response surprised me. I found myself asking Jesus, Why must there be suffering?

Now, to some degree, it makes sense that I would ask this question. I write a blog about nonviolence and am concerned about the cares of mercy and justice in this world and in the human heart. Suffering is clearly a concern of my life.

But the way I asked Jesus tonight came from a deeper place inside. A place that gave me pause. A place that felt new. It came from a place inside that's developed an acute perception of my own experience of suffering right now. It is a suffering that drives me to my knees in repentance and desperate pleas for God's mercy almost every day. It is also a suffering that seems intent on forging a holy connection in me to Christ's own passion -- a sense of learning to bear injustice while responding in love.

This suffering hurts like hell. It's hard. It causes a whole mess of pain, and I bring heaviness in my heart to Jesus almost daily. But this suffering is nowhere near the suffering and pain people the world over face every single day. Millions go without food or water right this moment. War and violence rage all day outside the doors of huts and houses in village and cities all over the world. Children and parents die of diseases as though it's a normal course of life. The hope of tomorrow isn't a given in so many places around this world.

My suffering is nothing compared to the suffering of these. But still, my suffering is acute and hurts like hell.

And so I found myself feeling so profoundly this question tonight: If that's how mine feels, what must theirs feel like? 

And that's why I asked Jesus, Why must this be so? For all the mercy in your heart, for all the power in your being, why must this go on? Why must you let the world keep spinning this way? Why must this be real in this world you made?

I know the intellectual responses to these questions. I know about sin and the fallen world. I know God is sovereign. I know God didn't create a world to spin on auto-pilot but to be responsive and full of volitional, relational beings. I know God uses our suffering to form us and that such suffering also causes him pain.

But those intellectual responses are simply not my concern right now.

Right now, my concern is the vastness of such suffering. How does God possibly bear it? How does the world not disappear over and over again from the flood of his tears drowning it out? How can he let it go on?

It is in moments like these that I deeply yearn for the new heaven and new earth that will someday come. We are meant for a reality so much greater and grander than this. We are meant for so much more life.

When, oh God, will you allow it to be so? I am so, so ready for that new world.