Brady: I don’t pretend to understand suffering

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Let me say at the outset that I don’t have the answer to suffering. Dean Inge, the great English minister and philosopher of another generation, spent a life time admittedly seeking the solution to the problem of evil and suffering in the world and at age ninety he confessed that he had no solution.

Oh, there may be a few possible explanations for suffering that come to mind-for example, the resulting consequences of God’s gift to us of free will; evil in the world; human carelessness and selfishness; injustice; prejudice; natural disasters; ignorance; sin; war; and so forth.

In reality, however, there is no answer to suffering. Will it comfort bereaved parents to tell them that the death of their child is a result of the divine impartiality of God? Even if that is true, will it comfort? Will it help to say that suffering can make a positive contribution? If that is the case – and it is -then why do we try to remove it, so often in vain. Suffering: If we cannot explain it, be comforted in the midst of it, or make it go away, then perhaps we can attempt, at least, to find some meaning in it.

The Apostle Paul had been doing extremely well. Everything seemed to be going his way, including having a meaningful relationship with God. Then it happened! Paul began to face and endure suffering. It is not exactly known what his suffering was, as it is referred to only as “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

So how did Paul react to it? He did what most religious folks would do. He prayed about it, and he kept praying until he had asked God three times to remove his burden. It is simply amazing that he only prayed three times about it. At any rate, then, it was that God answered his prayer request with a deafening “No.”

Now, why did God refuse to take away Paul’s “thorn in the flesh?” Though we are not explicitly told why, evidently, Paul was to learn something through his suffering that he could learn in no other way. It was through his suffering that Paul learned of the all-sufficiency of God’s grace. And what was true of Paul has been true of countless others ever sense.

Horatio Spafford had four daughters. He sent his four daughters and his wife on a ship to Europe. It was going to be a glorious, wonderful, joyful celebration. As they sailed out into the ocean, they hit some of those Atlantic storms and the first thing you know, the four daughters had drowned. His wife sent a cable back to Mr. Spafford. It simply said, “Saved alone.” That’s all it said. A year later, Spafford and his wife made that same journey, that same voyage. As they passed that area where their daughters had drowned, he leaned over and looked at the water and began to meditate and think about this horrible tragedy that had come upon his life and he penned these words:

“When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrow like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.”

As we can see, Spafford learned something in suffering. He learned something about the grace of God, which led him to write one of the most meaningful hymns of the church.

The late Dr. J. Wallace a Hamilton, premier southern preacher in St. Petersburg, Florida, told about the time that his sister, who was the wife of a missionary, lost their child in Africa. She was writing Dr. Hamilton about this experience, and she summarized it in one sentence. She simply said, “God has entrusted us with s great sorrow.” She learned again about the grace of God in her suffering.

An elderly woman was walking one day and knocked down when a tire flew off a passing truck. Her hip was broken and her active life came to an end. When her minister went to the hospital to see her, she looked up out of great pain with a wonderful smile and said, “Well, I wonder what God has for me to do here!” In her suffering, that woman was experiencing the grace of God.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not expecting you to embrace suffering out of these thoughts I’m seeking to share. Like you, I try my best to avoid pain and suffering. But I do believe there is a redemptive value in suffering when we look for its significance.

Hal Brady operates Hal Brady Ministries in Decatur with the stated goal of presenting the good news of Jesus and offering encouragement in positive ways.