Session 4 - Why is there Suffering?
Aim: To explore Christian ideas as to why there is suffering in the world, and how we can stand against that suffering to bring parts of God’s Kingdom into the here and now.
Leaders note: Remember to be sensitive throughout this session, especially if you don’t know the participants well. We all have times in our lives when this question stops being abstract and becomes a real, personal, experience. For some people in your group, this may be a distant memory, or it could be what they are living through now. Remember this as you encourage your group to engage with this material.
Ask the group how we can tell what is good from bad in the world? Where do we get our definition of these things from?
- Your group may come up with a number of answers, or it may not be something they have thought about before. For some, it might be a well thought out philosophy, for others it might be an instinctive reaction to what’s around them. Both of these are important views, but explain that you want to dig a bit more into where those ideas come from for everyone.
- Explain that for each of us, our ideas come to us from a variety of places. Use the Background Noise handout (download from the bottom of the page) to get people to think about where they have developed these ideas.
- Introduce the video as offering a slightly different way to think about the problem of suffering.
Watch the video above or download the video at the bottom of the page.
Alongside this view of suffering in the Bible, it’s worth reminding ourselves that our world can seem far more full of pain and suffering than the world experienced by previous generations. This is for two reasons, which can combine to leave us in a cycle of anxiety and seeming powerlessness.
Ask your group if they can see how the following reasons combine to create a feedback loop which encourage us to see the world as spiraling out of control:
- Ours news apps, timelines, newsfeeds, etc are filled with bad news stories from all over the world, interspersed with catastrophic events which are updated for us as they unfold.
- These bad news stories are never resolved, we never hear about the end of them.
We hear a bad news story, then a bad news story, then a bad news story, but because we don’t hear how any of them finish, each of them is still going on in the background buzz of our minds.
On top of this, in the same way growing a tree takes years while chopping it down takes minutes, stories of progress are long term and gradual. The drop in infant mortality worldwide over the last 70 years is a good news story. Death by violence is far less likely in the world today than it was 50 years ago. Until a century ago, cities only grew because people moved to them from the countryside; the mortality rate was so high. These are all signs of significant, sustained, and meaningful progress, but most of us are unaware of them.
Ask the group: Are there any good news stories that you know about that you would like to share with the group?
Leaders Note: The above should not be taken to say we should be naïve and blasé about what is going on in the world. There is real suffering, pain and hardship going on, and we need to take seriously that there are places in the world where life is truly grim. The above should be offered as a balance to the view that the world is spiraling out of control, and that there are good things going on if we look.
At the same time as trying to take a balanced view of the good and bad in the world, Christians are called to work with God to bring goodness into the world. As described in the video, we need to remember who God is and walk alongside him like Abraham, rather than forget like Jonah.
But how do we find out what God wants us to do?
There are two parts to answering this question:
- How do we see what God wants us to see?
- How do we do what God wants us to do?
Have a look at the following Bible passages and decide if they are helping think about question 1 or question 2 above, and how challenging or reassuring they are about our role in the world.
After the group have spent some time with the passages above in small groups, come back together and gather your thoughts on them using the following questions as prompts.
- What is it about the world that God wants us to see clearly?
- What is it that God wants us to DO in the world?
Are there any steps the participants want to take off the back of this?
- Have the group think individually about whether they feel prompted by the things
discussed in this session to take any actions or make any changes. It’s not a problem if
there isn’t anything, but it would be good to feedback on anything you feel prompted
Print a world map for this next part of the activity. Have the group gather around the map, and explain that while we have been thinking about suffering and pain in the world, and how we can do our small bit to stand against it, it is only God who will bring suffering to an end for all time. Ask the group to highlight, either by speaking or by writing on the map, areas of the world that are particularly in the news at the moment because of the pain and suffering of the people there. Spend some time praying over the map for these places.
Once you have done so, pray over the group for God to go with them into the week and for them be prompted by God to see where they can work with Him to bring goodness and joy into the world as they go.
Next Session: Click Here
Session 4 Materials
Download Session Sheet
Download Session Video
Download Background Noise Sheet
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