March 17, 2011

Japan: Suffering Front and Centre - Bryan Norford

The devastation in Japan again prompts the question, “Does God really care about suffering?” It is an understandable response to adversity that appears random and pointless. After all, common wisdom suggests that tragedies like Japan are evidence that God does not care, or even exist.

On his pilgrimage towards Christianity, C. S. Lewis wondered why, in the presence of so much suffering, this belief in a God of love persisted. For him, this became part of the evidence for a God of love. In fact, the Bible helps us understand that this contradiction between God’s love and our suffering is only “skin deep.”

This doesn’t mean that Christians have all the answers to suffering. Unfortunately, the pain of our suffering often hinders us from understanding that God is involved in the pain with us. At the same time, we cannot always grasp the incapacitating nature of another’s pain from the outside.

It is only when we can feel or fully empathize with another’s pain that we can have meaningful discussion on it. Bridging this gap is difficult: it is too easy to give wrong or pat answers. Yet an objective understanding of scriptural truth about suffering is necessary if we are to find significance to our pain.

Hardship will often blunt our perception and the fog of pain obscure reality, but there will be occasions for clear thinking. For instance, will we consider James’ use of “joy” and “trials” in the same sentence (James 1:2) too bizarre for consideration, or recognize his intention to bring meaning to our distress?

James’ uses this tactic of surprise to entice us to consider the benefit gained from life’s tragedies; they are not insignificant or unproductive. James’ notes the primary gain for all who undergo trials—the strengthening of our faith.

The original Greek word for “trial” is used for both words test and temptation in English Bible translations. The New Testament authors understood that all trials—“trials of many kinds” as James declares—are a test, a temptation to disbelieve.

This is not to glorify suffering, often wrongly embraced as means to spiritual rewards. Jesus always sought to alleviate suffering and for most of us it is unwanted and temporary, however interminable it may seem at the time.

But when it is unavoidable, it is a tool for deepening our faith and our lives. As a ship’s captain matures in his understanding of his trade by weathering the storms at sea, so by persevering in our faith during the storms of life we may become “mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”

Bruce Waltke, a translator of the Old Testament, tells the story of his young son facing a painful vaccination. His father took him towards the source of his fear—the needle. Despite the boy’s fear, he clung more tightly to him! The son’s simple faith in his father’s overall care was greater than his fear of the pain.

During times of despair and temptation to run from God, let our trust in His overarching care drive us to cling more tightly to Him and his word. Then we’re prepared with comfort for the suffering and weary.

Some further thoughts on the Japanese tragedy can be found at 


  1. Your words are so insightful. Thank you for sharing.
    Pamela Mytroen

  2. So enjoyed your posting. Encouraging. Insightful, as Pamela says, and puts it in His perspective.

    Loved your last paragraph.... let our trust in His overarching care drive us to cling more tightly to Him and his word....and we'll be prepared to comfort those around us.

  3. Yes a very insightful and thought provoking read. Thank you for sharing


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