December 17, 2010

Evil & Suffering VI: Illness, Death & Bereavement

As you would expect from a cursed and fallen world, things deteriorate and/or die. Man is subject to futility and is subject to physical death. People have to die somehow and often, these deaths are not pretty (as I can attest to and so can others). Some of them are downright horrible and suffering is often a part of that process. Suffering that affects not only the dying but also those around those approaching their demise. The dying suffers the physical, mental and psychological anguish. Those around that care for or love the dying suffer psychologically and in some psychosomatic cases, physically also. Some of the causes are disease cause through the natural order of things. How diseases kill differs from person to person. Some kill quickly while others will need to endure more before passing on. Some people may die or suffer in more dramatic fashion such as in earthquakes, fires, storms, etc. Had the creation not fallen we must assume that death from natural processes wouldn’t have contributed to death. The conclusion that I come to in this situation is the natural evil came from The Fall. Outside of illness and disease or death by natural causes there are the deaths by accidents or murder or the deliberate taking of life by another human being.

Regardless of the exit method there are the family members and loved ones that get left behind. These people also suffer mostly in the form of mental distress over the loss. Since the process of death is a process common to all mankind I will not belabor the point. It is only the manner of demise that generally differs from person to person. The fact that we know we will all die does not make the actual event any easier and this is where there is commonality between all people of all worldviews. To me the most comforting and consistent worldview that explains why this process needs to take place is Christianity. If there had been no sin, there would be no death. There was sin and now we all have numbered days and the potential to suffer significantly. Death is not pretty. As a matter of fact slow ones are downright ugly.

The truth is we should not see death as a punishment as the unbelieving world does. As believers of and in Christ we should see it as a threshold to a new existence. It is a final step to glorification in the Lord not an ultimate symbol of life’s unfairness and cruelty. Death to all people has been ordained by God. It is appointed to man to die once just as Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment~Hebrews 9:27

We need to understand that not only is God present with people when they die, usually He has preordained the chain or events that have led up and included the person’s suffering and death. In other words God not only knows about the manner of suffering and death, He allowed it and may have even caused it for His purposes. We must never forget God is sovereign and nothing happens in His creation without Him knowing it or allowing it to happen.

People have a right to be outraged by death...but not towards God. That outrage should be directed at the sin and evil that is the underlying cause. Our emotion is often not directed correctly and we blame the answer to the problem for the problem. Death is ultimately God setting a limit on beings that wanted to be gods. Death shows them once and for all not only are they not gods but they need to be dependent on God to get through to eternal life. It is only through humbling one’s self and stripping one’s self of any position and turning it all over to God that one is then in a state permissible to enter God’s presence (Carson 98-99).

Finally, we must realize that dying is God’s megaphone. Nothing scares a person or moves them to think about their mortality or finiteness more intensively than when they are forced to stare at death head-on or endure suffering before death. This effect is so powerful that it can move people to repentance or force them to see the big picture even when it is not them suffering. Sometimes the obsever of the suffering or death are profoundly affected also. I can again speak from personal experience that this is true. Watching my father linger over a 30 day period writhing in pain until he was put into palliative care and given a morphine drip…well, it would’ve been agonizing psychologically for any compassionate observer. For a loved-one or son (me) to observe this…was traumatizing.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I can now understand what others will go through in this situation of suffering. In the case of my father it needs to be considered a very bad situation if not a worst-case scenario. This in turn will equip me to counsel others through this painful ordeal and give them hope in a situation that, at times, appears quite hopeless. Here we see God using suffering, pain and evil to a greater good. Blessed be His name.


Anonymous said...

This post is very timely for me. My wife's daughter died at age 27 a few months ago. Yesterday was her birthday. My wife's grief also affects her fondness for Christmas. I am surprised that she has not been railing, "Why did God let this happen?"

While I'm at it, I'll ask for prayers for her, and for me to have patience and wisdom in dealing with the situation. Thanks.

Andy Pierson said...

I'll pray for your family as I have just lost my father and I understand pain. After a certain threshold...pain is just pain and to give a number or intesity to quantify it is pointless. It just hurts beyond words. May the Holy Spirit comfort you & your family at this sentimental time of year knowing you have suffered this type of loss.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Andy. Those of us who have experienced things... 2 Cor. 1.3-7

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