In my work as a hospice chaplain, I am sometimes asked the question, “Why does God allow suffering?” There is no easy answer. Each of us have seen suffering in our own lives and that of our loved ones that often leads to resulting in the same question. There is no easy answer as to why suffering exists in our world. Even as a “person of faith,” I have asked these questions when I have seen suffering in my own life and work.
Suffering comes in many forms. There is spiritual suffering that result in conflict with one’s religious beliefs. There is emotional suffering due to the loss of a relationship (spouse, child, or friend). Financial suffering is the result of job loss or personal assets. Finally, there is physical suffering due to disease or injury that can lead to death.
Suffering is an intensely personal experience. It reminds me of one man whom I visited on hospice care. He was bed-bound, unable to take care of himself and believed he was a “burden” to his family. He was frustrated and said to me, “I didn’t know it would be this hard to die.” This man was seeking answers as to why he was suffering so.
Those who are suffering may frequently seek to find meaning and answers to questions that cannot be easily answered. Another man whom I visited on a regular basis, suffered from a long-term, debilitating illness that made him immobile. On more than one occasion, he openly wept as he asked me, “What did I do to deserve this?” He firmly believed he was being punished in some way.
Suffering is often accompanied by spiritual distress. There is a direct correlation between one’s religious beliefs and how a person views their suffering. Some view suffering as a form of God’s testing. Others may view suffering as punishment from God.
What should our response be when we experience suffering? There are no easy answers but here are some guidelines:
- Realize that you are not alone.
- Questioning God is not a sign of weakness. Questioning God in the midst of suffering may lead to strengthening your faith and your resolve.
- Seek help when necessary. Accept it kindly. Share your thoughts, feelings with a pastor, chaplain, or a friend.
- All suffering that we experience is only temporary. There is always hope and “a light at the end of the tunnel!”
- Finally, laugh when you have the chance, cry when you need to, and hold close the ones you love.
About the author
Curtis Freed is a Spiritual Care Counselor for Harbor Hospice. He is a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) with the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC). Prior to joining Harbor Hospice, he worked as a chaplain at Mercy VNS & Hospice for 3 years. In addition, he worked as a chaplain for Spectrum Health at Butterworth and Blodgett Hospitals for 8 years. He is a graduate of Liberty University (1987) and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (1990).
Harbor Hospice serving the West Michigan lake shore. Their agency has provided hospice care and support programs to residents in a five-county area for over 35 years.