Saturday, May 22, 2010

Suffering Sucks...or Does It?

This post originally published in Jan 2009. 

Suffering is a topic that comes up quite often. This topic seems to come up for one of two reasons: someone is trying to undermine the belief in the all-powerful, all-loving God of the Bible; or someone is going through a horrible time in their life and are trying to figure out why God is allowing them to suffer so much physical or emotional pain. I'll touch on both of them here.

God made a promise to Israel, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Paul was confident that a similar promise from God now extends to the Body of Christ, “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)


Paul also told us how to deal with what’s going on, even when it sucks, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

Here's another that is familiar to many of us: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28.

In all these scriptures, God is telling us that He is sovereign- in complete control of everything that is going on, and we can trust Him with this control. Even though, we may not see the reasons for the specific situations God is taking us through, we should go through them gladly, knowing that God has a plan and, in the long run, God will not make your suffering useless.

There are three things that we do have control over that God will not force on us. Our trust, willingness, and patience while God is performing the details of this plan. We must actively choose to exercise these when going through painful times, even though we may not see what the reason is or result will be. (Check out my later post "Who's In Control?" for a further discussion on God's sovereignty vs. our free will)

A lot of people like to call this "blind faith". But is it really? What good reasons do we have to trust God in these situations? These same people like to say, "God's promises" and leave it there. I would like to add one word between those two- "kept". In the past: the Bible shows us many times that God made promises, and kept them. In the present: many people alive today will share how God has kept the same promise to them (to see them through a situation). In the future: Based on God's track record, we can trust Him with our own lives.

I would also like to ask you to think about the most important things that you have learned in your life. Then trace the steps that were required for you to learn those things. Chances are, it required a fair amount of suffering to get you to that level of knowledge and understanding. Suffering is necessary to grow. If you desire to grow and learn anything of value, expect to suffer.

God does not make us suffer because He is mean, sadistic, or enjoys the anguish of His creation. He does it because He knows what good things will eventually come of it.

As a faithful Christian, remember that no matter how crappy your situation is, God has everything under control and you will eventually come out stronger. But don’t let these be an excuse to do nothing- God works through people in people’s lives. This includes you in your own life.

In fact, the present suffering may not even be a temporary position. It may be a new permanent position. God sometimes changes our lives dramatically, so that He can dramatically change other lives through us. Check out the apostle Paul. He went from being a rich persecutor to being a poor, persecuted apostle of Christ. His situation was a permanent change, and it sucked- on the surface (constantly being in prison, tortured, etc.). He could have kept saying, "I believe God is going to take me out of this situation!" But, as we all know, it was not meant to be. If Paul had been preaching that his "deliverance will come" from his awful situation, many people would have believed Jesus Christ to be a false god (He did not answer Paul's prayer), and Paul's faith to be useless. Paul instead accepted the situations that God placed him in and made the most of them for furthering the Kingdom of God and building up the Body of Christ. I wonder if Paul's message about the gospel would have had the impact that it did if he was in a "comfy" situation all the time. The sooner we accept the situations that God places us in, the sooner He can use us in the lives of others.

An application of this understanding may also be applied to our willingness to forgive. People do stupid and hurtful things to us all the time. Sometimes we wonder why someone would do something so bad to us. Forgiveness can be a difficult thing to administer in a situation that has deep wounds. But realizing that God will use that experience to make you stronger, will help you to forgive and move on to the blessing that God is waiting for you to accept.

"...The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:21)



Ravi Zacharias discusses Job and his situation on Just Thinking. Listen in:
"Questions of a Man in Agony"

Part 1

Download the MP3 here.

Part 2

Download the MP3 here.

Part 3

Download the MP3 here.

Part 4

Download the MP3 here.

Dr. Hugh Ross discusses the purposes of pain and suffering in this episode of the podcast "Why The Universe Is The Way It Is":

Why Not a Perfect Universe Now?


Download the MP3 here.

Check out these short videos from Dr. William Lane Craig and Greg Koukl about suffering and evil.



For more information:

Web Articles
Failure- by William Lane Craig

Books:
Why The Universe Is The Way It Is- Dr. Hugh Ross
Without a Doubt- Kenneth Samples

Podcasts:
Just Thinking- Ravi Zacharias
Let My People Think- Ravi Zacharias
Defenders- William Lane Craig
Reasonable Faith- William Lane Craig
Straight Thinking- Kenneth Samples
Why The Universe Is The Way It Is- Dr. Hugh Ross

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