Summary: Paul was a great sufferer of all kinds of unjust pain, and it was not because of sin, but because he was a servant of Christ.

One of the good things to come out of suffering is this: It forces

those who cannot see any sense in it to grapple with the mystery, and

strive to squeeze some meaning out of it. Almost everyone who writes

on suffering does so out of their own personal encounter with this

mysterious monster. In the book When It Hurts Too Much To Cry,

Jerry Fallwell begins with this account. He tells of Clifford who left his

good paying job to come to Lynchberg to study for the ministry. He

had a wife and two small sons. He was an excellent student, and

Fallwell was proud to have such a caliber of man in his school.

One Saturday night just after Cliff had finished with family

devotions someone fired a shotgun through the living room window

and Cliff was killed instantly. Fallwell arrived in a few minutes to see

the most senseless thing he had ever witnessed, and he could not help

but question God, and wonder why He would allow such a terrible

thing to happen. He gave it a great deal of thought, and the only

conclusion he could come to was that it is an unsolvable mystery with

no sense whatever on any level known to man. In the light of this

tragedy he rebukes those who deal with suffering superficially. He

writes, "I think Christian leaders often do their people a disservice

when they spout glib and shallow cliches to people going through some

of these dark experiences!"

There are many people who do this. He has had others in this same

category. One of their fine students was going home and picked up a

hitchhiker. The student was killed and dragged into the woods where

his body was found. He has other horror stories as well, but the point

is, you cannot look at the victims of serious suffering and not ask the

question why? The disciples of Jesus could not help but wonder when

they saw a man who had been blind from birth-why? Why would any

man have to enter the world never to see it? Why is there such

meaningless suffering? It is the most simple question to ask, but

unfortunately, the answer is not so simple.

The disciples see no profound complexity in the situation. They are

confident they have narrowed down the answer to one of two

alternatives. Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born

blind? Jesus could have taken either, and they would have been

satisfied, but instead, he took neither, and said it was not personal or

parental sin that caused this suffering. Jesus through a monkey

wrench of complexity into their simple solution to the problem of

suffering, and by so doing he taught them, and teaches us, one of the

most important principles we can learn on the subject of suffering.

The principle is this:


Show me a simple solution to the problem of suffering, and I will

show you a heresy that will fit neither the revelation of God, nor the

experience of man. Simple solutions are none the less the most popular

and widely held by the intelligent and ignorant alike. Here

are the disciples of Christ who are hand picked by the Master

Himself, and they view suffering with the same old worn out theory

held by the friends of Job. They assume that such a terrible fate as

being born blind had to be the result of somebody's sin. It was so

logical and obvious to them that they did not even see the cruelty of it.

They are asking, who is guilty for such an awful thing: His parents or

himself. In other words, who do we blame when this horrible reality.

What kind of parents must they have been to give birth to such a

monstrosity as a blind baby? Or what kind of a low life scoundrel

must he be that God would punish him at birth for the sins he foresaw

that he would commit?

I hope the disciples at least asked their question out of ear shot of

this poor blind man, for there are very few things more cruel than to

make suffering people feel guilty for their own suffering. Both the Old

Testament and the New Testament reject this theory to account for

suffering, and it is superficial, but it is still often promoted. Fallwell

tells of his personal friends Dr. and Mrs. Rudy Holland who

discovered their young son had a brain tumor. Surgery removed it,

but 11 months later it returned. This time it was much larger and

inoperable. They were told their son had less than a year to live. They

heard of a new technique developed at Boston Children's Hospital,

and they took their son there. The surgery led to all kinds of

complications, and he was in the hospital for months. He did

eventually come home but was kept alive by synthetic hormones.

Then a cyst that had formed ruptured, and he was in a coma for 32

days. After being out of it for a month he lapsed into it for another

month. He lost most of his memory and was going blind. Fallwell says

that you can't put into words the kind of suffering this family had to

endure. Imagine the cruelty of trying to figure out whose sin it is they

are suffering for.

We want life to be simple, and we want to have easy answers that

give meaning to life. We want life to be black and white where the

good guys are escaping suffering, and the bad guys are getting their

due reward of judgment. If life was only like the movies, but it is not,

and often the real life story has the bad guys getting by with murder,

and the good guys being the ones getting murdered. So it was with

Able, John the Baptist, Stephen, and on and on. Simple answers are

not always false, but they are so often foolish and cruel when applied

to specific situations.

Do people go blind because they mix up a pile of gun powder and

then light it? Of course they do. Do they go blind because they stare at

the Sun too long? Yes they do. People go blind for all kinds of foolish

things they do. They cause their blindness by the choices they make.

