Bible Teachings about Man
As I write this article, it is just 2 weeks after the terrible Boxing Day 2004 tsunami disaster in SE Asia, and of course the suffering of humanity is very much to the forefront of people's minds.
In this case, suffering was caused by a natural disaster, and those Muslims affected in Indonesia seemed to take the view that there is a direct connection between the strength of their religious faith and the calamity they suffered. It was reported that some said 'Maybe we did a bad thing, or forgot something, forgot Allah or forgot to pray.' And 'I tell them that this situation is from Allah, and tell them to accept it and change their actions. Don't do bad things anymore.' They saw the calamity as retribution from on high for lack of goodness.
What is the Christian interpretation of the cause of suffering? The Bible tells us for a start that suffering can be brought about by our own foolish behaviour as well as by circumstances outside our control. In direct contrast to the Muslim view, Christ decisively taught that suffering due to accidents, disease or natural phenomena were not a form of retribution from God. In John 9, Jesus was asked about a man who had been born blind and whether this situation had been brought about because he or his parents had sinned. Jesus replied that neither had sinned, but in this case it was so God's work could be revealed in the healing miracle which Jesus performed. In other instances of suffering from accidents and time and chance it is made clear that personal sin was not the cause, but the fact that we are subject to these things because of our mortality eg Luke 13: 1-4 and James 4: 13-15.
However apart from accidents, disease etc which can randomly affect any of us, a large proportion of suffering is a consequence of poor behaviour, rebellion or sin. If we get drunk, drive our car and injure ourselves or others then the suffering is a direct consequence of our behaviour. Similarly if we are violent and aggressive in our relationships, then we shouldn't be surprised if we suffer family breakdown etc.
So we can see that human suffering has 2 primary causes:
- As a result of personal behaviour or sin eg James 4: 1-4. This type of suffering can be avoided if we take control of our actions and live according to good values. By following the lifestyle advocated in the Bible we will avoid much self-inflicted misery.
- Due to accidents, diseases, natural disasters and so forth. Many of these are time and chance related, and we suffer because we are in a mortal body. Any of us can potentially fall victim to this type of suffering but the Bible teaches it is not a form of retribution from God. There is a long term way to avoid this type of tragedy and that is to aspire to an immortal body in God's future kingdom. If we believe in Jesus Christ now, then he can transform us to a spiritual state (1 Cor 15) beyond the reach of time and chance.
Our loving God through his written word the Bible has revealed to us a solution to both causes of suffering!