Coming: An End to Suffering

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An End to Suffering

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An eerie silence hangs over the room. Chairs separated by curtains line the walls. Every seat is occupied. Men and women, old and middle-aged, sit quietly. Each patient is con- nected to a plastic tube that drips powerful chemicals into veins in his arm. Most of the people are bald. One has had a leg amputated just below the knee. An elderly man struggles to his feet, his spindly legs trembling. Another quickly takes his place.

The process is called chemotherapy. It is multiple biochemical drug therapy that doctors routinely prescribe to destroy tumor cells after cancer surgery.

Chemotherapy destroys fast-growing cells throughout the body, including cancer cells, which keep reappearing as the disease spreads. Doctors monitor each patient's response and the growth of cancer cells to determine the details of appropriate treatment. Chemo, as it is called, is a fact of life for many cancer patients battling the disease.

Carol lives in a small town in Oregon. Her daughter drives her 150 miles for weekly treat ments. The trip takes four hours one way. From 9 in the morning until 1 in the afternoon, Carol is hooked up to a device that trickles the chemi cals into her system to fight her pancreatic can cer. Carol's treatment cycle calls for two weeks of treatment, then a three-week reprieve.

As with many forms of medical treatment, side effects are a problem. They include weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, pain along the vein of infusion, anorexia, diarrhea, constipation, flulike symptoms, fever, headache, inflammation of the mouth's mucous tissue and multiple lacerations and fissures in the mouth. Anemia and dermatitis are common delayed reactions.

Chemotherapy lowers the white-cell count and calcium levels and the platelets in the blood that normally enable clotting. Other side effects are destruction of functional liver tissue and bone marrow suppression as well as harmful pul monary, renal and central-nervous-system effects.

Loss of hair is another heartbreaker. Carol's long blond tresses are gone, replaced by short gray hair that has no chance to lengthen between chemotherapy sessions. She has good days when she feels well enough to spend time doing light work in her yard. Other times are more difficult and painful for her. The cancer, the chemotherapy and the other medications all cause discomfort and pain.

Diseases of the West

Cancer is a leading cause of death in Western nations. In the United States nearly half a mil lion people die of cancer every year. Yet it is not the No. 1 cause of death.

Heart disease is the biggest killer, claiming 700,000 lives annually.

Worldwide, an estimated 400 million people suffer from mental or neurological disorders or from other problems such as alcohol and drug abuse. Many suffer in silence and alone. Besides physical symptoms, the emotions of fear, guilt and shame accompany these problems.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), almost 13.8 million Americans over the age of 17 have problems with drinking. Alcohol is said to contribute to 100,000 deaths annually. The NCADD estimates that 43 percent of U.S. adults (76 million people) have been exposed to alcoholism by growing up with or being married to a problem drinker or alcoholic.

Epidemics in poor nations

Other diseases affect large segments of the population in poor countries.

AIDS continues to exact a staggering toll. Since AIDS (acquired immunodefi ciency syndrome) was identified 20 years ago, nearly 58 million people have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), also called the AIDS virus. Of those, almost 22 million have died and more than 36 million are still alive, according to December 2000 figures released by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The report reveals that AIDS deaths reached a record three million in 2000 and that new HIV infections continued mostly unchecked, with an estimated 5.3 million adults and children becoming infected last year. UNAIDS estimates that 34.7 million adults and 1.4 million children under the age of 15 live with the AIDS virus.

The report reveals that the steepest increase in AIDS in 2000 was recorded in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, where the number of new HIV infections, 50,000, surpassed all previous years' HIV infections combined. In all of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the number of the HIV-infected rose by almost two thirds from 1999 to 2000, from 420,000 to an estimated 700,000.

In India estimates place HIV infections in the country at around four million, more than in any other country.

Will medical science eliminate disease?

The world is racked with suffering. Peo- ple's pain and suffering are documented daily on TV news and the front page of your newspaper. Crime, domestic violence, wars and terrorism inflict pain and death on millions of victims. Agonizing, crippling injuries and accidental fatalities on the job, in the home and on the highways add to the toll. Famine and hunger result in widespread agony, especially in poverty stricken countries.

We're all too familiar with suffering, from minor ailments to chronic, life-threatening conditions. Why is life fraught with pain? Will we ever see an end to suffering?

In recent years researchers have made much progress in pain relief. But such respites are not available to everyone, especially in poor nations. Even those who can afford pain medications experience only temporary, limited relief. Living with pain remains a daily burden for millions.

Recent medical breakthroughs offer some hope for victory over debilitating diseases. The highly touted Genome Project (The Good News, July-August 2000) offers fundamental information through genetic "mapping" that may lead to more-effective treatment and even prevention of disease.

