INTRODUCTION. Scripture teaches that a day is coming when all sorrow, tears, pain and death will pass away—all suffering will end forever (Revelation 21.4). People, however, tend to focus on the present and want to know, if God is both all-powerful and loving, why is there so much suffering in the world now? This question implies that God is either not omnipotent or not loving because, if he were both, clearly he would not allow so much suffering in the world.
While this might appear to be a reasonable question, this paper will show that it demonstrates a lack of understanding with respect to both God’s Word and God’s ways. In doing so, the following issues will be addressed: the reason there is suffering in the world; the purpose of suffering in the world; and finally, what man’s attitude about suffering should be.
Thank God for the clarity that proceeds from the radiance found in the Word of God, to which we now turn to enlighten us with respect to the above-stated issues.
WHY IS THERE SUFFERING IN THE WORLD? Most people mistakenly assume that God is the reason suffering exists but, in short, man is responsible for suffering in this world. God’s original plan was for man to live in peace without ever having to experience sorrow and suffering. While it is true that God actually set in motion the first ever occurrence of suffering on earth, the reason this occurred was because man chose to disobey the command of God and instead follow the lies of Satan.
For a complete understanding of the underlying reasons this occurred, we must begin at the beginning. Not only did God create man, man was the only thing created with the most precious gift of all—life “in God’s image”. That is to say, man was created with the gift of rational thought, an important element of which is free will (Genesis 1.27). Free will entails the ability to make choices between different courses of action, the outcome of which has not already been determined by previous events that have occurred outside the will of man. Contrary to free will is determinism, which holds that all human behavior is inevitably caused by internal and/or external forces that exist exclusive of the will of man.
The Word of God acknowledges that individuals are created subject to both internal and external forces that seek to influence human behavior in a given direction as opposed to another—for example, the temptation man experienced in the garden of Eden. Ultimately, however, man’s behavior is not simply a passive reaction to these forces. If it were, then God would not have presented matters in a way that implied Adam and Eve had the freedom to either obey or not obey (discussed more fully below). Moreover, God would not have punished Adam and Eve had their disobedience been the result of forces outside their will.
Scripture clearly implies that man has the freedom to consider any forces that might incline him in a certain direction and in the end make a decision that runs counter to those influences. It is this freedom that gives the human experience dignity, meaning and purpose. For example, the reason our choosing to love someone is meaningful is because we could have chosen otherwise.
It is important to note that there was no suffering whatsoever in the world at the time God created Adam and Eve with the will to make free choices. Also, God provided for Adam and Eve’s sustenance with an abundance of appealing and nutritious fruit that came from countless trees and plants located in the garden of Eden. God made it clear to them that they were free to eat fruit from any tree located in the garden with one exception—God commanded them not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which was located in the center of the garden (Genesis 2.17). The purpose of this command was to provide man with a positive means through his obedience of acknowledging that God was indeed the Creator and thanking him for the blessing of Creation.
In addition to the implied positive reasons for man’s obedience to his command, God made man aware of the negative consequences of his disobedience by warning Adam that if he chose to disobey his Creator then he would suffer death (Genesis 2.17). While Adam and Eve might not have known exactly what death entailed, it is fair to assume that at the very least they understood that disobeying God’s command would introduce something unpleasant and painful into the world.
Were there to have been no consequences regarding man’s choice of whether or not to obey God’s one command, then man’s free will in this matter would have been rendered moot and meaningless. What would be the point of setting up a choice for man to either obey or disobey if obeying had no significant consequences as compared to disobeying? For our choices to have meaning, there must be particular consequences with respect to our choosing one of the various options over other available options. Otherwise, they would not be “choices” at all; they would simply be one indiscriminate thought or action versus another.
Again, at the time God created man with free will and presented him with the choice to either obey or disobey the command not to eat fruit from this one tree, suffering played no part in Creation. And so, man could either choose good/God/obedience and continue experiencing pure joy in his life without suffering; or choose evil/not God/disobedience and experience suffering along with joy. We know, of course, Adam and Eve ultimately chose to disobey the Creator of the Universe (Genesis 3.6), choosing instead to heed the ungodly advice of one of the wild animals (the serpent) that ironically God had given man the authority to rule over (Genesis 1.26).
