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GUEST SERMON: Understanding suffering in today's world

In this week’s guest sermon, Major Rev. Tom Hamilton says that ultimately, whatever our age, each one of us shares the same purpose in life - to love God, and to love others.
In this week’s guest sermon, Major Rev. Tom Hamilton says that ultimately, whatever our age, each one of us shares the same purpose in life - to love God, and to love others. - 123RF Stock Photo

Rev. Douglas Rollwage
Special to The Guardian

“Drawing close to God in times of health and prosperity helps us recognise the presence and help of God in times of illness and deep need.”

I was in line at Tim’s when a fellow closed his newspaper in disgust, spotted my clerical collar and said, “How can you believe in God when such horrible things happen in our world?” It is sad that so many sources of his distress were possible: Was he reading about Syria? Iraq? Iran? Was he reacting to the fires in Australia? Or was it a personal illness, or a loved one stricken by cancer, which prompted his anger?

We tend to regard suffering of any kind as a cause to question God’s existence. However, we need to remember that both the existence and the goodness  of God was proclaimed by our ancestors in the faith, people who suffered illness, pain, epidemic, hardship, struggle, bereavement, to a degree unknown by us in our comfortable modern Western world. 

The Christian faith (and our parent faith Judaism) was articulated by people who had a profound experience of God in the midst of all of life, including much suffering. They did not ignore their suffering – how could they? But nor could they ignore the presence of God in their world and in their lives. Suffering came and (please God) went, but God remained. As Psalm 42 expresses:

“I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”

The Psalmist is suffering, is questioning God, but continues to cling to faith, nonetheless. As expressed over and again throughout the Bible, “Grief will come. Affliction is unavoidable. But God’s unfailing love never ends. It is new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.” 

How does faith help? My experience is that people of faith, when experiencing suffering, more readily recognize the presence of God sustaining them, supporting them, upholding them in and through their pain. This is the kind of person who, when we visit them in the hospital or the home, actually strengthen and encourage us; when we leave, we feel as though it is we who have been blessed by the visit. Drawing close to God in times of health and prosperity helps us recognise the touch and presence and help of God in times of illness and deep need. In our pain, in our hurt, in our heartache and distress, the knowledge of the love and presence of God can bring us through.

Where is God in the midst of our suffering? Where is God when it hurts?  Well, faith is there to remind us that in good times and in bad, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, God is with us, beside us, within us and, in his love, God will not let us go. Those who have come through the storm can tell you that God has made the difference, has made his presence known, has turned the curse of death to the promise of life. Together with Peter, they say to us, "The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever." (1 Peter 5:10-11 NIV) 
Amen.


Rev. Douglas Rollwage is the minister at Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown. A guest sermon runs regularly in Saturday’s Guardian and is provided through Christian Communications.

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