The Paradox of Suffering and God’s Love

A few days ago I wrote an entry entitled “Sacrifices”
to remind us that God wants our trust more than he desires sacrifices from us. The
blog was prompted by our common desire to do something for God in order that we
might get back into good relationship him, specifically when we experience
suffering and question God’s favour toward us. When we or one of our loved ones
experiences suffering, we may be tempted to question God’s goodness and his
love for us. But it is at times such as these that we have the greatest
opportunity to know and trust God’s love.
Gordon T. Smith, in his extremely helpful
book, The Voice of Jesus: Discernment,
Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit
, speaks of the paradox in which we
sometimes find ourselves.
The paradox, then, is
that if we embrace suffering, rather than causing us to doubt the love of God,
it becomes the context in which we come to learn, know and appropriate God’s
love as our own. The very thing that might cause us to doubt the love of God
(namely suffering) is the context in which it is most crucial and in which we
are most capable of seeing and appropriating the love of God. This, surely, is
what it means to live by faith – believing that God loves us, despite the
contrary evidence.[1]
When suffering engulfs our lives, we can take
stock and ask ourselves questions about our faith in God and his love toward
us. Smith reminds us that we must rightly assess our suffering, as he quotes Thomas
Merton regarding “exaggeration of our trials and crosses.”
Thomas Merton made a
pointed aside when he wrote “I have a peculiar horror of one sin: the exaggeration
of our trials and our crosses.” His words are a good reminder, for we easily
complain when in fact we have it remarkably good. This is not a moment to
suggest we do not suffer; it is merely to emphasize that we must not overstate
our suffering.[2]
Smith then quickly goes on to say that,
indeed, we all suffer. He rightly encourages us to place our suffering within
the appropriate context.
All of us, like the friend I mentioned in
the former blog, will experience suffering in this life. In the life of many
people, this is where the road goes on in two directions: one toward bitterness
and dismay toward God, and the other toward a greater understanding of God’s
love toward us. If we desire to be ready for suffering that may come upon us,
or if we wish to know how to deal with our already present suffering, we would
do well to decide which course we will take when suffering occurs.


Smith, Gordon T. The Voice of
Jesus: Discernment Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit.
Downers Grove:
InterVarsity Press, 2003.

[1] Smith 2003, p. 85.
[2] Smith 2003, p. 85.

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