Man had every reason to believe that God had his best interest in mind—he was undeniably man’s Creator and further had provided man with all his needs. Satan skillfully called all this into question, however, by simply suggesting that God’s command was not actually intended for the benefit of man, but contrarily to oppress man by keeping certain knowledge from him—knowledge that would in fact help man become like God. In the end, the desire to gain God-like knowledge made the forbidden fruit more attractive than it already was—enough to convince man to sin against God (Genesis 3.6).
Afterwards, when Adam and Eve heard God walking in the garden, they hid from him because they now knew they were naked (Genesis 3.8—10). The gig was up, and with the serpent contriver having been duly exposed and a feeble confession having been made by the two human delinquents, God proceeded to deliver sentencing to the perpetrators—each relating to the issue of life and death.
God began where the sin began, punishing the instrument (serpent) as well as the principal (Satan). And so, the serpent was cursed among all living animals, consigned to grovel in dust for the rest of time. This curse applied to Satan as well, who for the rest of days was to dine no longer on the fruit of angels and the joys of heaven, but instead on the impure lusts of men and the dark death and destruction of earth. From having once walked upright on legs and feet to dragging in the dust of death was perhaps meant to signify Satan being cast down from the heights of heaven to the depths of earth, never again to rise to his former place of dignity. The final degradation came when God unequivocally proclaimed that Satan’s power and life on earth would one day be wholly destroyed by the offspring of those whom he had deceived (Genesis 3.14—15).
Turning to the punishment of mankind, note first that God cursed neither Adam nor Eve who, unlike Satan, were candidates for restoration. Adam and Eve’s sin, however, was imputed to all mankind, as were their punishments.
With respect to woman, God pronounced that it would be with great anguish and even peril of death that she would bring life into the world. Furthermore, within the confines of the marriage relationship (Ephesians 5.22; Colossians 3.18), the woman was to henceforth live in submission to the man (Genesis 3.16). The earthly blessings of the gospel in general, however, would be received by man and woman on an equal footing (Galatians 3.28).
Finally, God put his marks of displeasure upon Adam. First, whereas God did not curse man per se because of his sin, man’s sin did bring a curse upon the earth. Originally created to be a comfortable dwelling of provision, the earth would now require painful toil to provide man with food. The second and related punishment was that man’s employments were now embittered to him—from that day forward man’s labor would be a duty rather than a joy. Finally, God proclaimed “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3.17—19)—in other words, sin had brought the suffering of death into the world. Indeed, each of man’s punishments can be explained in the context of the prevailing reality of death and decay, and the enduring fear caused thereby.
In summary, a world without pain and free will were, respectively, a blessing and privilege given to man by God at the Creation. Man was offered a generous way to acknowledge and thank the Creator for these gifts by obeying his command not to eat the fruit of just one of the many trees God provided for man’s sustenance. Man, however, selfishly chose to put his will above the will of his Creator, and suffering thus entered the world. Therefore, the suffering and pain that man faces today is not the work of an unjust God, it is the direct result of man’s sinful disobedience and the known consequences thereof (Romans 6.23).
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF SUFFERING IN THE WORLD? Despite learning that man’s sin is the reason suffering exists in the world today, one might out of fear and despair still be inclined to ask: Surely God knew that suffering would come into the world—so what is he doing about it? Well, if you are waiting for God to just “make it go away”, you are in for a life of frustration and disappointment. There is no reason to despair, however, for “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8.28).
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29.11).
And so, despite the fact that man is the reason there is suffering in the world, what follows are the many ways God has resolved to appropriate suffering for the good of those who will embrace and trust him as sovereign over everything that exists.
THE ULTIMATE WAKE UP CALL. One of the ways God uses suffering for good is to call attention to the fact that SOMETHING IS DESPERATELY WRONG AND NEEDS FIXING IN OUR LIVES.
If “today” everything were right between man and God, then “today” there would be no pain, suffering and death in the world. As discussed above, in the beginning there was no suffering and death because sin had not yet come between man and God. Once man sinned, however, suffering and death entered the world and separated man from God. “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6.14). From that time forward, man was destined to spend eternity separated from God unless the relationship between them could somehow be reconciled.
God does not enjoy seeing anyone suffer in separation from him, which is why he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become the Savior of mankind (John 3.16)(discussed more fully below). Faith in Christ blesses man with the righteousness of God (Romans 3.22), which in turn reconciles the separation that has come between man and God (Romans 5.11). In fact, God wants everyone to come to believe in Christ as the atoning sacrifice and thus be saved (2 Peter 3.9), but he will not force anyone to believe in Christ.
