Why are you doing this God? Why did you let them die? Why do they suffer? Why don’t you stop this? Why? WHY?
Have you ever felt that or thought like this? Maybe you are right now flooded with those why questions? And they are questions people in the world always ask! They wonder how a good God can allow suffering.
And I have felt and thought this in my life. As I have lost loved ones! As I have seen people close to me go through deep pain and hurt.
As Christians, how do we make sense of suffering?
Well we must realise at the outset that suffering is through God! Romans 11:36 says “From God, THROUGH God and to God are all things.” This changes everything and how we understand what is going on. We must realise that everything we face is not beyond God’s control; ALL THINGS are through Him! Isaiah 45:7 says “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Suffering reminds us of God’s control in all things. Nothing is outside His rule and reign.
And if this is the case, then we need to ask what is God doing in suffering? The Bible shows us that there are some big things God is wanting to do in difficult times. When we see them it helps us cope in suffering and know what God wants to come from it. It’s like that painting which looks a bit funny when you are close to it, but when you stand back, those paint strokes blend to make a wonderful landscape. Or maybe you have been stuck behind a car, and wonder why they are going so slow. But then you get a clearer view and it makes sense when you see a dog go out the other side of the car.
When we face the fires of suffering, we are surrounded by its flames and smoke. And we can get lost in it and our thoughts can be clouded by the little details. What we need is to take a step back. We need to see the bigger picture, else nothing will make sense. We need a bird’s eye view! A 20/20 vision of suffering. We need a right perspective on suffering so we live in a right way through it and know how to make sense of it.
So, why does God allow suffering? What is God doing in times of suffering?
1. Suffering reminds us of the damage of sin
The beginning of the Bible makes it clear that suffering is a result of original sin. Back in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve fall into sin. They rebel against God and immediately God shows that the consequences for this are:
Enmity and Hostility between humanity and Satan (3:15)
Pain and suffering (3:16)
And a corrupted creation (3:17) with thorns, disasters, sickness.
Romans 8:20-22 tells us the same thing. It says, “creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to DECAY and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Creation is groaning because it is in bondage to decay. Sickness, viruses, disease, suffering, disasters, thorns, rust, rot, mould, and death are all part of this bondage to decay. And all of this has come because of humanities rebellion against God and his good ways.
James 1:13-17 makes it clear that God did not create evil, for He is the author of good. But in His sovereignty as we already said, all things happen through him. Nothing is outside his rule, reign or control. So, suffering shows the damage of sin and all that it has brought.
Therefore, suffering should be a reminder to long to be free of sin. It should cause us to hope in Christ who can free us from all its effects, damages and consequences.
2. Suffering is a joyful experience that grows us
James 1:2-4 says:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Romans 5:3-5 says:
“We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us.”
To suffer is pure joy! What a mindset! It is pure joy that I suffer this hardship. Why? Because suffering grow us. We won’t grow when life is easy. We grow when life is tough! The muscles in our body won’t grow if they don’t face difficulty, hardship and aren’t pushed. We know this is the same in our lives, we grow and draw closer to God when we face something hard.
So, let’s see suffering as great blessing. God wants to grow us. He wants to mature us as His children. Let him do this! Don’t waste the season of suffering, but instead grow in righteousness, character and in your deep founded hope in God.
Do you grumble when you suffer or do you consider it pure joy and a blessing? Suffering is for our good and our next point shows another reason why it is for our good.
3. Suffering is God’s good discipline on us
Hebrews 12:6 says “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” And verses 10-11 say, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they though best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
It is not easy to discipline my children. It isn’t nice for them or me in the moment. But oh, how it is for their good! And God knows what is good for us. It may not feel like it in the moment, but he disciplines for your good (Romans 8:28).
And here in Hebrews 12 we see that discipline is to bring about righteousness and peace in us. So, love the good discipline that God gives us in suffering!
4. Suffering can be God’s judgement on people
We must be sure to say that it isn’t always like this. In John 9, the disciples see a blind man and ask Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus responds saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” So, sickness and suffering are not always a direct result of a sin.
But sometimes in the Bible we see that they are. In Acts 12 Herod addresses the people and they shout at him “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Then verse 23 says, “immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” God did this with others too in the Bible, like Ananias and Sapphira who were struck dead for lying (Acts 5).
