We might think we know the answer as to why people suffer: it’s a matter of cause and effect. There are things we humans do that have ill effects on our health, on the world, on other people that cause suffering at some point in our lives. But though everyone suffers to some degree, not all suffer in the same way or for the same reasons. There is no easy answer to the question of suffering and evil. The apostles thought they did have such an answer and maybe we do too. Yet the cause or reasons for suffering are largely unknown and this despite all the medical and scientific advancements and discoveries of our modern age.
Jesus does give us an answer to the problem of suffering in this miracle of giving sight to the man who had been born blind. Here, Jesus again demonstrated His divinity. He had said He was the light of the world and here He showed it in rather graphic fashion. The disciples had questioned Jesus about the man, seeking a quick, easy and logical answer to explain why bad things happen. There is comfort in attributing adversity and sickness to sin, for then we feel safe as long as we avoid that sin. But the disciples were wrong in their assumption. What Jesus said is that this happened that the works of God would be manifest, that He would be glorified. Yes, adversity is a result of sin, ours, others or the sin of Adam, but Jesus’ reply reveals the bottom line: all suffering is for the glory of God. No matter what other explanations there may be, ultimately God does whatever He wants. Such an idea is frightening because it means we have no real control over what happens to us. God is in charge. He determines the best way to accomplish things, the punishment of the wicked, as well as the sanctification of the righteous. All things that happen are for the glory of His name not for our material ease and comfort.
That is a tough answer that does not fall into our neat little categories. We find safety in seeing all that happens in terms of cause and effect. But God defies our attempts to control life. He is unpredictable. But He is not mean or vindictive but loving, merciful and compassionate. We can trust Him to always do what is good so we must assume that He has a higher purpose in allowing suffering than merely punishment for sin. And, in fact, pain and adversity draw us closer to God. They crush, humble and strip us of our pride and self-sufficiency, so we depend on Him alone. Only then did we begin to grow from legalistic, self-righteous boasters, to loving and compassionate Christians who reach out to the poor and oppressed. Only then will we acknowledge that He is sovereign Lord of all, that He is not accountable to us. He does not have to present us with a case for why He allows suffering nor does he need our input. He is glorified in the exercise of His sovereign will.