“How Can A Loving God Allow Suffering?” by Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell

How Can A Loving God Allow Suffering?

By Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell

Scripture Readings: Hebrews 2:1-18

Key Verses: Hebrews 2:9-10, 14, 17-18

“But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”

“Since then the children share in the flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.”

“Therefore, he had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”

As a healthcare worker and a Christian, I have struggled with this question of suffering and why the God I know to be so loving can allow it. And while I don’t have all the answers and cannot know entirely why God allows it, these scriptures have some bearing on the issue and offer me some comfort. I have worked in hospitals and rehabilitation centers for years and for some time worked with low-functioning individuals who have had traumatic brain injuries and strokes, sometimes people who were dying, and often patients who were in pain. It has been especially difficult for me to observe patients in pain or disabled to such a degree that suffering was chronic and for whom management felt hardly adequate. Caregivers have to detach for self-protection and to be able to do the business of helping, but caregivers are human, too.

I remember sometimes leaving the room of a patient for whom I had this compassion and shedding a covert tear or two, not wanting the patient to see me cry, not wanting my co-workers to see me vulnerable, but being grateful for a “human moment,” not being so detached as not to feel. Sometimes I felt helpless, that I could do nothing—at least I could pray. Many times, all I could do was pray.

This came close to home for me this week when my husband was in dire pain and waiting for an ambulance after falling on the ice, dislocating and fracturing his shoulder. All I could do was stay out of the way and pray. At least I could pray to a loving God and I believed his angels would minister to us as needed. When the ambulance came, I was asked to stay in the cab with the driver while one of the EMTs kept my husband as comfortable as possible in the back. I didn’t know until we arrived at the hospital ER that Paul hadn’t been given any pain medicine and when I asked about it, I learned that the EMTs were not certified yet to give medication, had requested Advanced Life Support backup but were denied. I saw the pained look and compassion in the EMTs’ eyes as they told me this, and although they didn’t say so, I believed that they had silently prayed along with me for my husband’s pain relief. Sometimes only God can help.

Because Jesus suffered, because he lived as a human with a flesh and blood body, I believe that he suffers with us in these moments, that he knows and understands our pain and suffering. I believe he grieves with us. I feel comforted that he understands what we go through. I feel comforted that he sends relief and when relief does not come to my satisfaction and I don’t feel that suffering is abated, I have to believe that sometimes the angels are attending without my being aware. While I believe that God allows the Devil “the power of death,” I believe that Jesus controls life and is the final victor because of his own death on the cross where he atoned for our transgressions so that when we are “brought to glory,” we will suffer no more.

So for whatever reason he allows suffering for now, in the end, Jesus wins. And we win with him. There will be no more pain. There will be no more tears. There will be no more suffering.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, in remembrance of you, I pray that I will always be mindful of the blood you shed and how your body was broken for me—have mercy upon me. Amen.

By Paul Simrell

The Reverend Paul W. Simrell has served for over thirty years in a variety of congregational and institutional settings. He is a recognized minister with standing in the Virginia region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada and is nationally endorsed by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for specialized ministry in both pastoral counseling and chaplaincy. Ordained in 1982, he has served congregations in Kentucky, Texas, Florida, and Virginia. He currently serves as the pastor of Elpis Christian Church, a small, historic congregation located just a few miles west of Richmond, Virginia. Elpis is the Greek word meaning “expectant hope.” He also serves on the associate clinical staff of the Virginia Institute of Pastoral Care, Richmond, Virginia, both as a pastoral counselor and a ministerial assessment specialist, specializing in executive, clergy and relationship coaching. He is a graduate of the University of Florida and Lexington Theological Seminary and has done advanced clinical training in chaplaincy and pastoral counseling at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, Children’s Medical Center and Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas and the Virginia Institute of Pastoral Care in Richmond, Virginia. He is a Certified Pastoral Counselor, an ACPE Practitioner, and a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He is a Certified Facilitator of the Prepare-Enrich relationship assessment and skills-building program and served as a volunteer chaplain for over twenty years with the CJW Medical Center campuses in Richmond, Virginia. His avocational interests include playing the piano and drawing. He is very happily married to his wife Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell, a free-lance writer, who is also a Certified Facilitator for the Prepare-Enrich program. Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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