Suffering: Why do some suffer more than others?

This is a one part answer to the question, “Why do some suffer more than others?” in the larger series of answering the question, “How can a loving God allow suffering?”

In 1994, Rwanda’s population of seven million was significantly reduced through genocide. This started in the early 1990s when Hutu extremists, along with Rwanda’s politically elite, blamed the Tutsi minority population for the country’s social, economic, and political turmoil. The Hutus had come to power in the 1959-1962 rebellion. Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was the president and through political maneuvering, he remained in control of this divided country.

In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group, composed mostly of Tutsi refugees, invaded northern Rwanda from Uganda in an attempt to defeat the Hutu-led government. The Hutus in power claimed that the RPF sought to re-enslave them, and a cease-fire was established on August 4, 1993 by means of the Arusha Accords.

On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying President Habyarimana was shot down. Violence began almost immediately. Hutu extremists launched plans to destroy the entire Tutsi civilian population. Opponents of the Hutu extremist plans were killed immediately. Tutsi and those suspected of being Tutsi were killed in their homes and as they tried to flee at roadblocks set up across the country. Entire families were killed at a time. Women were systematically and brutally raped. There were estimates of 200,000 killed during the Rwandan genocide. With the peace agreement ended, the Tutsi RPF restarted their offensive, defeating the army and seizing control of the country.

In the course of 100 days, 800,000 men, women, and children died in this second wave of violence in Rwanda. At the same time, thousands of Hutu, along with those who would identify with the Hutu extremists, were murdered because they opposed the killing campaign.

How did this genocide happen? It resulted from the hatred and fear promoted by the Hutu elite, primarily for personal power. This small, privileged group set the majority against the minority to counter growing political opposition within Rwanda. They believed that the extermination campaign would reinstate the solidarity of the Hutu under their leadership and help them win the war, or at least improve their chances of negotiating a favorable peace. When they seized control of the state, they used their authority to carry out the massacre. The civil war and genocide ended when the Tutsi-dominated rebel group, the RPF, defeated the Hutu regime and President Paul Kagame took control. Why have the people of Rwanda suffered so much more than many others?

There are many who seem to suffer more than others.  Joni Eareckson Tada represents the National Organization of Disability and reports that 54 million Americans are affected by disability. She writes, “This number does not take into account the additional millions of family members who are touched by their loved one’s disablement.”1 How do you measure that amount of suffering?

James Neathery, in his chapter on “Global Suffering,” quoted Robert Seiple, “…some people do suffer more than others, especially children, women, and the poor…Every day thirty-two thousand children under the age of five die of diseases long eradicated in the West. That is “like a hundred 747s chock full of children crashing and burning outside a major airport, without survivors, each and every day.” This statistic does not include the suffering families who witness these deaths, nor does it tell the other consequences these deaths have on society.2

As we have just learned from the Rwanden account, some countries are inflicted with suffering more than others. Malaysia is another country that was inundated with it when devastated by the 2004 tsunami. And there are many, many other places in the world where much anguish occurs. In all countries there are spouses who choose drug addiction, so some entire families suffer more than others. Then you have thousands who face broken marriages. Is the extra suffering because they deserve it or is God imposing this on them?3

However, the person who is reading this page may think he suffers more than anyone else. When we go through it, the pain, anguish, turmoil and confusion is often more than we want to bear and that sends the needle of suffering off the Richter scale! Consider David’s psalm,

O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your wrath, Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure! 2 For Your arrows pierce me deeply, and Your hand presses me down. 3 There is no soundness in my flesh Because of Your anger, nor any health in my bones because of my sin. 4 For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. 5 My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness. 6 I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. 7 For my loins are full of inflammation, and there is no soundness in my flesh. 8 I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart. (Ps. 38:1-8 NKJ)

His burden was heavy, his wounds were festering and he was broken and groaning.

Discussion Questions:

1)    Who are examples of people who suffer more than others?

2)    Are there certain wounds or offenses that people suffer from more than others?

3)    Job, suffered more than his friends, yet how did his friends treat him?

4)    How do you help those with the “Woe is me!” condition? What Scripture would bring clarity and comfort?

5)    How can God be a “God of hope” in difficult situations? From what Scripture would you derive patience, mercy and perseverance? How can you come alongside someone suffering in these ways?

1Tada, Joni Eareckson, “A Biblical Diversity-Ministry Perspective,” in Why, O God? p. 25. Also see National Organization on Disability, access October 15, 209, http://nod.org. See Jack McNeil, “Americans with Disabilities: Current Population Reports,” U.S. Census Bureau Demographic Programs (February 2001):70-73.

2Neathery, James, quoted from Robert Seiple, “The Hidden Faces of Suffering,” Review of Faith and International Affairs 3 (Winter 2004–2005):1, “Global Suffering,” in Why, O God? p. 249.

3Some describe this concept as Retribution Theology or even Recompense Theology, which is defined as deserved reward or punishment that comes to an obedient or offending party when a divine requirement, agreement, verbal promise, or covenant is kept or broken up. Larry Waters, Why, O God, p. 150.

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