There are lots of reasons to question why a loving God would allow suffering. During my recent studies, I’ve frequently noticed the cycle of God’s judgement and how closely it is related to suffering (After I realized this trend, I found a prayer from several months ago asking to better understand God’s judgement. I don’t think it’s a coincidence). From my observations, God gives everyone an opportunity to choose him, but not wishing to violate free will, he also gives the opportunity to choose something else. In an effort to show how the something else is not what will really give the people fulfillment, he issues some kind of discipline, whether its delivering the people over to the natural consequences of their sin or an act of punishment such as defeat in war, plagues, etc. If the people repent, God restores them. If they don’t, he “hardens their heart”, which is difficult to understand. Right now, I think of it as if the people have rejected God so much that if God offered anything else to them, it would involve violating free will.
All of this to say that one reason I believe God allows suffering is to turn us back to him. But what about the suffering of someone who is already faithful? Is every time of pain some kind of punishment or call from God to repent? That idea has little to no capacity to produce comforting words for someone else during a time of suffering.
The first few verses of 2nd Corinthians helped show me another dimension of suffering. I don’t think it is necessarily an explanation for why there is suffering, but I do think it shows how God can still be a loving God despite what he allows to happen to his children. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (v. 3-5).
Beautiful. Not just the words, but the plan behind them. God is our ultimate comfort because he can relate to our suffering. He already experienced the worst kind of suffering– sacrificing your blameless Son for people who may or may not choose to accept the benefit of that sacrifice. Even if we don’t understand all the “whys”, we do know that God’s plan included being able to comfort us no matter what we experience. That is powerful, faithful, boundless love. Later in the passage, Paul provides a reason for his personal suffering “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v.9). The added emphasis, “who raises the dead” is a powerful reminder that our God can do anything and is absolutely trustworthy to rely on. To have a being much more powerful than we can understand be available and willing to comfort us during suffering, that is love. Not an imperfect, fearful love that protects us from suffering (because it is scared that we will no longer love if we do have pain) but a perfect and fulfilling love that is not only faithful to offer us a chance to turn back when we sin but abounding in comfort when there seems to be no explanation for our suffering.