In the same way God gave Adam the freedom to choose to obey or not obey his command, he gives every man the freedom to choose to believe or not believe in Christ (Romans 10.13). To maintain the dignity of our free will, God must allow us to choose even when he knows we are going to choose badly. And so, we might choose to rail against God because of our suffering—even reject him. Thankfully, however, God always stands ready in the hope that suffering will prompt us to turn to him and ask him for help.
I am living proof that it often takes tragedy for us to turn to God, and that he stands ready to help if we do. It took becoming addicted to cocaine and the tragic consequences of a terrible car wreck 35 years ago for me to realize that I needed help from God and finally hear his voice about the truth of Christ. Thankfully, there were no other cars involved in this wreck, as we were traveling 70mph and launched airborne for 50 feet before slamming headlong into a concrete slab and rolling 4 or 5 times. My two high school friends in the front seat were killed instantly. And while it’s terrible that all three of us in the backseat were paralyzed, we were very fortunate to still have the use of our arms. Indeed, we were fortunate to still be alive.
While it is true that God did not stop this wreck from happening, he was not the cause of it. Our desire to get high and drive a vehicle is clearly what led to the wreck. Truth is, God had called out to me many times before that fateful night. He even tried to warn me the night of the wreck on three separate occasions not to get in that car, but I wanted to get high more than I wanted to listen to God. Simply put, it took the tragic ravaging of my life for me to start thinking I needed God in my life.
Salvation comes by grace through faith, which is a gift from God (Ephesians 2.8). Free will, however, demands that we take action in favor of our being saved, so while in drug rehab, I started reading the Bible for ten minutes every morning. Then I earnestly prayed to God for ten more minutes to show me the truth about whom I was reading—Jesus. I read and prayed every morning without fail for 6 months straight, during which time it felt like I was praying to a brick wall—nothing. But I did not give up. Then one morning I started to read the Bible like every other morning and—BOOM!—God revealed himself to me in a spiritual experience that in many ways will forever remain indescribable.
I do, however, remember sensing the incredible power of God’s light—like the sun was rising in my chest. And the experience was extremely intimate as well—like a warm flow of peaceful light coursing through my blood. Most importantly, from that moment on I knew that Jesus Christ was and is the true light, just like the Bible teaches. I have never looked back.
Not long after this experience, God ushered me out of the practice of law. I felt led to start writing and playing music with a mission to share the truth of Christ. The songs I wrote simply told my story—the struggles and the victory. God provided incredible musicians in the most amazing ways and we were actually pretty good.
I got married, bought a house, paid the bills and, despite being paralyzed, became a daddy to a beautiful daughter. What a joy to be a dad, and to write and play music for a living, all for the Lord of the Universe. I’m retired from writing and playing songs, and now write words without the music.
I have never been happy about being a paraplegic, nor does my faith require that I be, but I am grateful to be alive and have the use of my arms. It hasn’t always been easy street and I’ve made mistakes along the way, but through it all, when I’ve remained focused on my relationship with Christ, life is good. At no time would I have traded my salvation for the use of my legs. No one suffers in vain, for God stands ready to put our suffering to good use, such as showing man of his need for Jesus Christ as Lord & Savior.
God not only uses suffering to warn man of his need for a Savior, suffering was used by God as a catalyst in paving the way for us to have a Messiah.
THE CATALYST. A man’s hope and future begins and ends in Jesus Christ as his Lord & Savior. Accordingly, Father God creatively found a way to use suffering as the impetus for delivering up his Son as the perfect sacrifice for all the sins of mankind, thus providing man with the Messiah.
The rulers of the Jewish synagogue (“rulers”) at the time of Christ were the chief priest, the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus had roamed the land for three years teaching Scriptural truths and performing miracles in the presence of the Jewish people. During this time, the primary concern of these rulers was not whether Jesus was speaking the truth about their God. Their concern was all about preserving their precious positions of authority over the very people they were supposed to be serving. It appears they were scared that the truth found in Jesus might one day expose their hypocrisy to the point of ultimately dispossessing them of their coveted power and authority over the Jewish people (John 11.48).
