The question is often asked, “Why does God allow suffering?” Disease strikes the good and the bad equally, accidents happen to great people and innocent folks. Oftentimes, missionaries suffer while serving God in a foreign land. We wonder, why? Couldn’t God protect them? Couldn’t God have kept them safe? In this article we want to make the connection between suffering and sin; God and suffering; and lastly, the Christian and suffering.
Suffering and Sin
Ecclesiastes 3:11, He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.1
In the beginning, God made everything perfect. There was no suffering, no death. What happened? How do we go from no suffering to mass suffering? In Genesis 3, we see the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and with their disobedience came consequences. With their sin came suffering and death.
Genesis 3:7-8 & 16-19 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
To the woman He said:“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:“Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”1
Suffering is directly related to sin. If man would never have sinned, there would be no suffering, but man did sin and ushered in all manner of suffering.
God is not the author of sin nor is He the author of suffering. Suffering is the result of man’s rebellion. That said, you may suffer, not as the direct result of your sin, but simply because you live in a sin-cursed world.
John 9:1-2, Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”1
The disciples believed that all suffering was directly related to one’s sin. Their assumption was simply not true.
There are 3 categories of suffering:
(1) Natural causes. Birth defects, disease, accidents may or may not be directly related to your actions. If you smoke, you may well get lung cancer. Unfortunately, you may be perfectly innocent and still get cancer. This does not seem fair to us; however, we must accept that this is part of living in a sin cursed world.
(2) Man-inflicted suffering. Cain killed Abel. The Holocaust happened. School shootings take place. Abortion is a common birth-control method. All of this is by the evil actions of men. We wonder why would anyone do such things. The answer is because they yield to their fallen nature. Their minds have become reprobate, without moral conscience.
(3) Mental and emotional suffering. Consider what Adam and Eve must have gone through after the murder of their son by his brother. Worry, anguish, anxiety, stress, depression were probably all emotions they experienced. The human condition is conducive to this because of the fallen nature.
So there is plenty of suffering to go around because we live in a sin-cursed world! Those who have active faith are better able to cope with suffering than those who do not. People of faith realize God is sovereign, and the sovereign God cares for me! Job said “Though He slay me yet shall I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)
God and Suffering
In returning to the interaction of Jesus and His disciples concerning the man who had been born blind. John 9:3-5, Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”1This suffering was for a purpose. “That the works of God might be manifest”.
We also have the example of Lazarus death. John 11:1-4, Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”1
Suffering always has a divine purpose, ultimately God’s glory. God uses the suffering to bring us or others to Himself. (Your suffering may allow you to minister to others who are themselves suffering 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). God may heal those who are suffering for His glory. God may use suffering to purge rebellion from the life of the believer. While ultimately suffering is the result of living in a broken world with a fallen nature, God does use it for His own divine purpose.
Suffering often brings us to our knees. It is through the difficult times of life that we learn dependence on God. While sin is the cause, God is in control! He chooses to allow us to suffer for a purpose.
We also need to consider the Law of Sowing and Reaping:
Galatians 6:7-8, Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.1
There are consequences for our actions. If you eat poorly for many years you shouldn’t be surprised if you have bad health. God expects us to use the brain He gave us! He expects us to care for our bodies, our minds and our spirits. Oftentimes we sow a mess, and then expect God to clean it up, but we must reap what we have sown. That is true for nations as well.
We also need to understand that bad things happen to good people
Ecclesiastes 9:11-12, For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, Like birds caught in a snare, So the sons of men are snared in an evil time, When it falls suddenly upon them.1
Life isn’t fair. God allows life to happen. God’s will isn’t that people should suffer and die. He originally made mankind perfect and eternal. But the wages of sin is “suffering” and death. Because we live in a sin cursed world, we suffer and Christians are not immune. In fact we may suffer because we are Christians. Infact, that is normal in most cultures in our world.
1 Peter 4:12-14 & 16 & 19, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.
Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.1
The Christian and Suffering
So when suffering comes our way how should we respond? 1 Peter 2:9, But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;.1
Let us never forget what we have been saved from and to! When suffering comes our way, let us remember that we are in Christ redeemed!
Hebrews 4:14-16, Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.1
We must hold fast to Jesus. We must come boldly to his throne. We need to see Jesus with fresh eyes! He knows our suffering. He suffered on our behalf!
Paul wrote of this in Philippians 3:10, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,1
When we suffer we have a living glimpse of the wages of sin.
If we are suffering, let’s not blame God but blame sin. Could God have prevented it, or taken this suffering away? Yes! This we know GOD HAS CHOSEN NOT TO. That’s all we need to know.
Romans 8:28, And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.1
2 Corinthians 12:9-10, And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
We don’t have heaven on earth, but we do