“How long O LORD?” is the endless cry of the characters in the Bible who faced suffering, as found in Scripture. This is also the cry of all of us today, as inevitable suffering enters each one of our lives. There is no need to convince anyone that all is not right in the world; all you need to do is turn on the Evening News to see the pain and suffering in the world.
I remember when the realization first hit me that the world is broken. For me this happened as I began to be exposed to unexpected tragedies in lives of people I knew. Every child, at some point comes face-to-face with this reality. And the older we get, the more brokenness we see and experience for ourselves.
On March 15-16, Steinbach Bible College hosted the annual Leadership Conference on the relevant topic of suffering. The guest speaker, Dr. Gus Konkel approached the subject by emphasizing the All-Powerful God and His interactions concerning the suffering of humanity.
Dr. Konkel, in the first session, walked us through the character of God seen in two of the Psalms of Creation (Psalm 74 and 104). Here we learned that God is outside of creation, beyond the disorder of the world. Then, as chaos surrounds His people, they take refuge in God by meditating on His might in creating creation. They exalt God who is “working salvation in the midst of the earth,” (Psalm 74:12). This Psalmist knew that no suffering could stop God and the redemption He brings!
While we do not have a clear explanation for where evil has come from, as Christians, we have something far more precious. We have a promise of victory. Suffering will not have the last word. Yet as we patiently wait, we wonder how we can cope with the pains that come, and we ask the question why?
In session two, we discussed the sufferings of Job. From this study, we learned that no answer was given to Job’s question of why, concerning his sufferings. Humans do not have access to the wisdom of God, as declared in the LORD’s declaration of Himself in chapters 38 to 41. The conclusion to Job’s life is that no one is exempt from suffering. Suffering cannot be avoided, even if you are in right standing before God like Job was described (Job 1:1).
However, suffering is never without meaning. For redemption from suffering includes suffering. This is most clearly embodied in Jesus Christ, which was the focus of session three. Christ is the One who demonstrates God’s presence and reconciliation. For God who has walked with humans in the past, walks with us now. His reconciliation has made a way for relationship. Although God’s presence is not always clear in suffering, we leave an important legacy regarding how we respond to suffering.
Job’s legacy was one of patience (James 5:10-11). Though Job does not seem patient in waiting for God to respond, Dr. Konkel pointed out that: Job knew how to trust God. In the same way, David who wrote Psalm 22, expressed his faith in God by simply coming to God in prayer in his trouble. Both Job and David exemplify that honest complaints and cries for justice speak of a deep faith in God, believing that He is in the business of redeeming.
The words of Psalm 22:1 are echoed by Jesus on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). At that moment, the suffering sinless Saviour identified with all the suffering of all the sufferers of the world.
As Christians, we do not profess escape from suffering. Rather, we declare that God has so fully identified with us, through Jesus. And His work on the cross and in His resurrection affirm that there is victory over suffering!
In the final session, Dr. Konkel concluded the conference looking at Romans. Salvation, righteousness and redemption are available to those who have faith in God, through Christ! In fact, we are adopted as children of God! We walk in His resurrection victory! We are secure! In our new identity as children, we are heirs with Christ of God, “For if we suffer with Christ, we will also be glorified with Him,” (Romans 8:17).
We will continue to suffer until God’s redemption will be complete someday as we join Him in heaven. Until that day, we can stand firm in confident hope that God will accomplish all that He intends! His victory is sure! As His children, He is on our side. He has conquered, and nothing can stop His redemption! In the meantime, we rely on the grace He grants to empower us to endure until the end.