Jesus had in fact already humiliated these rulers on many occasions in the presence of both God-fearing worshipers and heathen people who lived in the region (e.g., Matthew 21.23—27; Matthew 22.15—22; Luke 15.1—7; Matthew 22.23—33). Their mounting fear reached a breaking point after Jesus performed the amazing miracle of resurrecting Lazarus several days after he had died (John 11.43—44). Following this, the rulers must have sensed their power slipping through their fingers, for they hastily called a meeting and ruthlessly decided that Jesus had to be killed as soon as possible (John 11.53).
Desperate to crush the burgeoning belief that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah, these religious rulers not only wanted Jesus to be killed, they wanted him to suffer. Despite Jesus increasingly exposing their duplicity, these rulers still maintained enough authority in the synagogue to conjure up a “justifiable” reason for Jesus to suffer the punishment set aside for the worst criminals—crucifixion. In their eyes, by falsely claiming to be the Son of God, Jesus had committed blasphemy which compelled that he suffer the agony of the cross (Luke 22.66—71).
How ironic that the only man to walk this earth without ever committing a sin, much less a crime, was slated to suffer the punishment of murderers and rapists. I wonder if these rulers even bothered in prayer to ask God if Jesus was in fact the Messiah. And did they pray about whether or not to have Jesus killed?
In an effort to convince the people that he was not the bona fide Messiah, the rulers were adamant that Jesus suffer the shame of crucifixion—surely the real Messiah would not allow himself to suffer such humiliation and agonizing pain at the hands of mere mortals. They were wrong and their plan backfired in the end, as Father God in his sovereignty made effective use of their selfish schemes and malicious desire that Jesus suffer.
Jesus indeed suffered crucifixion, but on the third day as prophesied God resurrected him from the dead as the Messiah. Soon after Christ’s ascension into heaven, the Apostle Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, explained to the Jewish people just how wrong their religious rulers had been:
Then Peter stood and addressed the crowd, “[Jesus of Nazareth] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men (the Romans), put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead … because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2.23—24, paranthetical added).
And so it was that Jesus suffering death at the hands of the Jewish rulers and Roman government was part of God’s sovereign plan of salvation all along:
We see Jesus … now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2.10—11).
We are told that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5.8). This does not mean that Jesus learned the meaning of obedience or how to obey through what he suffered. Jesus already knew and did this by virtue of his Godly nature as seen, for example, in the ultimate act of obedience—allowing himself to be crucified (Matthew 26.36—45). What it means is suffering the cross taught Jesus on a visceral level the meaning of obedience that is yielded to God in the human suffering condition, and further what difficulties often attend human obedience.
In short, suffering the cross made our heavenly Mediator more perfectly disposed to intercede on man’s behalf with grace and tenderness (Hebrews 7.25). Indeed, man should take comfort and find hope in the fact that God is not asking him to endure pain and affliction that he was not willing to endure himself many times over for our sake.
Not only was suffering the primary catalyst in the fulfillment of the coming gospel, suffering has always played a leading role in a believer’s growth in holiness.
SANCTIFICATION. “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy‘” (1 Peter 1.15—16). Every believer is called to the ongoing process of conformity to Christ following conversion, called “to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus” as Lord, that we “may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3.8—9). This is called sanctification—to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12.1), submitting to God while he accomplishes his will in our lives. Peter exhorted believers to “like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2.2—3). So, all believers are called to continually “grow up” in holiness.
All mankind is born with the sinful nature of Adam in him (Galatians 5.13). When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, however, Christ comes to live inside us through the deposit of the Holy Spirit in our spirit (2 Corinthians 1.22). And so, from that day forth, a battle ensues inside our spirit for control of a believer’s thoughts and actions (Galatians 5.17), but if we live by the Spirit, then we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature that still lives within us (Galatians 5.16). One of the most effective ways for a believer to live by the Spirit and promote sanctification is to accept and embrace suffering (1 Peter 4.1—2), for God makes use of suffering as a means of refining one’s faith in a variety of ways (1 Peter 1.6—7).
For example, the Father loves his children and must at times discipline them in painful ways to grow up in Godliness (Hebrews 12.6—7). Suffering educates a believer with respect to Christian virtues such as perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5.3—4). Suffering affliction might be how one learns or grows in humility (2 Corinthians 12.7). Enduring hardship can make man tougher and thus a stronger soldier for Christ (2 Timothy 2.3). Suffering promotes a better understanding of the sovereign character of God (Job 42.2—6). Suffering presents a believer with an opportunity to identify with Christ, “and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3.10—11).
