“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name … ” – 1 Peter 4:12-19.
We are looking to answer a variety of questions in the You Asked For It Series. Some questions are fairly easy to answer, while others require a lengthy and sometimes complicated answer. Still others require faith in God. How can a loving God allow suffering is one of those hard-to-answer, you need to have faith in Him type of question.
This is a difficult topic to address, not simply because it rattles our brains, but because it is usually discussed when our hearts are rattled because of personal loss. The Holocaust, Tsunamis, young people being shot in our streets society and then on a more personal level: why did I have to get cancer? Why did my daughter have to die? Why did I lose my job and now I can’t feed my family? Some people assume that because such evils exist that God must either be 1) not good, 2) not all-powerful, or 3) not real. As Christians we try to react differently to difficulties. When troubles find us, we normally react and respond with the traditional Christian stiff upper lip. And why not, we believe God will work it out. We trust God, and why we can’t see the good that comes out of this today, we believe there is a reason and that is good enough for us. But sometimes, all those words fail us and we wonder if this trouble in our lives was really necessary.
There are many examples of people who suffered in the Bible. The most often cited example is Job. Job had suffered in ways incomprehensible to most of us. And that suffering had left him confused and searching for answers. The searching for answers is instinctual, because when tragedy strikes we want to know why. And what we don’t want to hear is that “God has this so don’t worry about it.”
There are many other examples such as Paul and his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). And Joseph. Most of the disciples suffered in life or in death. This is no indicator of divine favoritism. The point is, there is no formula for suffering. There is no one answer. There is no pat explanation.
Though it is human nature to want to master all knowledge, we simply must concede that much of life is a mystery. I can accept that by trusting that God is greater and wiser and has the answers we seek. We may not know the reason for each specific instance of pain and suffering, but we have been clearly shown the bigger picture, and we can be certain that all suffering will pale in comparison to future glory. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18).
John Ortberg said this in Faith and Doubt: “One man, whose son died climbing a mountain when he was twenty-five, said that what he came to see was tears, a weeping God, suffering over my suffering. I had not realized that if God loves the world, God suffers. I had thoughtlessly supposed God loved without suffering. I knew that divine love was the key. But I had not realized that the divine love that is the key is a suffering love.”
Here is what we know about suffering and what we should cling to: God is impossibly loving. He loves us. He loves our families. God restores things; all of history points to a God who makes sad things right. Look at it this way: faith is less about trying to control God to get what we think we need or to take care of any problems and more about having a companion for the journey.
- Why do we want an explanation of suffering? Do we believe that an actual theological explanation for our suffering will bring peace and comfort, joy or hope? Why or why not?
- What are some reasons why we believe we need to have a complete answer for this question?
- How did you initially respond to God in your suffering? Did your reaction change over time? What did you learn about God? What did you learn about yourself?
- If you were God, what would you do to deal with suffering and pain today? If you intervened supernaturally to eliminate evil,where would you draw the line to prevent murder? Child abuse? Evil thoughts?
- Do you believe pain can help us grow—though it can be hard to see at times, even in retrospect?