In his book River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, Richard Dawkins states, “The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplations….In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” p. 132-133
For Dawkins the reason we suffer is because we cannot accept the idea that there is no purpose in it. Every major religion has at its core an explanation for evil and suffering and has attempted to make sense out of pain, but our secular society simply believes “things happen” because they happen.
As a result of this philosophy of pain and suffering our culture has only two ways of dealing with it, they either try to eliminate the source of their suffering or if one can’t avoid it then “minimize the emotions of pain and suffering as much as possible.” Timothy Keller Walking with God through Pain and Suffering p. 23
Modern society, with their belief that all of life is a series of accidents or chance, sees suffering as something to be treated by experts and self-help aids. Any one who suffers in any way is seen as a victim who must have professional experts alleviate the pain by removing all possible stressors.
Dr. Robert Spitzer is a psychiatrist who headed the taskforce that wrote the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for the American Psychiatric Association. In an interview with the BBC he was asked, “So you have effectively medicalized much ordinary human sadness?” Spitzer responded, “I think we have to some extent,. . . . .how serious a problem it is, is not known. . . . .twenty percent, thirty percent.. . . . but that is a considerable amount.” Quoted in Timothy Keller Walking with God through Pain and Suffering p. 24
But is all our ordinary human sadness really a disorder that needs to be treated and cured through medical treatments? We live in a culture of prescription drugs that are designed to quiet us, smooth out our emotions, and allow us to “cope” with life while walking around like zombies. The American Psychological Association in an online article entitle Inappropriate Prescribing believes that far too many psychotropic medications are being handed out without proper evaluation. One in every five American adults are now taking psychotropic drugs and spend over 7 billion dollars a year to treat Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder alone. One of the complaints of the APA is that doctors at an ever-increasing rate hand out drugs like Prozac while many of these doctors have limited background in treating mental health problems.
Larissa MacFarquhar, in an interview in the Boston Review, summed up her research on people who make great sacrifices for others by stating that for people of faith, “God is in control, and God’s love will see the world through. Whereas for secular people, it’s all up to us. We’re alone here. That’s why I think that, for secular people, there can be an additional layer of urgency and despair.” Quoted in Timothy Keller Walking with God through Pain and Suffering p. 27
So is it possible that our secular society with a philosophy that, “it’s all up to us,” and yet feeling inadequate for the task actually does have an “additional layer of urgency and despair?” Is this why so many in our society medicate themselves and live on a diet of beer and pornography?
As Christians we wake up every day the same as everyone else and we face the same problems and the same heartaches as the rest of our society. We don’t believe there is any merit or good lessons to be learned through suffering as some Eastern religions believe. We see suffering for what it is, something that crashes in on us and hurts us physically and emotionally.
However, as Christians through our faith and trust in God, we have learned to maintain a life of purpose and courage throughout our pain and suffering. We are not alone, we are not abandoned, and we don’t have to go it alone. Larissa MacFarquhar hit it on the head when she said people of faith believe, “God is in control and God’s love will see the world through.” As Christians we see learning, growth, and the building of strength through suffering. Though suffering is not what we want in life, it is inevitable for us and having trust in God to see us through the storms is a major source of comfort that secular people just don’t have.
Through suffering we often start to look inward at our lives and the situations that have caused us pain instead of always seeing ourselves as “victims”. It is a misconception of Christian faith that we sit idly by hoping God will change our circumstances while we watch. Faith motivates us to seek harmony with God’s will and put our trust in His leading and directions even if we can’t see through the present pain of our circumstances.
As Christians the death of loved ones is not final because we have faith that we will be reunited again with them. Our hearts may be torn apart at the loss but we know the separation is not forever. We do not have a sense of hopelessness or emptiness in our suffering but a knowledge that we are not alone and God cares about us, and the situation we find ourselves in. He will help and comfort us through the turmoil and through it all, the irony is that we grow closer to God and have more faith.
For secular people this may sound like wishful thinking or pie-in-the-sky dreaming, but for Christians it is very real. The comfort that comes of knowing that God has our back is a comfort that gives us peace beyond understanding. For us who believe the world is not bleak and empty, and we are not alone to make of it what we can. It is our home with all its good and its bad. We face it with confidence because we are not alone. Our trust is not in prescribed medications and self-help books but the God of the Universe.
* Many people around the globe are currently experiencing persecution for their faith in God, and many even unto death, for the love of their God. These people know pain and suffering. They need our support and prayers. Please take the time to read some of their stories at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…