Death and Suffering Among Tribal People

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by Libby Wild on April 23, 2015
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17–18)

Looking down to see who was tugging on my skirt, I can still see his little face beaming and his perfect smile. In three days’ time from that moment he would be dead. Once he became ill, we started several medicines. Nothing seemed to stop his symptoms, and we all felt so helpless. I woke up that night from a light sleep hearing them call for me. I ran out to their house, ducked through the doorway and froze, immediately seeing there was nothing I could do. I sat, shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee with tribal family and friends, tears streaming down my face.

Loving Our Tribal Friends Through Suffering

There are really no words to describe the helplessness you feel when you see a little chest rise and fall and watch a sweet soul take his last breaths on this earth. There’s such heartache the moment everyone in the hut watches death snatch someone up. That’s when the wails and the screams start. There is a heavy feeling that falls on the entire hamlet. In those early days of our ministry, it seemed like death was victorious. Everything inside me screamed “no” that night. Nothing about what happened made sense to me.

The suffering and death seemed so overwhelming when we first moved into the jungle. We were still learning the tribal language, and the message of hope seemed so far away for the people in the tribe. So our family and our coworkers made a choice. We chose to join in their sufferings, join in their sickness, sit with them, cry with them, give them medicine, bandage their wounds, listen to their stories, learn about gardening, play with their children, clean out their ears, and give them immunizations. It was our prayer as we did these things that the tribal people would see how much we truly cared for them. We wanted them to know that their suffering was recognized by us, and we prayed that somehow the Lord would use us to show His love for them before we could tell them about it.

Medical Care

The Lord didn’t leave me alone the night that little boy died. He didn’t forsake me because I didn’t understand His plan, or because I wanted things to turn out differently. He comforted me. He loved me. (Later he would save many of our tribal friends and become their great comforter as well!) I remember how a tender God met my needs that night. He reminded me of His sovereignty and reminded me of His power.

Why Is There Death and Suffering?

Sometimes our circumstances don’t make sense to us. Sometimes events seem so misplaced. But as followers of Christ, we must discipline our minds not to lean on our own understanding and emotions but acknowledge God and what we know is true about Him. We know the Bible clearly teaches that trials and suffering are a guarantee because we live in a sinful world. But God didn’t create the world this way! God’s original creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31)—perfect—free from any death or suffering. Death and suffering was the consequence of Adam and Eve’s rebellion (Genesis 2:17). Paul reminds us of this in Romans, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). When Adam and Eve willfully chose to rebel against their Creator, they ushered death and suffering into the world. And because we all sin, we all deserve death (Romans 3:23, 6:23), but the good news of the gospel is that, by dying on the Cross, Jesus took the penalty that we deserve for us! Now, we also know God uses present suffering in this life and that it is for a purpose, for our good (Romans 8:28) and for God’s name to be glorified and be made great.

Wrestling With Truth

Wrestling with this truth is natural. Don’t we learn this from our heroes of the faith? Job is a man whose loss many of us cannot fathom. He wrestled with why suffering had come to him. He questioned the Lord, and the Lord God answered him, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4). Then in the following verses he reminds Job firmly, yet lovingly, that He is in control of all of His creation and that He is the Lord of it all. He gave Job a glimpse of a bigger picture, another perspective. Job then realizes that the God of the universe, the God of all creation, is unfolding His plan and we are a part of it. Job responded by saying, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You” (Job 42:2).


What really meant a lot to me as I read this anew, actually today with the boys in Bible study, is that Job says, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.” For followers of Christ who have known suffering and loss, they have experienced a peace that can only come from God. Those who have walked a path of hardship, have embraced grace and strength that can’t be described. They would agree with Job that they know Him deeper and their faith is stronger.

*The views expressed by the Wild family are their own and not necessarily those of Answers in Genesis.

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