God's Prescription for Suffering: Conversion and Community


Somewhere Western Christians got the idea that God's favor means a life free of conflict and sorrow. How many people have left a church because of the conflict they saw in the congregation? They say things like, "We can't worship here knowing what is going on." "I can't be in the same room with those people. They hurt me." Those with a consumer or entitlement mentality declare, "I must have my needs met."

Great Christian leaders have been able to help people see the world the way God sees it: broken. The order of the world has been damaged, which includes everything in the physical realm. When a tornado rips a town to shreds or a tsunami sweeps thousands away, it is part of the curse, the destruction of the paradise that once was. When the scholar and athlete gets killed in a drive-by shooting, or the wonderful Christian young man is taken because of brain cancer, it all falls under the deconstruction of humankind and earth. These are the times when people must choose between a story of doubt and darkness or a story of hope and promise.

Conversion is key to a person's ability to come to terms with the conflict and evil in the world. Dr. Kenneth J. Surin, professor of literature at Duke University, put it this way:

So it is conversion—which comes about when the human will co-operates with divine grace—that solves the "problem of evil."... The unconverted person's endeavors to resolve the "problem of evil," no matter how sincere and intellectually gifted this person might be, are doomed ultimately to be self-defeating. Only faith in Christ makes possible the cleansing of our vision, a cleansing regarded by Augustine as the necessary preliminary to the vision of God.... Without [such] conversion, the very process of seeking an answer the question "whence is evil?" will be undermined by the distorted thinking of a crippled intellect.[1]

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As to what Christians are to do with the problem of evil, Stanley Hauerwas noted, "Christians do not have a 'solution' to the problem of evil. Rather they have a community of care that has made it possible for them to absorb the destructive terror of evil that constantly threatens to destroy all human relations.”[2] Christian leaders must lead others though the philosophical and emotional jungle that is life. While the church may not have a satisfying intellectual answer to suffering, it does provide a loving community to help absorb the shock and trauma of such events. As we lead people through confusing and troubled times, they find comfort in conversion to Christ and in agreement with his ways of thinking.


[1] Kenneth Surin, Theology and the Problem of Evil (New York: Blackwell, 1986), 11.

[2] Stanley Hauerwas, Naming the Silences (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 53.

 Written by Bill Hull

 Taken from The Christian Leader by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Robert W. Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

 Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash