Q: Why does it seem like people who are not Christians have cancer and live, and ones who are Christians get cancer and die? I’m confused.  —Patricia

A: Some religions teach that the suffering we experience in this life is retribution for things we did in former lives. A big difference between Christianity and these other religions is that it doesn’t make suffering worse for people by blaming them for the suffering they experience.

On several occasions people asked Jesus if the reason a particular person was suffering was due to his/her sin. Jesus made it clear that it wasn’t (John 9:2-3; Luke 13:1-5). The Book of Job makes the same point. Job had to endure tremendous loss and suffering even though he was as blameless as a man can be.

Anyone with a sensitive spirit must grapple sooner or later with the problem of pain, sin, and evil. We all wonder why an all-powerful, loving God would create a world with disease, suffering, and tragedy. It’s especially hard to understand how a loving heavenly Father can permit suffering and evil to occur for some while He seems to intervene for others.

The mystery of evil and suffering in the world probably has something to do with God’s desire to share His love with free, self-aware creatures. The gospel tells us that when God became incarnated in Jesus Christ, He began undoing all the damage done by sin and evil. Jesus Christ experienced the agony of death and of hell to redeem us, prove His love, and give us the hope we need in a fallen world.

The place of suffering in a Christian’s life is illustrated by Paul’s condition as he described it in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. We don’t know exactly what his “thorn in the flesh” was, but it was likely a physical malady. Perhaps it was an eye problem. He spoke of the large letters he used in writing to the Galatians (Galatians 6:11). He also declared that the Galatians would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him (Galatians 4:13-15). Some have suggested that this may have been a chronic eye disease or an injury suffered when he was stoned in Lystra (Acts 14:19-20).

Perhaps the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what Paul’s “thorn” was so that those of us with various kinds of physical and spiritual problems can identify with him and experience the grace he was promised (2 Corinthians 12:9).

If it were left up to us, most of us would rather not share the suffering of our Savior. However, as in the case of Paul, God will reward us with strength and grace far beyond our imagination if we’re willing to trust and rest in Him (Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:5,9; Galatians 6:17; Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 4:13).  —Dan VanderLugt

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