Finally, suffering presents the believer with an opportunity to enter into the presence of God.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23.4).
David was a warrior who on many occasions had his back against the wall in battle against evil enemies that were superior in numbers and strength. He knew suffering, he knew death; and despite constantly being threatened with both, he feared no evil. In fact, David felt the comforting presence of God in the midst of the dark shadows of suffering and death.
In short, suffering and death presents the believer with various opportunities and ways to grow in holiness.
In addition to promoting sanctification, a believer enduring pain with dignity through faith also plays a role in spreading the gospel.
ADVANCING THE GOSPEL— EXPANDING THE KINGDOM. Suffering pain offers believers opportunities to minister to others and advance the gospel in several ways.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1.3—4).
And so, a believer might help someone who is suffering affliction or perhaps he shares how God comforted him in the midst of his own troubles, and by doing so brings comfort to an unbeliever who is enduring pain and affliction. An unbeliever whose pain has been relieved or comforted by a believer might be more inclined to inquire into the truth of Christ.
Similarly, an unbeliever who sees a believer enduring affliction with dignity might be drawn to investigate and find out that it is by God’s power that this occurs. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow into and bless our lives, our Christ-likeness in the midst of affliction might overflow into the lives of others.
Finally, an unbeliever who is enduring pain and suffering might in frustration be inclined to ask why a loving God allows suffering in the world, thus opening the door to a discussion about the various matters discussed in this paper, which in turn might help lead someone to Christ.
To summarize, the concept of suffering naturally lends itself to presenting a believer who stands ready with various opportunities to share his faith that, with the help of the Spirit, might contribute to someone coming to Christ, thus expanding the Kingdom.
Suffering not only plays a role in advancing the gospel and expanding the Kingdom, sometimes its purpose is to reveal the healing work of God.
HEALING. Though he is not obligated to, the Bible teaches that God sometimes physically heals our suffering.
Throughout Scripture, God encourages the believer to call upon him for healing. Indeed, God refers to himself as “the LORD who heals you” (Exodus 15.26). King David said God is the one “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103.3). Until Christ returns, the anointing, power and gifts of the Holy Spirit are readily available to help us in every situation, and the Spirit “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3.20). In fact, healing is listed as one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit with which some believers are blessed (1 Corinthians 12.9).
The gospels give numerous accounts of Jesus healing people of serious infirmities and illnesses, even raising dead people to life. He also blessed his disciples with the power to do the same. At the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples that “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (John 14.12). He then promised to send the Holy Spirit to empower believers.
As promised, the Holy Spirit came into the world not long after Christ ascended into heaven (Acts 2.2—4) and, moreover, he is deposited into the heart of every believer at the moment of salvation (2 Corinthians 1.22). Given that Scripture proclaims “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13.8), believers have every reason to believe that they can do today through the Holy Spirit what Christ did when he was here on earth.
For reasons beyond man’s understanding, some people are healed and some are not (Isaiah 55.9). Jesus cautioned us not to assume that a person suffers because of a sinful life or lack of faith—we should entrust these matters to the purview of God’s sovereign will (John 9.2—3). Simply put, the believer’s task is to ask, believe and trust—to ask for healing, to believe in healing, and to trust God with the healing.
In addition to manifesting the healing power of God, suffering is also used by the Lord to prepare the believer to share in the glory of Christ.
PRELUDE TO EXALTATION. The adage “no pain, no gain” cryptically expresses the Biblical principle that God uses human suffering as a prelude to the exaltation of deserving believers.
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co–heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8.16—17).
The concept that suffering prepares us for the glory of God is prevalent throughout Scripture, especially in 1st Peter. Christ is the prime example of submitting oneself to pain in order to serve God (Philippians 2.5—11; 1 Peter 2.21). Father God stands ready to bless us in exaltation just as he did the Christ, if we too humble ourselves by enduring affliction with dignity, faith and trust.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you … standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace … after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5.6—11).
As man irrefutably demonstrated in the garden of Eden, man must suffer before being exalted because, given his fallen nature, man would undoubtedly take the blessings and glory of heaven for granted if he were not first made to endure the sufferings of this world.
Finally, in addition to being blessed with the exalting glory of Christ while on earth, enduring affliction is a way to earn and store up rich rewards that man will one day reap in heaven.
