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why all the suffering? is there good suffering?

Remember

Remember the reactionary “IF” questions from Suffering part I, like “If God is Good then why does He…?” We have investigated the in-built loads (presumptions) of such questions by questioning those assumptions. Now we consider the fourth and no doubt, most difficult matter. “Why does God allow suffering?” OR  “How could He let this happen?” “Why suffering at all?” But first …. A quick recap of … A QUESTION OF:-

— DOUBT IN GOD’S CHARACTER (is He truly Good?)
— GOD’S RESPONSIBILITY (can we blame God for all the suffering?)
— GOD’S PROVISION (how can we cope?)

In order to clarify these, we examined each one in Suffering Parts I, II and III respectively. We saw what the Scriptures say about:-

  • God’s character, in particular, He is Good and He is Love. He is Light and there is no darkness in him at all. [Suffering Part I]
  • Four sources/causes of suffering each traced back to Genesis chpt 3 but none attributable to God. [Suffering Part II]
  • Coping mechanisms God has put in place for us. [Suffering Part III]
Other supporting topics

As well as these, other topic posts have looked at several more factors that help us understand why suffering exists and how best to cope

  • God is not a far-off, uninvolved, disinterested, sovereign ruler. On the contrary, in “how then should we live?” we see God:-
    • walked conversationally with individuals
    • wanted His ‘dwelling place’ to be among His people (Leviticus 26) and He would walk among them
    • has called us into fellowship with Jesus (1Corinthians 1:9) and we need to build that relationship
  • God is not a ‘middle of the road’ kind of God. In “what’s with being balanced?” we note God’s sense of balance involves extremes
  • the Lord has provided for the Body’s well-being. From “what’s with the gifts?” we see ministry gifts are to prepare God’s people for works of service. Hence the Body of Christ will be built up. That is, made stronger and grow in number. God cares for the common good of the Body and so is pleased to enable each member to play his/her part (1Corinthians 12:7)

So now, Why Suffering – a Question of God Allowing

Finally, if the questions finish up with a LET “ ….. how could He LET…….?” or ALLOW “ ….. why does He ALLOW …..?” then we must first be sure of His character, particularly His Love and His expressed plans. This fourth matter is possibly the most difficult for us humans to come to grips with. Why does God allow suffering at all?

As the commentary in the ‘Bible In One Year’ devotions puts it, the amount of suffering and its distribution seem to be random and unfair. At times it can outrage and bewilder us

The commentary explains … “Suffering is not part of God’s original created order (see Genesis 1–2). There was no suffering in the world before the rebellion against God. There will be no suffering when God creates a new heaven and a new earth
(Revelation 21:3–4). Suffering is, therefore, an alien intrusion into God’s world”

Although suffering is never good in itself, God is able to use it for good in a number of ways. In fact, Paul tells us, God “… works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11) [everything does mean every thing] It doesn’t mean He causes all suffering but He works it to conform with His purposes. Also, “… we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him …” (Romans 8:28)

i) For discipline

God loves you as a parent loves their child. Your suffering is also God’s suffering. As would any Father, He suffers alongside you. More than that, “…the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Romans 8:27b)

In some instances God can use sufferings as a discipline when we move out from under His covering. If we are attentive, we will know when this is the case as Holy Spirit will convict us of sin (John 16:8) so we can draw back close to God, deeper into the vine that Jesus spoke of in John 15

The writer of Hebrews addresses this in some detail in Hebrews 12:5-11 …

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Note: We must seek the Lord to grow our ability to discern whether a suffering is to be endured as His discipline or is just an interference from the enemy to be resisted

ii) For maturing and shaping

Through all our suffering, trials and tribulations, God is also preparing us, for good works He has prepared for us. “…. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:2b-4)

Joseph — a good example

Joseph provides a clear example where God used suffering to mature him and prepare him for leadership. Sold as a slave by his brothers Joseph ended up in Egypt. One of the Pharoah’s officials bought Joseph but eventually gaoled him even though innocent. Joseph suffered disappointments in gaol (Genesis 40:14, 23) but remained faithful, as did God remain faithful to him. God used Joseph to interpret several dreams and he was finally released and appointed as 2nd in-charge over all Egypt. He was then in a position to save his family from starvation during a 7-year famine and subsequently settle them on prime land in Egypt
(see Genesis chpts 37, 39-50)

Pruning

Also, Jesus used a great metaphor In John 15:1-2. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Being pruned sounds painful. It is thought that God uses some sufferings as a pruning process (or the pruning causes some suffering)

Interestingly, the Greek word that landed in English as ‘prunes’ could equally have been translated as ‘cleans’ or ‘purges’. Sounds less painful and the KJV used ‘purgeth’. Furthermore, in (vs 3) Jesus added … “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you”. The Greek word here for ‘clean’ is the root of the word for ‘prune’ or ‘purge’. Jesus assures us that if we remain (abide) in Him and He in us, we will bear much fruit (John 15:5) [may not need pruning??]

