When considering why God allows suffering, it is essential we remember that man was created good, very good indeed. God was pleased with what He had made and Genesis records that God had fellowship with Adam and Eve, in the Garden. Everything was great, until Adam chose to disobey God’s command, eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That choice introduced sin into the human race, with a multiplicity of terrible compounding consequences for every human ever since. (If you have not read part 1 of this article, please click this link).
Although humanity’s choice to sin led to suffering in the human race, we can ultimately see, even this happens under the oversight of God’s sovereignty. This can be seen as God declared Jesus Christ to be the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, in order to deal with man’s sin can the suffering it led too (I Peter 1:19-21; Revelation 13:8). Before God created the world, He foresaw man’s abuse of free-will and consequences. For this He chose the word of God within the Godhead (John 1:1-5, 14), to be the Son of God sent to atone for man’s sin by His own precious blood.
For many this raises the question, “If God knew what would happen, why did He let it happen?” In my opinion, one that I believe is biblically informed, there is a solid reason for His allowing it to happen. We will look at that reason later, but for now it is enough to declare that God does allow suffering; and sometimes He orders it.
To examine this truth we can look at Egypt around the time of Moses. Most do not have a problem understanding why God brought the plagues on Egypt, when considering their mass murder of Israelite boy babies and the bitter slavery they inflicted on millions. It is true that God ordered their suffering, as judgment for their wickedness toward non-Egyptians. Yet scripture declares other reason(s) for their God-ordered suffering.
In the first place, we must understand Egypt’s poor view of the Jewish people (antisemitism), did not merely rise from a racist heart, but was fostered by the false god’s of Egypt; those fallen angels that were at war (on Satan’s behalf) against the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). The seed of the woman is the promise of Messiah, the Lamb of God, the only One who can defeat the enemy’s kingdom for good. In light of this information, we find in Exodus 12:12 that YAHWEH brought the plagues, specifically the death of the first born, to strike a blow of judgment upon those false god’s. Secondly we understand God chose Pharaoh, knowing the hardened disposition of his heart, to show His own power and glory to the entire world (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:17).
Some choose to take this truth and twist it into defining God as malicious and awful. These God-haters choose to forget, God gave Pharaoh the choice of letting Israel go free and yet Egyptian king, at times, hardened his own heart. Of course this multiplied the suffering of the entire nation.
So we see God does at times order suffering for the judgment of nations. In fact we see this throughout Revelation, where the goal is not annihilation, but bringing repentance and redemption (II Corinthians 7:10; Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9, 10). We need to always remember God is not willing that any would perish, but all would come to repentance. Even in the sufferings of Egypt we see repentance in gentiles, for as Israel left, so did a mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38). Although God at times does ordain suffering, even in those He loves (Consider Jesus who was ordained to suffer before time began), all suffering is not ordered by God. Often times it is allowed, in the life of the faithful, for the good of His kingdom and the person who is suffering.
(Romans 8:28) 28And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Whether ordained or allowed, suffering in those who follow Christ has good and godly purpose. As we consider this truth, we arrive at six purposes in our suffering as followers of Christ. This list I am sure is not exhaustive, but sufficient to cover most of the hardships and trials we face.
#1 Suffering serves as a means of God’s discipline in our life
One of the least liked and understood passages of the O.T. is Proverbs 3:12, where we read “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights”. Modern translation: if you are loved by God as a child, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you will suffer difficulties and painful trials, which teach us about ourselves, ourselves and our God. These sufferings also prove we are legitimate children of God (Hebrews 12:4-13).
We must be careful not to believe that we are disciplined by Abba only when we are sinning. That point of view is a wrong conclusion. Often we suffer chastisement, when not sinning in any particular way, but as a means of teaching us a lesson. Remember, scripture records Jesus, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered“(Hebrews 5:8). What does that mean? Why does God need to learn anything?
It is quite simple when we remember that Jesus emptied Himself in His incarnation as the Son of God (Philippians 2:5-8). This means He laid aside His prerogative to exercise His Glory and Divine attributes, unless led to use them by the command of the Holy Spirit. This is why there were certain things He did not know, times where He was utterly weak, and able to feel the suffering of temptation. He learned what is necessary to be obedient to God, as a human being. This was chastisement as a Son and aren’t we glad, for when we are tempted, He is able to aid us having suffered being tempted in all ways like us, yet with out sin.
Therefore even though suffering though chastisement is painful, it does produce wonderful fruit (Hebrews 12:11). It is this truth that leads to our next two purposes in suffering for those who follow Christ.
#2 Suffering Exposes Our Sinful Tendencies
In I Peter 1:6-7 the word of God gives us a picture of what trials will do in our life, in the way of bringing the peaceable fruit of righteousness… “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested with fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ”.
The picture we receive is that of gold being super-heated in order that the impurities, which are of lesser weight and substance than the gold, would rise to the top; at which time they can be skimmed out for the purpose of purifying the gold. The suffering of trials super-heats our life, which exposes the sinful attitudes and sinful patterns we lean on during times of trouble. If we follow God’s pattern of removal given to us in I John 1:9, we will find that suffering not only exposes that which is contrary to the fruit of righteousness in our life, but also strengthens the authentic faith we are walking in. As with any gold that is purified, the removal of impurities makes the gold more dense, strong, and luminous in its shine. In relation to our faith and our practical life of righteousness, Peter’s first letter again gives us a solid purpose in suffering.
#3 Suffering Strengthens Our Authentic Faith and Purifies Our Life
(I Peter 4:1-2) Therefore, since Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he should no longer live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.
We understand suffering described above is not arbitrary, but specifically because we follow Christ in pursuing His will. Let’s be honest, many Christians suffer in America, not because they are walking talking Jesus machines, but because their carnal lives lead to the same troubles and struggles of the perishing around us. The relative peace of American life has bred a Christianity that is profession based and prosperity focused. In this environment we are more apt to think we are suffering because of the potty mouth individual we work with, or the fact that T.V. programming does not care for our moral views of language or morality. Many believers in this nation have little or no concept of the our calling to make disciples, through sharing the faith once delivered to the saints. Therefore this truth is often difficult to grasp.
Jesus suffered because He was solely focused on the will of the Kingdom of God. We are to have the same mind that He had; the mind that led Him into suffering. For us, that environment provides a process of purifying that works out the sin till its gone. How does this happen?
As we walk in the will of God, we will face situations with people who will oppose us strongly for our faith in Jesus Christ. We may respond in faith or run. We may respond with loving our enemies or lashing back. We may respond with further testimony of Jesus regardless of consequence or remain silent.
In Abba’s merciful plan, when we choose behavior not reflective of our faith, we can be assured we will suffer the same situation again, until we choose faith over fear. In the choosing of faith, or the mind of Christ, that is when we cease from sin (for all unrighteousness is sin), and show forth our next godly purpose in suffering, which we will examine in the next blog.
Until next time, may our God and Father bless you with all spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus–Brother Michael