REWARDS. “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4.13). In other words, if we have indeed invested in the sufferings of Christ—i.e., embraced our affliction as a means of entering into the presence of God—then we will be overjoyed by the many treasures laid up for us when we get to heaven (Matthew 6.20). To the degree that we grow in holiness while here on earth, we are promised a commensurate amount of rewards in heaven (Colossians 3.23—24). If suffering leads to holiness and holiness leads to rewards, a nexus between suffering and rewards is shown.
Note that to “rejoice in our suffering” does not mean that we are expected to immediately be happy when pain or affliction befalls us. Faith in the truth of his Word, however, will in due course supplant any initial feelings of disappointment, fear, and/or anger with a genuine belief that God is in sovereign control of our circumstances and, moreover, that something good will eventually come from our present suffering (Romans 8.28).
In the end, a genuine faith finds a way to trust in the hope of glory that Christ promised will come. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8.18). Jesus himself said that we should rejoice when we suffer for his sake, because great is our reward in heaven (Matthew 5.12).
To summarize thus far, man is the cause of all suffering in this world, and God stands ready to use the many aspects of our presents sufferings as a force for good if we embrace God’s sovereign will in the midst of our pain and affliction.
WHAT SHOULD MAN’S ATTITUDE ABOUT SUFFERING BE? As one can see, there is a wealth of Biblical teaching on suffering—its origin and how God uses pain and affliction for good. The question then becomes: What should man’s attitude about suffering and pain in this world be?
One does not get the impression from Scripture that God thinks pain and affliction are in any way gratuitous. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1.29). While it is true that suffering exists on this earth because mankind sinfully chose to heed Satan over God (Genesis 3.6; 16—19), the prevailing truth is “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8.28, emphasis added). For this reason, the pain in our hearts and the afflictions in our bodies are, in the end, not an evil to be resisted or from which man should run.
True joy is not the absence of pain and suffering. True joy is the sustaining, sanctifying presence of Christ in our lives in spite of any pain we might be suffering! Just as Father God found a way to transform the agonizing affliction that his Son, Jesus, suffered on the cross into the redemptive victory of the resurrection, our Father stands ready to transform the afflictions that each of his children suffer into the redeeming privilege of partaking in the intimacy the Son shared with his Father in the midst of his experience on the cross. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3.10—11).
In summary, the Word of God points to various aspects of man’s present sufferings and shows that God has taken this evil that entered the world of man’s accord and transformed it into a force for good, if we will but embrace our sufferings by entrusting them over to God and his sovereign power.
Accordingly, a proper attitude toward suffering calls for a clear understanding of the following truths:
- the world was originally created by God as a place for man to live in peace without having to experience suffering and death;
- man’s sinful disobedience of God’s will caused suffering and death to enter this world;
- the Christian faith does not demand that the believer eagerly seek out suffering;
- the Christian faith does demand that the believer accept suffering in life; and
- after a reasonable period of time to work through the initial feelings associated with suffering’s onset, man should begin the process of discerning what God is trying to teach him though his suffering and how it might be used for Godly purposes.
CONCLUSION. There is no better place to be than in the presence of Father God. To suffer is to inherently be in His presence, if we have previously laid claim to the conquering knowledge that, in our suffering, we are in fact partaking in the fellowship of the sufferings of the Christ (Romans 8.17). Insomuch as we know and trust this intimate connection between our suffering and the sufferings of Christ, we are empowered to suffer pain with the enduring dignity of Christ (2 Corinthians 1.5).
In closing, we return to the question with which we began: If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why is there suffering in this world? Answer: Through suffering, God calls our attention to our need for Christ; through suffering, God saved us from eternal death to eternal life by providing Christ as the Messiah; through suffering, God teaches us to grow more like Christ; through suffering, God empowers us to help save others; through suffering, God demonstrates his awesome power of healing; and through suffering, God blesses us here on earth as well as rewards us for eternity in heaven. To sum up, He calls, saves, teaches, empowers, heals, blesses and rewards those who seek Him in the midst of suffering (Matthew 6.33).
In the beginning, suffering was born out of evil. In the end, however, if man shows the courage to embrace suffering and seek God within it, to suffer is good. Let us encourage one another to embrace this beautiful paradox found in the mystery of his Word, trusting that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than man’s (Isaiah 55.9).
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