Why Do Good People Suffer?
Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when all kinds of trials come your way, for you know that when your faith succeeds in facing such trials, the result is the ability to endure … so that you may be complete, lacking nothing. James 1: 2, 3, 4
There is no follower of Christ who is not at times perplexed by the suffering of good men and women. When we see a bad person suffer, we can interpret it as punishment for sin. So if an evil person contracts a painful and fatal illness while still young, if their house burns to the ground, if they lose their wealth in some dishonest transaction, we feel that justice is being done. But if a good person falls fatally ill in their youth, if an honest and hardworking person becomes destitute, we are indignant. We cannot understand how God can permit such injustice.
Our indignation arises from superficial knowledge. We look at pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, in shallow, material terms. Yet a good person, even if undergoing great physical distress, still senses the serene peace of God deep within their soul. The loyal disciple of Christ who is compelled to live in poverty knows that they are sharing the poverty of Christ. And the Scriptures assure us that in poverty and in agony the soul of Christ knew the heavenly joy of God.
When a person who is both good and young is struck down it causes particular distress. One such person was the Northumbrian King Oswald. A generation after his death, when new Christians in the south of England were devastated by plague, God used his example to transform a dying boy and bring faith to bear on the problem of innocent suffering. The onset of plague prompted the monastery to begin a vigil of fasting and prayer. On the second day of the vigil two apostles appeared to this small boy and said ‘Do not let the fear of death trouble you. We are going to take you to the heavenly kingdom… Call the priest and tell him the Lord has heard your prayers and not one more person from the monastery or the estates linked to it will die of this plague; all sufferers will be restored. God has granted this in response to the prayers of the saintly King Oswald. It was on this very day that he was slain in battle and taken to heaven’. All this came to pass. The boy died in bliss, and the faith of the people grew stronger.
Lord, help me offer to you
the gift of deep but not bitter suffering