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Why Does God Allow Suffering?
by Kim Harrington

    
And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.

Job 2:3 (KJV)

    

     There's an awful lot of suffering and pain going on in this world around us. Even Americans are not immune, although we cannot even begin to conceive of the kind of affliction people in some parts of the world are experiencing.  Furthermore, suffering of some kind hits every kind and class: rich and poor, educated and uneducated, and--yes--righteous as well as unrighteous.  In fact, I'm sometimes tempted to believe that the righteous suffer more than the unrighteous, despite a prevalent teaching today that Christians needn't suffer at all.

     The Bible is filled with pain and suffering.  Wars, persecutions, famines, and sickness are found from Genesis through Revelation, with both saint and sinner at the receiving end.  In our opening text, God testifies that Job is a perfect and upright man; nevertheless, he bears the brunt of a satanic attack throughout the next forty chapters.  The Word of God finds no fault with Job's faith (as some might today), but for some reason God has actually allowed the devil to move Him against His servant!

     Now God doesn't enjoy human suffering, but He does allow it, and sometimes even instigates it (see Micah 4:6, Nahum 1:12).  So let's not be afraid to face the issue, but rather, let's deal with it head-on. Let's not redefine suffering, as some have done; we all know what suffering is.  Let's not try to read into the Scripture a bunch of our own little ideas, but let's believe what it clearly says

     Suffering is a fact of life, and God allows it, so let's examine some of the "whys and wherefores," and see if we can't learn something. We needn't blame the Lord for human suffering, but neither should we attribute a sort of humanistic sentimentality to Him, while denying that the Bible means what it clearly says. We do need a clearer understanding of His perspective on this important subject, so let's approach it with an open mind. Who knows, we may even come to understand what the psalmist meant when he said, "I know O Lord that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me," (Psalm 119:75).

Why does God allow suffering?...

 

     1. God Allows Some People To Suffer In Order To Bring Them To The Brokenness And Humility Necessary To Their Salvation.   This is one of the most common reasons for suffering and affliction in the biblical record.  God often used calamities to get peoples' attention and bring them to repentance. Earthquakes, famines, and droughts were all brought on at times by the Lord in order to bring people to salvation, and save them from something much worse than physical suffering -- an eternity in Hell. Psalm 119:67 says, "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word."

     Similar to this, only directed more toward the believer, is the "chastening of the Lord." Hebrews 12:6 says, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." Like any caring Father our God disciplines us when we get out of line -- not just to vent His wrath, but to redirect us to righteousness. Some people insist that the chastening of the Lord doesn't include physical discipline, but the use of the word "scourge" (to severely whip) seems conclusive to me.  Verse eleven says, "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."

     2. Affliction Makes Us Aware Of How Carnal We Really Are.  It serves as a kind of shaking process that allows us to identify and eliminate some undesirable things in our character that might otherwise have remained hidden (Heb. 12:27).  Suffering is a refining process that puts enough heat on us to bring the impurities to the surface.  Anyone can act righteous under ideal circumstances, but a little pain or testing may bring out the very opposite. A nagging headache can make a real "bear" out of a person by the end of the day; smashing your thumb with a hammer can evoke a flow of words that seems very uncharacteristic, but is an accurate representation of what still lies undealt with in the heart. This deep down carnality must be uprooted and dealt with, and suffering is an effective way to do it.

     3. God Allows Us To Suffer So That We May Learn Obedience. "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). In this case we're not talking about a lack of obedience being dealt with--the subject is Jesus Himself--but rather a proof of obedience. Submission to suffering, and even death, for the Lord's sake, is the very epitome of obedience and commitment to God (see also Phil. 2:8).

     Suffering is a test and trial of our faith which Peter says is "more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire," (I Pet. 1:7).  Whether we fail or pass the test, it is valuable: either to expose our carnality, or declare our faithfulness.

     4. Suffering Brings Us Into Closer Fellowship With Jesus.  This no doubt sounds like out-and-out heresy to some people, but look at what the Bible says... "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings..." (Phil. 3:10), and in I Peter 4:13, "rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings." Someone said Christ suffered so that we don't have to, but the Bible seems to encourage us to join Him in suffering, and rejoice in it as well.

