Of Pain and Suffering

If God really loves us, why does he allow so much pain and suffering in our world?

This is one of those age old questions asked both by believers and non-believers. Why is there so much suffering in this world? Why does God allow all the tragedies? The accidents? The hunger? The war? Actually….. why does he even let me stub my toe or bump my head? Why is there pain?

I’ve always thought that maybe we can’t know the full extent of joy unless we also experience pain. I really think there is something to that…I’ve also thought that maybe it is up to us to alleviate some of the pain in this world. After all, God provided us with more than enough resources to eliminate hunger. We are the ones who wage wars and kill. But what comfort is that to the millions of children who needlessly die of diarrhea or malaria or who are victims of war?

As always, parenting has given me another new insight on this issue. I’m not saying I know why there is suffering in this world, and I don’t claim to be able to explain God’s ways by any means. But even if it is just for myself, I feel that a recent parenting experience has helped me see the light on this issue a bit.

Yesterday I was with my son at a park near our home. There are four swings at this park. A red infant swing with a full back and front support, a yellow toddler swing with a back, but just a buckle in front, and two blue “normal” swings. Being a nearly two-year old, my son is very confident in both the red and yellow swings. He enjoys swinging for a few minutes in each, and going back and forth. He does not quite say “red” yet, but I enjoy hearing “yeyow one” every time he says it. He has never shown any interest in the blue swings until yesterday.

Being one, my son is obviously too young for a normal swing. But he also loves trying new things, and was really insisting that he wanted to sit on it. I knew there was a possibility that he would get hurt. But I let him try. I sat him on that blue swing, and I positioned his little hands on the chains thinking that would be enough. “High,” he said, and “Up” when he determined that I was not understanding him. He was not content to just sit there. So I pushed him a tiny bit, and held on the whole time.

He got off, tried the red and yellow swings again, and then was back for more. I had the same reservations as the first time, but it had gone ok so I decided to let him on the swing again. When he asked for a third try on the blue swing later in the morning, I new the possibility of him falling off was still there, but I thought it was worth it to let him try. He was happy. He was proud. He had been safe the first two times. (Keep in mind I wasn’t giving the kid underdogs or anything). But by this third time, I wasn’t holding on the whole time. I gave the swing a tiny push so that it arched a foot or two, and stepped back to watch him go.

He swung happily for a bit, then let go to sign “all done.” And I was not holding on. Even the tiny bit of momentum on the swing pushed him forward. Since he was not holding on, his little body back flipped, and landed head first in the bark chips, his toes folding over the top of his head onto the ground as well.

Cue screaming. I think he was more scared than anything, but I did find a small bloody scab on his scalp later. He cried so hard. Tears and snot down his face, bark chips clinging to his clothes and his hair. He pointed to the swing and kept trying to say “bue one, bue one” through his sobs.

Oh how I wished I could make it stop. Oh how I “felt” his pain and emotional distress. Oh how I wished I could have taken it on myself instead. I think the worst was knowing that I could have stopped it if I had never let him on that swing in the first place. I could have prevented that little bit of suffering. But I didn’t. I decided to let him try it. To have a few happy and proud moments in exchange for the possibility of pain. And now he was in pain and I felt it in the deepest parts of me.

I wondered…is this how God feels when we suffer? Is this what it means when he suffers along side us in our pain?

I’m not trying to compare falling off a swing to war or disease or famine or death. But I think I got a little glimpse of what it’s like for Him. And why He “allows” it.

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