However, this prospect presumes that learning how diseases form on the genetic level will lead to methods of prevention. At best this will take time. Even the most opti mistic proponents admit that it will take years before any such results will be forth coming. For the foreseeable future the costs of such high-tech treatments will limit the benefits to a small number of patients.

Man cannot end suffering

Many residents of big cities live in fear of violent crimes—murder, rape, robbery and other assaults. Though crime rates fluctuate widely, neither technology nor educational programs have eliminated its scourge. The same can be said for war. In spite of the prolif eration of treaties and peace talks, wars con tinue, and terrorism remains a constant threat.

Some 2,700 years ago the prophet Isaiah predicted a time of peace when people "shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; [and] nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).

In 1961 the United States and the Soviet Union announced a plan to achieve that goal. The Soviets introduced the idea at the United Nations General Assembly in 1959. On Sept. 20, 1961, John McCloy of the United States and Valerian Zorin represent ing the Soviet Union signed the Joint Statement of Agreed Principles for Disar mament Negotiations, which stated that "disarmament is general and complete and war is no longer an instrument for settling international problems."

A garden at United Nations headquarters in New York City contains a sculpture called Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares, donated by the Soviet Union in 1959. Made by Evgeniy Vuchetich, the bronze statue represents the figure of a man holding a hammer in one hand and, in the other, a sword that he is beating into a plowshare. The statue symbolizes man's desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all mankind. Yet it stands as a mute testi mony to man's inability to accomplish these lofty goals.

Neither science nor education, nor any human agency, can end suffering. The best man can offer is limited, temporary relief. The causes of pain are too widespread and deeply rooted to yield to the efforts of human endeavor. A world free from anguish would seem to be an impossible dream.

Good news from the Bible

The bad news for the world today is but a prelude to the good news of the world tomorrow, when that impossible dream will become reality.

In a lengthy prophecy recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, Jesus Christ warned that suffering and death from wars, famines, disease epidemics and natural disasters will continue to plague mankind and reach a crescendo at "the end of the age." The book of Revelation gives vivid, detailed descriptions of unimaginable misery and death. But beyond this time of unprece dented suffering, the Bible prophesies a utopian world.

The scenario portrayed by the UN statue depicts only one part of the prophecy recorded in Isaiah 2. This chapter reveals that universal disarmament and peace will not come through human-initiated efforts, agreements and treaties, but as a result of learning and living by the laws of God (Isa iah 2:2-5). The prophet Micah echoes this prophecy and adds that "everyone will sit under his vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid" (Micah 4:4).

God also inspired Isaiah to write, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). God's people will dwell safely, with no need for protection (Jeremiah 23:6; 3:16, 31:8-14; Ezekiel 34:25-28).

No longer needing to fear crime, war or terrorist attacks, "old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets" (Zechariah 8:4-5).

During Christ's millennial rule on earth the surviving descendants of ancient Israel will enjoy a relationship with God that will inspire people of all nations (Ezekiel 36:33 36; 37:28), who will send representatives to Jerusalem to learn more about the laws of God that lead to such wonderful results (Isaiah 2:1-3). Then and only then will mankind "beat their swords into plow shares, and their spears into pruning hooks," and "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).

Universal healing and health

The many healings Jesus performed during His earthly ministry were only a forerunner of a great time of healing and health foretold in Isaiah 61. When Jesus read this passage and applied it to His min istry, He stopped short of quoting the entire prophecy (Luke 4:18). The other encourag ing events detailed in the prophecy are yet to take place.

After Jesus returns to earth, He will fulfill the remainder of Isaiah's prophecy. Cities will be rebuilt (Isaiah 61:4). Mourning will give way to joy (verse 3). Nations will rejoice in response to God's abundant bless ings (verses 7-11). God reveals that a time of peace, prosperity and happiness for His people is coming when He will "turn their mourning into joy" (Jeremiah 31:13).

This wonderful world will not simply appear instantaneously. People will have to learn the way of peace. They will come to realize that mankind's woes from the begin ning of time are the result of ignorance of, and disobedience to, the laws of God.

From the time that Adam and Eve chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man has followed a path that has led to suf fering and death (Romans 5:12). Most of the problems that afflict the world are the result of sin. (To better understand this crucial truth, be sure to request our free booklet Why Does God Allow Suffering?)

The Gospel and the plan of God

God has a plan that will ultimately eliminate sin, suffering and death (Daniel 9:24; 1 Corinthians 15:25-26). That plan is an integral part of the message of good news— the gospel—that Jesus brought and taught.

Sin has long played a central role in human suffering and death. We can under stand how sin will be defeated and eradicated when we properly understand Christ's min istry and mission. He died for the sins of mankind to make possible forgiveness of sin and access to God and His promises (John 3:16; Romans 5:1-2). But the message of the gospel goes beyond the death of Jesus Christ and our relationship with God in this life. As Paul said, "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19).