But to take what we know to be true and make it the truth, and apply

it to every blind person, is to be cruel. If we see a blind child and say, I

wonder what stupid thing this kid did to become blind, then we are the

ones being foolish. There are hundreds of reasons for why people are

blind. Those who assume that there is only one reason, and that is that

they did something evil or stupid, are a part of the problem in the

suffering of the world.

Simple answers are convenient, but they are often worthless or

cruel. Harold Kushner in his book When Bad Things Happen To

Good People writes, "I once read of an Iranian folk proverb, ' If you

see a blind man, kick him; why should you be kinder than God?' In

other words, if you see someone who is suffering, you must believe that

he deserves his fate and that God wants him to suffer. Therefore, put

yourself on God's side by shunning Him or humiliating Him further.

If you try to help him, you will be going against God's justice." It is

simple solutions like this that make so many religious people cruel and

without compassion. It is true that many people become stronger through their

suffering, and they become great examples of how it can strengthen

character. But it is a major mistake to try and apply this to somebody

else's tragedy. If a family just hears that their teenage daughter has

been killed in an auto accident, and you try to comfort them by saying

God wants to make you stronger, you are being cruel. You have no

business trying to interpret other people's suffering. If they ask you

for an opinion, you can share your theory, and they can take it or

leave it, but to impose your unasked interpretation on people based on

ignorance is to be a part of the problem. It is as foolish and superficial

as someone standing at the cross asking, who did sin, this man or his

parents that he should meet with such a violent end? This question

might fit the two thieves for they were suffering as a direct result of

their crimes, but Jesus was innocent. You can say that two out of

three ain't bad, but it is bad when you apply a simple solution to a

situation where it is superficial and does not fit the facts.

This was just what the friends of Job were doing for days, and they

were making his life miserable, and they were completely wrong. Now

the disciples are doing the same things with this poor blind man. They

were not so cruel as Job's friends, for they did not spend days rubbing

his nose in it, and making him feel guilty. But they believed the same

simple falsehood that all suffering is connected with specific sin. Old

errors die hard, if they ever die at all. They usually become so

ingrained in the minds of people that even after they are rejected they

continue to affect the attitudes.

The book of Job ends with God's rejection of Job's friends simple

solution to his suffering. It would have ended with God's judgment on

the friends had Job not interceded on their behalf. God was angry

with their superficiality which they so dogmatically defended. Now we

are seeing history repeating itself in our text. Jesus is again rejecting

the simple solution to specific suffering by saying it has no connection

with any specific sin in the sufferer or his parents. By doing this Jesus

shut down the number one most popular explanation for suffering of

all time. The vast majority of the human race has always clung to this

simple explanation of suffering, that it is the punishment for sin. Let's

consider why-


The reason for its popularity is its simplicity. It basically

eliminates the problem of suffering altogether. If all suffering is a

result of the sin of the one suffering, then where is the problem? All is

as it should be, and justice is being done, and all it fair. Everybody is

reaping what they have sown. Life is no mystery at all, but is perfectly

sensible and orderly.

That is why billions cling to the doctrine of reincarnation. It is the

simple solution to suffering perfected in a system. All that seems

unjust and unfair when innocent people suffer is easily explained.

They are suffering for sin in a previous life, and so there is no

problem. Every miserable situation you can imagine can be accepted

by these people, for even though they may be innocent babies who are

suffering, it all makes sense because they were sinful scoundrels in

their previous life, and their present tragedy is just what they deserve.

The simple solution allows people to live in the midst of horrible

suffering and feel no guilt when they don't lift a finger to help relieve

the pain, because everything is really just as it ought to be, for

suffering is the just punishment for sin. The simple solution eliminates

all mystery. There is nothing to wonder about and question, except

maybe, is it the sufferers sin or the parents sin that is being punished?

In other words, the simple solution is a denial of the problem of

suffering. There is no problem because there is no such thing as

innocent suffering. Once you eliminate the whole concept of innocent,

unjust, and unfair suffering you have, in essence, eliminated evil.

The one thing all simple solutions to suffering have in common is

that they deny the reality of evil. Like Christian Science they

conclude that evil is just the result of the wrong way of looking at

reality. If we look at it properly, they say there is no evil. Evil is an

error of the mind. Christians fall into the same trap when they try to

justify all suffering by quoting Rom. 8:28 and say, "All things work

together for good." They imply by that that all things are good, and

do not stop to realize that what they are doing is denying the reality of

evil. If all things are really good, then there is no such thing as evil.

This is pure heresy along with all the other simple solutions to

suffering. It calls evil good, and makes a mockery of all the suffering

innocent people have to do.

