There are numerous causes of suffering in the world. One of them is the brokenness of the natural world as we see it in disease and earthquakes and hurricanes, and other ways.
Scripture tells us that suffering has become nature’s abnormal state. In Genesis 3 it says that the world that has become cursed now has enmity and pain and conflict. That’s how even the natural order of things, the way nature itself behaves, has been disrupted because of this moral earthquake that has happened on earth.
That brings us to Romans 8. In verse 19 it says that the creation is waiting for redemption. The creation was subjected to frustration, which is its bondage to decay. As a result, it says in verse 22 that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” And we, with the whole of creation, groan inwardly as we await for God to make the adoption final and to redeem us from our brokenness.
Sometimes at the scene of a hurricane reporters will pause to mention the sounds: howling, whistling, crashing—and the sounds of groaning. “The whole creation has been groaning…”
Over the years I’ve talked to so many people who show that the best way to deal with suffering is to understand, even before suffering hits, that we are all in this together.
We experience suffering, in other words, because we are just small parts of a whole creation that has its good days and has its bad days. And we’re all in this together. Sometimes we forget that we are part of a whole system. And that we are a part of a very complex system of cause and effect. That if it rains and ruins your family picnic, or floods one region, that same rain might be what saves a farmer’s crops. And we will never see or understand all of the connections.
I find that sometimes when suffering hits we can think of reality like this: Here is God, and here am I. And so, if I am suffering I could ask “God, why are you doing this to me?” But if I draw a picture of reality where I am a part of a whole world system, one person in a multitude of human beings along with the mountains and rivers and the land and the seas—if I can picture reality this way—then I can say that the disease one of my loved-ones contracted is because we live in a world where there are a lot of diseases on the loose. Some of them are because we have dumped pollutants and carcinogens into our environment. Some of it is because our bodies are frail and temporary. But when I get sick it is not God just doing it to me.
If we understand that we are each part of a whole complex world, and a creation that works beautifully sometimes but sometimes breaks and cracks, then we are reminded of our moral duty in this life. Instead of us asking God why do you allow poverty and famine and injustice? we can imagine God turning to us and asking: Are you doing everything you can to lessen suffering? Are you using your energy and resources in this world to work against injustice and poverty and disease? I am the Savior—but you are my assistants.