This question is the heart cry of many who want to believe in an all-powerful God of love yet experience seemingly irrational disappointment, tragedy, and loss.
The assumption behind this cry is that an omnipotent God who wants the best for us would never permit anything bad to happen and that He should fix it right now.
From where do we get that idea?
1. In the beginning…..
According to Scripture,
God had a good plan from the beginning (Gen. 1-2),
apparently intending for humans to live in Edenic bliss.
We, unfortunately, tend to mess things up (Gen. 3).
Even more disappointingly, when we make good choices and strive to make things better, injustice and pain do not disappear. Bad things happen, people suffer and we all face death, a tragic consequence of sin.
2. Scripture never promises an easy life
Jesus saw sickness, death, grief all around Him. He did not wave His hand and make it all go away. He did not heal everyone. His ministry was limited to the few He encountered and was aimed at pointing to a larger truth; i.e., He was the Son of God who would forgive sins.
The biblical writers: honest about suffering and death:
Ps. 90:5-6; 103:15 (I Pet. 1:24)
II Cor. 5:1-2 (Rom. 8:23…we groan”; II Cor. 4:7.. earthen vessels)
3. Suffering is messy…irrational and unpredictable
Suffering often appears as irrational chance.
“Why do the good ones die?” My brother in law just two weeks ago.
“She was so young. She had so much to live for. It is not fair.”
Jesus knew this . . . “the sun rises on the evil and the good; rains come to the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Mt. 5:45; see also Lk. 13:1-5
The world is a broken, dangerous, often heartbreaking place. Even when we make good choices and strive to make things better, injustice and pain do not disappear.
Part of the problem…our sense of justice and entitlement.
Part of the problem…we don’t see well. Our “sight” is bounded by the time and space we inhabit. The experiences of our life essentially set the limits of our understanding. In this narrow space, our pain, in the moment, seems to us to be all-encompassing, unbearable, and unfair.
Jesus knew the disappointment of Mary and Martha. They were disappointed that He did not come more quickly, certain that Jesus could have prevented the death (Jn. 11:21, 32). They trusted Him and were hurt by His inexplicable delay in coming.
Their hurt went to His heart.
4. So, why suffering?
a. Suffering points us to God.
Suffering gets us past ourselves.
It is a wake up call to look beyond ourselves to One who saves.
Psa. 18:1-2, 30-36
David: “When I am in trouble, I take my stand in God.”
God sees it all—past, present, and future. His perspective encompasses the full depth and breadth of our existence—He even knows the purposes behind our suffering.
God is doing more than we can know or see.
The fact that I cannot see or feel Him or hear His response does not mean He is not a work.
Often His work is subtle—we may easily be blinded to it by our raw feelings and expectations for an answer that may not fit with His answers.
That is why we learn in hard times to quiet down and listen carefully in order to begin to glimpse His grace.
Ps. 56:8 put our tears in a bottle
Not even death itself can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
Suffering leads us into a relationship with Him.
The real challenge for one who seeks to reconcile a loving God with a broken world is to cultivate a relationship with this God.
Peter, who wrote of that living, unfading hope (see I Pet. 1:3-5), wrote in the very next paragraph that “various trials are proof of our faith…so that even though we do not see God we love Him and believe in Him and rejoice that the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our soul”.
b. Suffering redirects our focus to eternity (hope of final escape!!)
Jn. 11:15, 25-26, 42
Jesus knew that death is not the end—His hope was that those who witnessed this raising of Lazarus would come to see that He was indeed the “resurrection and the life”.
Suffering helps us look past this life, to take the long look with unquenchable hope.
Jn. 16:33 You have tribulation in the world, but take heart: I have overcome the world
Rom. 5:5 Hope does not disappoint
We live in confident assurance that He will one day set all things right.
Col. 1:21-23 (Rom. 6:1-11; 10:9-10)
The bodily resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee for those who believe in Him that they, too, will have eternal life.
Paul to the Corinthians:
I Cor. 15: 51-57
In the death and resurrection of Jesus, He has defeated death. God has begun the process of redeeming (or taking back) this broken world. In one sense, He has not completed the process—there is still more for us to endure.
II Cor. 4:16-18 (James 1:12)
The grace we receive through Christ enables us to understand that the afflictions of this world are momentary; indeed, they are nothing in light of the eternal glory awaiting us.
II Cor. 5:1-10
When we leave this earthly estate, we will be in the presence of the Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39).
I Cor. 15:50-57
We will even have a “new body” someday that is not subject to decay!
c. Suffering allows us to participate in Christ’s suffering (a gift)
Heb. 2:18; 4:15
Our high priest has suffered all we have suffered.
God suffered in Christ. The passion of Jesus points directly to how God sees and responds to human suffering.
When our hearts ache and life seems so unfair, we cling to the promise that God has not abandoned us, that He hears and knows our struggle and that He calls us to press on, trusting Him unfailingly.
II Cor. 12:7-10
Paul came to realize that his pain, which never went away despite his pleading with God, served to remind him that God had not abandoned him and God’s grace was sufficient to carry him through the worst.
See Col. 1:24 “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
II Cor. 4:8-10
We are cast down but…
We bear in our bodies the marks of Jesus
d. Suffering transforms us.
Something comes out of suffering…
Which of the following activities helps us develop more muscle: sitting on the couch, relaxing in front of the TV, or lifting weights at the gym? Of course—the answer is obvious. We know that resistance against a force makes us stronger.
Trials in our life do the same thing. They test our mettle, demanding decision and action.
God uses tough times to test our faith in order to mature it.
“Be thankful,” James says, because trials “produce perseverance and help you mature”
Paul echoes that thought: “we rejoice in our suffering” because suffering results in refined character, ultimately pointing us to God and the unfailing hope we find in Him
I Pet. 1:6-9
Peter wrote that trials test our faith, proving whether or not it is genuine. Such authentic, resilient faith brings glory to Jesus Christ, who is the source of our salvation and “inexpressible joy”.
When we look around, we see an overwhelming abundance of blessings in the world and in our lives every day. Most of this blessing we neither earned nor deserve! So, we give thanks to God, the giver of every good gift.
Quail in the wilderness!