This theory makes it good for Judas to betray Jesus; good for

Christian men to have affairs; good for people to drink and drive

killing innocent people, and on and on we could go calling all evil good.

This, of course, will not stand up in the court of reality. Evil is real,

and the innocent do suffer, and there is no way to call it good. Rom.

8:28 is not saying that all is good. It is saying that God will not

abandon us to evil, but will in every situation, even the most evil, work

with us for good. But no matter what good comes out of the evil, it

does not justify the evil. Any theory that rejects the reality of evil is

not biblically valid, and that is what all simple solutions to suffering


What we need to see is that because something is true, it does not

mean it is the truth. This is what leads every simple solution to the

level of heresy. It is a partial truth exalted to the level of an absolute

where it becomes a falsehood. It is obvious that there is much truth to

the idea that sin leads to suffering. Adam and Eve lost paradise, and

began the suffering of the human race because of their sin and

violation of the will of God. There is no end to examples of how sin

leads to suffering. This simple solution, however, breaks down very

quickly when we see Abel being murdered by Cain. All of the sudden

we see the good guy dying while the bad guy lives. Now we have

innocent suffering, and the mystery of suffering begins. Abel did not

die because of his sin, but because of Cain's jealously. It was not good,

but evil, and it happened to a righteous man, and God did not stop it

or prevent it. The Bible very quickly thrusts us into the problem of

suffering, and just as quickly rejects the simple solution to suffering.

The greatest sufferer of all time was Jesus, and He was sinless. He

was the only truly innocent sufferer whoever lived. He suffered

completely because of the sins of others. John the Baptist was the

greatest born of woman in the Old Testament, but he was still a

sinner. But who would have the audacity to say he was beheaded in

his 30's by Herod because he deserved it? He died because of the sin

of others in their opposition to righteousness. Stephen, the first

Christian martyr, was also a young man and a righteous man. He

was still a sinner, but who would dare suggest that he was allowed to

be stoned by God because of sin in his life? This tragedy had nothing

to do with Stephen's sin. Maybe he did lose his tempter that week,

and maybe he had a struggle with envy or lust, or any number of sins,

but nothing could be more superficial than to suggest that his suffering

and death had anything to do with his personal sin.

The most popular solution to suffering of all time fails to make any

sense in these and millions of other situations. You will find it still

believed in high places, however. The minds of the Apostles were sold

on it until Jesus set them straight. Jesus said the blind man was not

blind because of his sin or the sin of his parents, but that the work of

God might be made manifest in his life. What a shock this was to the

disciples. Here was a man who was not sinless, but his sin had nothing

to do with his blindness. This is true of most people who are blind, and

most people who have any disease, handicap, or affliction. The reason

we have compassion on these people in Christian lands is because we

have rejected the idea that people suffer because of their sin. We

recognize that they are victims of evil, and do not deserve their

suffering. If they did deserve it, then all of our Christian compassion

that tries to relieve their suffering would be putting us in opposition to

God's will.

This being the case, we need to reject another major false concept

that grows out of the simple solution of suffering. If all suffering is due

to sin, then it follows that the innocent will not suffer. If all suffering

is the deserved punishment for sin, there will be no suffering on the

part of those who do not deserve it. In other words, the simple

solution promises freedom from suffering to the innocent and the

righteous. This is the very thing which the Bible does not promise.

The simple solution denies the reality of evil, and that the innocent

suffer. The Bible, however, reveals that much suffering is unjust and

unfair. Peter preaches the Gospel and 3,000 souls come to Christ.

Stephen preaches the same Gospel and 3,000 stones come flying at him

to knock the life out of him. One gets souls, and the other gets stones.

There is nothing fair about this. Many innocent people suffer the

pains of life and do recover, but many do not, and the simple solution

does not deal with this aspect of reality. It ignores it, and that is why it

is so superficial. It is blind to unjust and innocent suffering.

The Bible does not ignore this reality. It makes it clear that this will

be a major battle of life. God does not promise that life will be fair. In

fact, He promises that it will be very unfair because of the power of

evil. All He promises is that He will be fair, and that those who endure

the unjust suffering of life will be greatly rewarded. Jesus says we can

even be glad and rejoice in unjust suffering for we know that our

reward in heaven will be great. Jesus prepared his disciples to expect

to suffer for being righteous. It was just the opposite of the simple

solution that relates suffering to sin. He said much suffering will be

related to not sinning, and they will be persecuted because of their

being godly and not going along with the unholiness of the world. All

through history Christians have had to suffer just for being what God

wanted them to be.

