The God of the Suffering
I would like to follow up on the last sermon that I preached on the problem of evil and where I attempted to show why the unbeliever should not be using the idea of evil as an excuse to reject God. In spite of what the unbeliever may think about God or try to accuse Him of, God has a morally sufficient reason to allow things that the world views as evil, and no matter what they may believe, it does not change the fact that they will have to give an account for the evil that they have done against God when they die or when Christ returns.
In this lesson, I would like to change gears and ask and examine scripture to answer the question for those who genuinely want an answer about why God allows suffering in this life, even among His children; including you and me.
It may be easier to serve, worship, and be grateful to God when things are going well for us. We have a good job. We are able to pay all the bills. We are healthy. We have brothers and sisters in Christ that encourage us. Our families are growing spiritually. At these times of comfort, it is a lot easier for us to praise and give thanks to the Lord for how He is working in our lives.
But what about when we are at our lowest points in life, how do we respond to God then? How do we respond to the suffering, sorrow, heartache, financial hardship, temptation and sin, and death that He allows to come upon us and our families as His children? At these times it may be hard to feel blessed by the Lord. It may be hard to give thanks to Him and praise Him for His goodness and kindness towards us in Christ. We find it difficult to do as James says in chapter 1 of his epistle to count it all joy whenever we go through trials.
But the fact is, God is on His thrown just as much during these times than when things are going well. The God who blesses is the God that allows suffering and allows evil to be done. In both cases, in His infinite wisdom, He is working, no matter how hard that may be to believe.
So why is it that these things happen? Why does God allow them, and how is God working in them? These are questions that have been asked by the people of God for thousands of years. Job, David, Asaph in psalm 73, and so many others have asked these questions, including you and me. And the truth is that we don’t know 100% for sure exactly how God is working in us when we go through trying times. It is usually not till months or years down the line before we can see how God had been providentially working in our lives. This is what makes it difficult for us as we are suffering and going through trials in our lives.
1. SUFFERING KEEPS THIS WORLD FROM BECOMING TOO ATTRACTIVE
WE ARE “PILGRIMS” AND “SOJOURNERS”...
As Christians, our hopes and faith does not rest on what we have here. Sometimes it takes going through trials for us to understand this. Scripture tells us that we should not feel at home here. We are first and foremost citizens not of this country and world, but of Heaven. We are citizens of God’s kingdom! We are pilgrims and sojourners here. Peter writes, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (). We are on our way home in this life. This world is NOT our home. God has something better prepared for us. And many times in life we tend to lose sight of this. Sometimes it takes traumatic experiences to remind us of this truth.
WHAT IF THERE WAS NO SUFFERING...
Just think of how life would be if there was no suffering. No one would want to leave this temporary world. Everything would be so great, that heaven would be an afterthought. We wouldn’t long for it as we should. All of our hopes would rest on what we have here instead of what lays before us in our eternal home. We would all wait until the final years of our lives to really get serious about the afterlife. No one would desire the “eternal” home, and therefore prepare themselves for it. But the affairs of this life are so ordered that the world soon loses its attraction.
2. SUFFERING MAKES US MORE APPRECIATIVE OF WHAT WE HAVE
WE ALL RECEIVE SO MANY GOOD THINGS IN THIS LIFE...
It is easy for us to take them for granted instead of receiving them with gratitude toward God, realizing that He is the One who is the giver of everything that we have. James says in James We focus at times more on our stuff than the One who gives our stuff. Just think of the many things that we are blessed with in this life! How often do we take time to really stop and think about it? How often do we stop to remember that the Lord is the giver of all good things that we have in this life? Suffering can help us to be more thankful for what we do have and to appreciate more fully:
Good health Our friends Our spouses, children, and other family members Our homes and jobs Our brothers and sisters in Christ Salvation and forgiveness through Christ
I am sure that many parents after the shooting at that Connecticut elementary school on Friday, were so much more thankful for their children and seeing them get off of their school buses safely. Sometimes it takes suffering ourselves, or the suffering of others to be woken up to just how blessed we are in this life by God.
Next 2 points go together
3. SUFFERING MAKES US MORE DEPENDENT UPON GOD
Too often, we look at ourselves as self sufficient. We tend to think that the things that we have we got on our own through our own efforts. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is nothing but pride! God warned the children of Israel to guard themselves from this kind of thinking. But they fell into the trap! God had delivered them from Egypt, brought them to the Promised Land, and blessed them so abundantly, only to have them turn their backs on Him and His care. They got to the point where they believed they got it all by themselves, and used these blessing to commit terrible sins against God, including worshipping other Gods and giving those idols credit for what Christ had given them. It took God punishing them by destroying their cities and sending them to captivity to help them see their dependence on Him.