The scope of the gospel reaches out to encompass the good news of future events in the plan of God that Jesus will accomplish. ". . . Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation" (Hebrews 9:28).

After describing the horrendous plagues destined to strike the earth at the time of the end, the book of Revelation states that Jesus will return to earth as "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS" (Revelation 19:16). Prophecies in Daniel 2 and 7 speak of the kingdoms and governments of man being replaced and superseded by the Kingdom of God. Under the loving rulership of Christ, the suffering of mankind will be greatly diminished as men, women and children everywhere learn to live a way of life that leads to the wonder fully hopeful and positive results described in so many biblical prophecies.

The gospel Jesus preached focused on the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:1, 14-15; Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1; Acts 1:3). This focus has been obscured over the centuries since the early Catholic theologian Augustine (A.D. 354-430) determined that "the millennial kingdom had commenced with the appearing of Christ and was therefore an accomplished fact" (The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, Vol. 18, "Millennium").

The resurrection and end of suffering

This Kingdom of God will rule our physical world in the future (Daniel 2:44; 7:13 14). But in reality it is an eternal spirit kingdom. Paul says plainly that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 15:50). God is spirit (John 4:24), and He must change us from physical flesh and blood to immortal spirit that we may "inherit" that kingdom.

The entire 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians explains that He will change us from cor ruptible flesh to incorruptible spirit by means of a resurrection from the dead. Paul describes the final victory over pain and death in verse 54: "So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'"

In Philippians 3:21 Paul writes that God "will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body . . ." For those who become God's people in the present age, this momentous transformation will take place at the time of the sounding of the final "trumpet" (1 Corinthians 15:51 52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). John refers to this event as "the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:6).

Jesus said that ultimately all mankind will live again—most in the resurrection of judg ment (John 5:28-29,Young's Literal Translation). This will be the time when their future for all eternity will be decided. Those who repent will enter into God's Kingdom. Those who hold fast to an obstinate heart will perish.

Ezekiel 37 graphically describes the res urrection to physical life of the house of Israel during that time. Jesus later explained that people of all ethnic origins will rise from their graves in the same resurrection (Matthew 12:41-42). God, in His mercy (Matthew 11:22-24), has built into His plan an opportunity for everyone to repent (2 Peter 3:9).

God's feast days outline His plan

The exciting story of God's plan to end pain and death is outlined in seven annual festivals that He first revealed to ancient Israel (Leviticus 23). Jesus and the apostles observed these days, as did the early New Testament Church (Matthew 26:17-19; Luke 2:41-42; John 2:23; 7:2, 8-10; Acts 18:21; 20:16; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8). These days offer "a shadow of things to come" in the plan of God (Colossians 2:16-17).

The months corresponding roughly to September and October feature four of these seven annual feasts. The Feast of Trumpets anticipates the return of Christ at the last trumpet. The Day of Atonement pictures the putting away of Satan shortly after Christ's return so the world, which is deceived by the devil (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4), can understand the plan of God and be reconciled to Him.

The seven-day Feast of Tabernacles offers an opportunity to enjoy a foretaste of "the powers of the age to come" (Hebrews 6:5), when peace and prosperity, health and hap piness will prevail throughout the world. The Last Great Day, immediately after the Feast of Tabernacles, looks forward to the time when all who have lived and died will live again and be given the opportunity to become vessels of the "living water" of the Holy Spirit.

Members of the United Church of God, publisher of The Good News, observe these days, including the Feast of Tabernacles, in many locations around the world. We invite you to enjoy with us this coming foretaste of the world God is planning and preparing for mankind.

Of the future world God tells us: "I create new heavens and a new earth; and the for mer shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people; the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying . . .

"They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth children for trouble; for they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them" (Isaiah 65:17-23).

The end of suffering

Carol, whom we met earlier, lives one day at a time in eager anticipation of this exciting future. She describes her disease as "a tem porary thing, like this is a temporary world."

"God has a plan," she says, "and what ever it is I wouldn't want to be in any other situation."

Paul compares the suffering of this world to the pain of childbirth (Romans 8:22-23), and even God's people must endure some suffering (2 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Peter 4:19). This servant of God who experienced so much abuse and pain in his life (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) concludes, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

Just as the joy of childbirth follows the pain of delivery, "the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now" (verses 21-22).

Our temporary physical existence is but a shadow of the real life to come, like "a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (James 4:14) and grass that withers or a flower that flourishes for a while, then fades (Isaiah 40:6-8; 1 Peter 1:24).

Revelation 21-22 describes a transformed world in which every trace of sin and suffer ing, disability and death will be gone for ever. "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4). May God speed that day! GN