     You see, the things that bring people into closer and more meaningful relationships are shared experiences and things held in common. You and I may have fellowship with one another because we have our Christian faith in common, but when we spend much time doing the same things, and perhaps go through some hard times together, suddenly our friendship becomes much deeper. So it is with Christ.  His was a life of sorrow, acquainted with grief; and when we experience the same things our relationship with Him becomes deeper. I'm not advocating that we walk around being morose and negative all the time, but I am saying that we should appreciate some of the benefits of suffering. "For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps." (I Pet. 2:21)

     5. Suffering Is A Token And Confirmation Of Our Covenant Relationship With God.  This is what the Apostle Paul is talking about in Galatians 6:17 when he says, "From henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." In ancient times, when you entered into a covenant--or sacred agreement--with someone, you would seal it in blood, leaving a scar for all to see. People would then think twice before troubling you; for they'd have to deal with your covenant-partner, too.

     Salvation is a covenant between man and God. Jesus sealed it in His own blood (and even His resurrection body bears the scars).  There is also a sense in which we, too, must confirm the covenant by taking up our cross, living a life of personal sacrifice, and sometimes suffering in a very literal sense for the sake of our agreement with the Lord. It is a little like the Old Testament practice of circumcision, or like a wedding band, if you will. Suffering doesn't make you any more saved, but it can be symbol or token of your new covenant relationship with God.

     6. If We Suffer With Christ, We Will Also Be Glorified Together With Him.  This is the message of Romans 8:17-18, where Paul says, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."  II Timothy 2:12 says, "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." Apparently suffering in this life is a way of securing greater eternal glory in the life to come, of laying up treasure in heaven.  One respected minister suggested that perhaps scars would be beauty marks in the next world, that we would retain ours in our resurrection bodies, even as Christ does His. In any case, there will be recognition and glory for those who have suffered with Christ. Some, recognizing this principle, have even been "tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection." (Heb. 11:35)

     7. Suffering Allows The Strength Of Christ To Flow Through Us More Freely. Look at what II Corinthians 12:9-l0 says about Paul's thorn in the flesh... "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness... Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."

     You can only be a fit vessel of Christ's strength and glory to the degree that your own human strength and confidence is broken. Earlier in II Corinthians Paul said, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels."   The vessel is our humanity, and the treasure is the Holy Spirit within us. God desires to flow freely through us without being contaminated and diluted by the earthen vessel, without our pride and natural resources getting in the way.  Physical infirmity and suffering is sometimes necessary to humble us enough for Christ's strength to come through. Our bodies, like Mary's alabaster box, must sometimes be broken before the ointment can be released as a blessing to others (Mark 14:3). This brings us right up to our next point...

    8. Our Suffering Can Be Redemptive To Others.  Colossians 1:24... "[I, Paul] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church."

     Some suffering is actually the vehicle that imparts the redeeming grace of God to others. Paul's shipwreck and snake-bite in Acts 27 and 28 would qualify as an illustration of this. If he hadn't been cast upon that island and bitten by the viper, the revival that followed would never have occurred. If he hadn't been stoned in Lystra (Acts 14) perhaps the saints of that area wouldn't have been as strong.

     As Christ suffered to procure salvation for us, we must sometimes suffer to propagate it. Any missionary can testify to the truth of this.   Let's not flinch from it but gladly endure such suffering if called upon to do so.

    9. God Allows Us To Suffer So That We May Comfort Others.  "Blessed be God... Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." (II Cor. 1:3,4)

     This is pretty self-explanatory, but let's take a quick look at it.  If I suffer the loss of a close family member, I am naturally more able to comfort and strengthen someone else in the same situation. It may be one of the most heart-rending things I ever go through, but afterwards I have a wealth of wisdom and experience which will aid me in ministering to others.  I can say with authority that God didn't let me down and He won't forsake you, either.  I can comfort others because I've been there, and been the recipient of His comfort.

     10. Sometimes It's Just Too Deep For Us To Understand.  This sounds like a pretty lame excuse for an argument, but it's probably the best reason we've given yet for our question, "why does God allow suffering?"  Have you ever noticed the answer the Lord gave to Job?   You can read about it in chapters 38-41 of that book.  God's answer, in essence, is this: "What do you know about the stars, the clouds, the wild goats, the behemoth and leviathan? If you can't understand simple physical things like that, Job, how do you ever expect to understand an issue as complex as the suffering of the righteous?"

     Look at the Job's answer and be content, "I uttered that which I understood not: things too wonderful for me which I knew not... wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:3,6)

     And so we come to the conclusion of our little article.   We've seen quite a few things about the subject of suffering, but there are many things that we didn't even touch upon, and many others that we cannot, in this life, begin to comprehend. "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.   Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known" (I Cor. 13:12).  Until that day, it's a good idea to practice being heavenly-minded, and to remember above all--no matter what kind of affliction and contradiction you may face--that our God still loves you, that He's faithful, and that He'll never forsake you.

 

     Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.

Psalm 34: 19

Scripture references are taken from the King James version of the Bible.

Copyright 1998 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.

 

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