Suffering in one form or another is a stark and ever present reality in all of our lives.
Does it have to be that way?
Why do bad things happen to good people?
As long as human beings make mistakes there will be suffering!
As long as we are physical we will be subject to breaking down and wearing out – sickness and death will be our lot!
If we are free moral agents with minds to think, and the ability to decide what we will do, there are the inevitable consequences and a certain randomness to what may happen to us and to others.
Why must Christians suffer? If we accept the Judaeo-Christian belief that God is a just God who is all-powerful, all wise and all good we are immediately faced with this enormous problem of the vast catalogue of human suffering. Why does God allow it?
Why do innocent people suffer?
Understandably people ask such questions as, “Why did God let Tommy die?” or “Why did God allow this to happen to me?”
“What have I done to deserve this?” is a persistent question.
Faith does not guarantee a life free of suffering (1Peter 4.12-16)
We have to take up our cross . . . hated and persecuted!
A joy in knowing that trials provide opportunities for spiritual enrichment.
Welcome trials and temptations (James 1.2-4).
We may have all kinds of trials and temptations (1Peter 1.6)
Consider the trial of Abraham (Gen 22.1-12)
Suffering teaches us to look beyond this life – and stops us relying on ourselves (2Cor 1.8-9).
Our present suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8.18)
Faith – strengthened and refined by suffering!
Consider Romans 9 – the context seems to be that only a few were being called to salvation in the early NT church – children of Abraham – chosen by God!
Paul writing to the gentile Christians at Ephesus reminded them that they had been without Christ, utter strangers to God’s chosen community, Israel, and had no knowledge of, or the right to, the promised agreements. They had had nothing to look forward to and no God to whom they could turn (Eph 2.11on).
Who are we to judge God (Rom 9.14-20)? God’s thoughts are so far above ours! Maybe we should be asking the question:
“What purpose is there to life, unfair as it may sometimes seem?”
In human terms there is nothing logical nor rational in the idea that a God who is love, allows us to suffer pain and distress. But then there is no logical or rational explanation for the need for the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour who is described in Isa 53.3 as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The sacrifice of Jesus shows us the real love of God. God does care!
The problem of suffering is said by some to be one of the unsearchable mysteries of God, but do we ever consider:
“Where was God when his one and only Son was crucified by sinful men – and what were his thoughts at that time?”
God does care and in the future there will be no more suffering – God will dwell with his people and he will wipe away every tear (Rev 21.4)
God is the Creator of all things – there will be a time when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Isa 11.9).
Man was created in the image of God – clay in the hands of the Master Potter (the need to recognise God’s authority to do as he wishes) – created to reflect God’s glory as a result of an ongoing relationship with Jesus.
There is often a gap between what people expect from their Christian faith and what they actually experience. When problems arise and tragedy strikes many feel betrayed.
There are many scriptures that we could bear in mind:
Ps 119.71 – It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn your statutes.
Heb 12.11 – 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.
Matt 5.10-12 – Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
John 16.33 – You will find trouble in the world – but, never lose heart, I have conquered the world.
God in his wisdom has allowed suffering for a purpose. The chance to learn from our mistakes (and the mistakes of others). Maybe we can only come to know the risen Lord when we have experienced some form of disillusionment with ourselves and others, some sense of loss, bereavement, fear, helplessness, or meaninglessness of life – and even then a real understanding takes time (often a long time!)
In Eph 2.10 Paul suggests that we are God’s workmanship. This is the Greek word ‘poema’. Every believer is essentially a work of art – God’s art! Consider how artists work – they labour long and hard and with the utmost care for detail. Sometimes they do very little – just a stroke here or there – at other times they make massive changes. But always they seek to bring the raw material into line with the artistic vision – something which at the moment is completely beyond our comprehension.
I find it helpful to see life as a journey. It is only as a result of continuing that journey: allowing God to mould us; and dealing with the problems that arise, that we can become whatever it is that God wants us to be.
During the course of our Christian journey we do suffer. God never promises us an easy time – just a safe arrival. It may be that many of us overlook the benefits of sharing our journey and learning from each other.
Maybe the important thing is not what happens to us, but what we make of what happens. And there will be times when we need help to get back on our feet and continue the journey!
We need to remember that many down through the ages have become more Christ-like through suffering.
We are warned of the fiery ordeal and to rejoice in sharing Christ’s sufferings. Blessings and buffetings often go hand in hand. God’s ways are not our ways! Behind much anger about suffering is our human arrogance which assumes that God must somehow justify his existence and explain his actions before we are prepared to consider the possibility of believing in him.
Beware of unhealthy feelings of guilt! We may want intellectual answers to our philosophical questions about God and man; suffering and pain – but it’s more important to know God’s will and be doing it. Sometimes it is only through suffering that we begin to listen to God – when natural pride and self-confidence have been stripped painfully away. Self pity is a form of pride! The time when we are ready to ask the questions, “What are you saying to me, God?”, “What response do you want me to make?”. A challenge to sort out our priorities here and now! God never promises to protect us from our problems – only to help us in them!
The place of suffering and worship
We must learn to embrace suffering and co-operate with God’s Spirit in our journey of life. Suffering, if we let it, purifies and allows us to live more within the will of God – and into a deeper relationship.
Trials, tribulation and suffering do occur after we have chosen to follow Jesus. The testing of our faith develops perseverance (James 1.2-4) and leads to maturity. Suffering (especially physical disability or illness) reminds us that physical life is fragile and does not last forever. There are times when we need to be reminded that we are only stewards of what we possess.
Suffering with Christ is part of our vocation (1Peter4.12; 5.9on)
Worship as a way of cherishing the preciousness of God above all else.
Only when our bondage to the world has been severed – when only joy and love survive – will we be able to be true ambassadors of the hope that is within us.
It is the pure and humble who have truly learned to love God for who he is and to worship him most deeply. ‘The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honour and life’ (Prov 22.4).
It involves a transformation from the inside out!
Could it be that God accepts us as we are, but can’t use us too well until we have been ‘broken in’? Consider that Abraham was a city dweller who had been taken out of his ‘comfort zone‘ to become a nomad. Moses was deposed and broken. David had been trained in the royal household but had then been brought so low that he wished he was dead. Gideon had had to learn the lesson that God is in charge. More recently I have realised that there are so many lessons that can be learned from the story of Daniel. There was the supreme example of Jesus who was entrusted to human beings and was crucified in weakness! Then there was Paul who seemed to be destined for high position in the Sanhedrin.
Before God can use us he usually has to bruise us!
Christians need to remember that whatever the trials, we have been adopted and that the trials do have a purpose!