Christians have come to believe that they have some kind of

promise to be protected from the trials and tragedies of life. This

view leads to rebellion and rejection of God when it is proven false by

serious suffering. A mother who lost a son in battle wrote this to her

pastor. "I never intend to step inside a church again. It has failed me.

It has lied to me. It has taught me to believe that God would take care

of my boy and bring him back in safety as I prayed. I have prayed.

My boy is dead. What do you have to say to me now? I hate God. He

cannot be trusted." This has happened to millions of people who have

swallowed the simple solution to suffering. They believe that only the

sinful will suffer. The innocent and godly will escape suffering. When

reality comes crashing in on them they blame God. Their false ideas

of God lead them to be angry at God when they should be angry at

themselves for neglecting to read everything God has revealed in His

Word, which is a promise that in this world you will suffer.

The simple solution to suffering has created more atheists than any

other tool of the devil that I am aware of. You read the works of the

great unbelievers, and you find that the god they are angry at is the

god that is created by the false and superficial ideas of suffering.

When this spider web of theory cannot hold the weight of reality, they

reject God for not keeping promises He never made. A good portion

of the world's suffering is caused by this simple solution to suffering.

People believe it is the truth, and when it turns out to be a lie they

blame God. Mark Twain wrote a whole book blaming God for the

rotten things in this world. He was raised to believe that God would

not allow bad things to happen to good people. When he grew up and

saw it wasn't so, he rejected God. Nobody had any right to give that

false concept of God to any child. It is a lie, and it will lead to the

rejection of God who is the only ultimate answer to the problem of


False ideas about suffering are the cause of much suffering. I agree

with J. B. Philips who wrote about the false idea that godly people will

not suffer. He writes, "It seems to me that a great deal of

misunderstanding and mental suffering could be avoided if this

erroneous idea were exposed and abandoned. How many people who

fall sickly say, either openly or to themselves, "Why should this

happen to me? I've always lived a decent life."

"There are even people who feel that God has somehow broken His

side of the bargain in allowing illness or misfortune to come upon

them. But what is the bargain? If we regard the New Testament as

our authority, we shall find no such arrangement being offered to

those who open their lives to the living Spirit of God. They are indeed

guaranteed that nothing, not even the bitterest persecution, the worst

misfortune, the death of the body, can do them any permanent harm

or separate them from the love of God. They are promised that no

circumstance of earthly life can defeat them in spirit and that the

resources of God are always available for them. Further, they have

the assurance that the ultimate purpose of God can never be defeated.

But the idea that if a man pleases God then God will especially shield

him belongs to the dim twilight religion and not to Christianity at all."

The fact is, the godly often suffer even more than the ungodly. The

poet put it,

The rain falls on the just and unjust fella,

And sometimes more on the just,

for the unjust

Steals the just's umbrella.

There is no promise that life will be fair, but only that God will.

Jesus says in Luke 21:16-17, "You will be betrayed by parents,

brothers, relatives and friends and they will put some of you to death.

All men will hate you because of me." That is not much of a promise

of a fair life. But then in the next verse Jesus says, "But not a hair of

your head will parish." This is His way of saying that its an unfair

world, and unjust suffering is inevitable, but in God's ultimate plan no

child of His will lose one minute thing because of the power of evil.

Jesus says in John 16:2, "A time is coming when anyone who kills

you will think he is offering a service to God." Jesus did not hold back

any punches. He told His disciples there were no guarantees that they

would escape anything by following Him. He ends the chapter by

saying in verse 33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may

have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I

have overcome the world." Jesus was so realistic about life, and that

is why He promised trouble. But He was also reassuring, for He

promised final victory and present peace in Him.

Paul was a great sufferer of all kinds of unjust pain, and it was not

because of sin, but because he was a servant of Christ. He writes in II

Cor. 11:23-29 that he was in prison frequently, had been flogged often,

been exposed to death many times, received whippings, and was

beaten with rods, once was stoned, three times shipwrecked, and

suffered frequent dangers and pressures. Who sinned, was it Paul or

his parents that he should have to suffer so much pain? The simple

solution to suffering will gladly accept either alternative just as long as

sin is the cause of his suffering. The biblical answer, however, is like

the answer of Jesus concerning the blind man. The answer he gave is

neither. Paul's suffering was unfair and unjust, and not punishment

for sin. It was the price he paid to do the will of God in taking the good

news of salvation to a lost world.

Are we to conclude that suffering is not due to sin, but instead due

to being an opponent to sin, as Paul was? Not at all, for this would be

to replace one simple solution with another, and when it comes to

suffering all simple solutions are superficial.