Delivered by Suffering
Do you wonder why there is suffering? Ever struggle to know if God cares? In this first post of a two-part blog series, Pastor Chris, Pastor of Soul Care, encourages us to consider three questions: "Does God care about our suffering?", "Why do we suffer?" and "Is there hope in suffering?"
Delivered by Suffering
It was one of those calls you hope never to receive. Mom was on the phone and the quiet intensity in her voice told me it was serious. She said that Dad was in a serious accident at work and was rushed to the hospital with a head injury. We quickly headed to the hospital with very little information, wondering what condition we would find him in when we arrived. I struggled to be strong for Mom, even as I was flooded with fearful thoughts. What if he doesn’t make it? Or what if he never fully recovers? It was only later, after the initial shock wore off, that my thoughts turned to more spiritual questions. Why did God do this? Does he not understand how much my family has suffered already? Does he care?
Sometimes the pain we feel in our suffering is like a dense fog pressing in, making us feel like we’re alone and tempting us to doubt God’s character, presence and care. This can derail our walks with Christ and lead us to some dark places. It is important for us to have a biblical understanding of suffering that will ground our pain in biblical truth and help us see the comfort that springs from it. We’ll frame the discussion around three questions: Does God care about our suffering? Why do we suffer? What hope do we have in our suffering?
Does God Care About Our Suffering?
Answering this question requires us to understand God’s sovereignty and goodness, which are not challenged by our suffering. First, God is sovereign. He is in control of everything, including suffering. Look at some of the ways the Bible describes this:
- God is the true king who reigns over all the earth (Psalms 47:2, 8).
- God does whatever he pleases and no plan of his will be thwarted (Job 23:13; Psalms 115:3, 135:6).
- God makes the sun rise and rain fall on all good and evil people (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:16–17).
- God directs the evil enacted upon humanity, while he himself does no evil. We see this in the stories of Job and Joseph. God directed the evil done to them and then redeemed it for his glory and their good (Job 42:1–4, 10–11; Genesis 45:4–8).
Second, God is good. It is part of his character. He established his goodness on the earth during creation (Genesis 1:31). Look at the ways the Bible describes his goodness applied to suffering:
- God listens to the suffering (Genesis 16:11; Deuteronomy 26:7; Job 34:28; Psalms 22:24).
- God remembers the suffering (Psalms 10:12; 34:19; 69:29; 107:41).
- He avenges the suffering (Psalms 82:3; 140:12).
- He comforts the suffering (Psalms 119:50).
- He brings suffering (Psalms 90:15; 119:75).
How then do we reconcile God’s sovereignty and goodness? Job 36:15 provides an answer: God delivers us byour suffering. CS Lewis explains, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God’s sovereignty and goodness in suffering wake us up to the reality of who he is and how much we need him. This is exactly what God did with me in the aftermath of my Dad’s accident. So, yes, God cares. In fact, God cares so much about our suffering that he uses it to draw us closer to him, and in this way, he delivers us by suffering.
Why Do We Suffer?
The answer is that suffering exists because sin exists. When Adam and Eve committed the first sin in Genesis 3, sin and death were introduced to the rest of humanity. God saw that every thought and intention of the heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5; Psalms 14:1–3; 25; 32; 42; 53:1–3; 55).
There are three primary ways suffering occurs in our lives because of sin:
- The curse of sin. All creation groans under this curse (Romans 8:18–25) and this means that sickness, disease, infertility and natural disasters will cause suffering.
- The sin of others. The Bible gives many examples of suffering by the hands of exceedingly wicked people (Genesis 4, 34; Judges 21:22–30; 2 Samuel 13:1–22; Isaiah 56:9–12; Jeremiah 2:8, 23:1–4; Ezekiel 14:1–7).
- Our own sin. Prior to Christ, our hearts were exceedingly wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and none of us were righteous (Romans 3:10–18). Now as Christians, we still fight the internal war against sin (Galatians 5:17; James 4:1; 1 Peter 2:11) and we can even become enslaved to our sinful passions (Romans 6:16).
We suffer because we live in a broken world full of broken people. Remembering this does not excuse or minimize our pain, but it does help us understand it through biblical lenses.
What Hope Do We Have in Our Suffering?
Knowing that God directs our suffering, and that sin is the reason we suffer, provides the necessary foundation for seeing the hope of suffering. There are three reasons we can have hope:
- Jesus suffered fully and completely. The climax of suffering occurred with Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:21–41). Jesus not only bore the physical pain of crucifixion, but also all the sins of all humanity. He was forsaken by all, including God, so that those who believe in him will never be alone. Now he is interceding on our behalf (Hebrews 4:14–16). Jesus understands our suffering. We are not alone.
- Jesus’ suffering makes eternal life possible. Compared to the eternal weight of glory that awaits all of us in Jesus, the present sufferings, though painful, are “light afflictions” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). This means that eternity with Jesus is so marvelous, grand, glorious and happy that our pain today pales in comparison. This hope of suffering is found by fixing upon God’s promised grace of eternal life. The suffering we endure today is but a microscopic speck on the timeline of eternity with Jesus.
- Our suffering reveals Jesus’ supremacy. The weakness we have in suffering reveals God’s power and forces us to rely upon him to endure the pain. God’s grace is sufficient, and his power is manifested in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). His strength is what we need, and when others see us suffering this way, it manifests his worth and beauty to the world.
Randy Alcorn says that God’s people are better off eternally because they suffer temporarily. In other words, because of Jesus’ saving work, I could face the temporal suffering of my Dad’s injury with confidence knowing that he uses it to prepare me for eternal pleasure with the Lord. This is true because God’s goodness and sovereignty is magnified in suffering. Jesus’ supremacy is exalted in suffering, and our hope of eternity as Christians is promised in suffering. God delivers us from suffering by our suffering. Rejoice, dear friends. Our pain has purpose.
- “If God is Good” by Randy Alcorn [Theological approach]
- “The Problem of Pain” by CS Lewis [Philosophical approach]
- “What is the Secret of Joy in Suffering?”by John Piper [8 min video]