God at times may bring physical suffering to those who sin as an act of judgement on them! Don’t brush off God’s judgement that may be coming on you or others in suffering. But also, we must remember that not all physical suffering happens because of a direct sin.
5. Suffering is a warning to repent
In Luke 13:1-5 we read:
“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, NO! But unless you repent you will likewise perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, NO! But unless you REPENT, YOU TOO WILL ALL PERISH.”
God’s message to us in suffering is clear and simple. As diseases and disasters happen in our world, God is SHOUTING at us “REPENT! REPENT! REPENT!” Turn from your wicked ways and hate sin. Be broken and confess your rebellion to God. Desperately seek God’s forgiveness, plead for the mercy that comes in Jesus Christ or YOU WILL PERISH.
And once you have repented, call others to repent! Use the seasons of suffering to warn people. Warn them of the greater suffering and judgement to come that is far worse than what the deadliest disease in this world could ever do. Warn them of God’s eternal anger in hell that will come against the sin that they commit every day. And give them the hope of forgiveness that can be found in Christ.
6. Suffering causes us to rely on God
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 Paul says to the church:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
Paul suffered many hardships, but for him, he saw that their purpose was to cause him to rely on God. Oh how we need this! We need whatever it takes to cause us to rely on God. We are bent on relying on ourselves. We think everything is in our hands. But what a wake up call we receive in this area when suffering comes.
Life is not in our control but in God's hands. Our lives are like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes as James 4 says. And so, James tells us to not be proud planners. You who say that “today or tomorrow you will do this or that”. You need to realise that you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. Instead you need to say “If it is the Lords will, we will live and do this or that.” And don’t just say this, but deep down in your heart acknowledge you utterly rely on God! Acknowledge you can do nothing without God allowing it. Realise you are in His hands, stop trusting self, and trust His control!
May the moments of hardship, where we feel so uncertain and are totally unsure of what tomorrow holds teach us to rely on God.
Only he is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Only he holds the future in his hands
Only he is faithful
Only he has the power to provide your every need
Only he has the power over life and death
Only he can save your soul
ONLY HE CAN BE TRUSTED!
So, trust Him! When all around you fails, may you grow to have a deeper reliance upon God through all your trials. You need it! And God can give it through times of hardship.
7. Suffering reminds us of our greater hope
As we suffer in this life, it reminds us of the hope we as Christians have. It reminds us of the new heavens and earth where suffering will be gone. We can face great hardship, but we do not lose heart for we have a greater hope than this life. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
The troubles that we now face are preparing an eternal glory that far outweighs every trouble we will face. We have a future hope. We will be given perfect resurrected bodies to be with God forever in the new heavens and new earth.
But how can we have this future hope? Well we must remember that we will not eternally suffer what we truly deserve because Christ has suffered for us. Luke 24:46-47 says “The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” 1 Peter 3:18 says “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” Christ suffered so that we wouldn’t have to. He suffered so that we could enjoy forgiveness of sin and a future hope.
So, in our present sufferings, remember they are nothing in comparison to what you should have faced. Nothing compared to the condemnation those who are in Christ will not have to face. And remember that Christ died to completely do away with suffering. ALL OF IT!
Romans 8:22-24a says “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.”
There will be groans across this world as we face hardship. There should be groaning in the sufferings that we face. But the Christian is waiting eagerly for adoption and redemption. We are waiting to be liberated from this bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Let this knowledge of your future hope free you for God’s service. Your hope is not in the now! It is not in having it all in this life. It is not in being free from sickness and disease. So, be willing to show costly love to others and to shine the love of Christ that you have experienced. Be willing to love in ways that will cost you, remembering the price Christ paid to love and save you. And be willing to love and help others in risky ways because as Romans 8:18 says “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
8. Suffering is for God’s glory
Finally, in all these purposes that God has in suffering, we need to see the one purpose that is happening. The ultimate purpose is that God is glorified! As we saw earlier, this is why He brought blindness to the man in John 9. And Romans 11:36 says “For from him, through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.”
So, this is God’s message to us as we face every form of suffering in this life. Though we will at times wonder what God is doing, remember these purposes. We may not understand every detail of what God is doing, but we can trust Him as we see the bigger purposes.
And remember the words of Romans 11:33-36 in the seasons of suffering.
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all tings. To him be the glory forever. Amen”