At times we are just like the Israelites. And it may take trials and suffering to wake us up! At no other time is one more likely to realize that we depend upon God for our very breath, as Paul proclaimed in : “in Him we live and move and have our being.” We indeed as sheep are lost and helpless without our shepherd. Without His care, we would not survive in this world with the evil one coming against us.
4. SUFFERING TEACHES US HOW TO PRAY
We all may be a praying people during times that things are going well, but there is nothing like trials to lead you to the throne of grace for help in your time of need. In the midst of suffering we learn how to pray:
2. With Perseverance
It can be so hard at times to approach God with this kind of prayer, but whenever we get to positions in life where we see that we are totally helpless on our own, it should drive us to our knees crying out to the One who is in control of all things for His mercy and grace. When we, our family members, or our family in Christ is suffering, the best way to trust in the Lord is to pour out your heart to the Lord and to hand everything you don’t have control of to Him. We see David do this many times in the psalms. So many of the psalms are prayers to God where he shows how he night and day prayed to God as He was suffering and being persecuted because He knew that God was in control. He did the same when God told Him through Nathan that the child that he and Bathsheba conceived through adultery would die as a punishment to him. He fasted and prayed before God knowing that there may be a chance that God would be merciful and allow the child to live.
There are many times in which our world is just shattered around us when the last thing that is on our minds is the Lord, approaching His throne, and giving our burdens to Him. We try to handle things alone or trust other people instead of trusting in the Lord. Sometimes we also just get upset with God for allowing uncomfortable things to come into our lives. We need to learn from and be humbled by the faith of men and women that we see in scripture. The things that they endured did not keep them from approaching the throne of grace. David prayed when his child was dying. He prayed when Saul and even his own son were trying to kill him. Jesus prayed when He was facing the cross. The disciples prayed as their loved ones were being torn out of their homes and thrown into prison. The church prayed as Peter was put into prison awaiting execution. They prayed as they were suffering for the gospel. Many times, the things that they approached the throne of God pale in comparison to what we endure. These faithful people of God are a good example to us of what it means to trust in God through trials. They understood that God was working, even when the circumstances around them were negative.
Trials tend to show us how much we really trust in God. I understand that we struggle at these times to know what to say. We may be so shattered by what is going on, that we cannot put into words what we may be going through. All we can do is try, and when we do not have the words, praise God that He promises that at these times, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf to God.
5. SUFFERING PURIFIES US AS GOD’S PEOPLE
CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING TWO PASSAGES...
1. - In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ
- My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Suffering can be like fire purifying gold. As it leads us trust more in the Lord and approach His thrown, He is working in us through these circumstances to melt away from us the impurities within us to make us more holy to be used more for His purposes. Knowing that God is working in us in these things can help us to have a peace because we can trust that God allows trials and suffering to come into our lives for our good and for our growth nearer to Him. That’s why I believe James says to rejoice in our trials. It produces fruit in our lives and when we persevere through the trials, it shows us how genuine our faith is and how much we need to grow in our faith if we respond wrongly to trials.
The Suffering of God
Suffering brings purification. And when we think about it, we need to remember that without suffering, you and I would be without hope of eternal life. The trials and suffering of our Lord Jesus bring to those who obey the Gospel a purification and cleansing like none other! The suffering and death of Jesus Christ can give you and me life, and anyone who is willing to come to the foot of the cross in repentance and trust in the power of the blood of Christ to purify and cleanse us. Scripture makes it clear that God can sympathize with us about suffering. No one can say, God, you just do not understand what I am going through! You haven’t been where I am.” God suffered! He understands. Christ, God in the flesh, endured the torture of scourging and crucifixion for our good. The Father had to watch His precious Son endure these things for us. We don’t have the right to say that God does not understand. Because He does understand, has endured such things by the hands of sinful man, we can have hope.
Can we begin to see why a righteous and merciful God would allow suffering, even to His people? I have only looked at five reasons why God allows suffering. There are many others we could have looked at.
God may use suffering to harden those who are rebelling against Him God may use suffering in the world to warn people of the terrible results of sin. Suffering as the people of God gives an occasion to silence the enemies of God when they see how we respond with love. Suffering can make us sympathetic of the pain others go through God is punishing someone or a group of people.
Even with all of these possible reasons, I am surely leaving many out. These are all possibilities of why God allows suffering and evil in this world. But in the end, the exact reason why God allows things like the shooting on Friday to happen is only known 100% to Him. He in His wisdom is using evil and suffering for His good purposes, and in the end, His glory, even what happened on Friday in Connecticut.
If we look at suffering purely from man’s point of view, we will not understand why suffering is permitted. But when we look at suffering from God’s point of view, from the viewpoint of His plans for us in preparing us for eternity, then we can begin to appreciate why He would allow suffering to occur, especially in the suffering of His Son. We can rejoice through trials knowing that God is working.