The nett result is the same, we must seek the Lord to discern whether a suffering is to be endured as His pruning or is just an interference from the enemy to be resisted

Corona Virus Prison

At the time of writing, everyone globally is suffering circumstances that are frustrating and potentially depressing. Sadly, some are seriously ill with the virus. It might feel like the rest of us are in prison with this isolating and limited activities. Others may literally be in prison or confined like a prisoner in a job they dislike. Maybe you have another serious health issue or are entangled in a difficult relationship or other debilitating circumstances. In the midst of whatever it is, if we stay faithful to God, we can know His presence with us

Why suffering isn’t prevented by God

From our perspective there are a few ways God could prevent sufferings

1st approach. He could have stepped in and ended everything as soon as Adam blew it. That is, at the moment Adam turned from God’s Word and trusted Satan. Otherwise, God could have tolerated the decline of man, the increase of sin and depravity for a short while then taken Noah and his family into heaven and totally destroyed everything

2nd approach. God could tire of our whinging about our sufferings and decide to put an end to all evil. That deals with a big source of sufferings

3rd approach. He could constantly intervene in every person’s daily life – prevent them from being sinful (mean, stupid, dangerous, criminal), prevent interference from Satan, hold back the ‘forces of nature’. That would prevent suffering

1st approach — Give up on the plan for mankind

This may seem like a ‘solution’ but it would have destroyed the purposes of creating mankind. He wanted communion with us – close fellowship. Remember, God created Adam and Eve and told them to increase in number; fill the earth. He said the same to Noah after the flood (Genesis 9:1). Fill the earth

crowd why suffering

As an aside, imagine a contact list of billions of people, let alone liking each one’s facebook page. It is impossible to even comprehend following each one on Instagram. But God genuinely knows every intimate detail of each one of us and Loves us each with a steadfast Love, that is everlasting. In our generation alone there are ~7.8 billion people on the planet of whom ~ 2.6 billion register as Christian. Each one of us brings Him Joy the moment we recognise Him. And more when we realise His Love of us expressed in Jesus’ death and resurrection

The parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son (Luke 15) describe God’s Love for each individual among the billions. Jesus said “I tell you that ….. there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who why repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7)

Have you seen a parent’s face when their new-born finally can recognise them? After all the feeding, crying, nappy changing, sleeplessness, ….. that first smile. Not from wind, but from a recognition and expression of love. Wow. Just a tiny glimpse of the Joy Father God receives from our recognition and acceptance of Him after all the ignoring, self-reliance and rebellion

But why bother with mankind in the first place?

All things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). Because we were made in His image (Genesis 1:27), we have the ability to know God and love Him. We can worship, serve and praise God and fellowship with Him (‘walk with Him’ – Micah 6:8)

It is foolish to think of God as being ‘egotistical’ in wanting the earth filled with humans for selfish purposes. We can’t possibly comprehend and are in no position at all to judge God’s motives and actions. However, we know some of God’s character and Love for us. See other posts – “what’s with suffering part I”, “what’s with being balanced?” and “how then should we live?”

It is safe to surmise that being created by Him and for Him doesn’t mean we were made for God’s amusement. Nor does it imply God needs us. Of course He doesn’t. He is the all-sufficient Creator God. Rather, as a creative Being, it gives God pleasure to create. He gains pleasure from having a relationship with each of us, by being able to express His Love toward us. This is not the same as needing us. On the contrary, it simply means He can give good things to us. Indeed, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father ….” (James 1:17). God created us for His pleasure. Also, we know Him and are called friends of Jesus. Wow. What a deal! (John 15:15)

2nd approach — Removing all evil

Destroying evil would mean the end of this age because the world is currently under Satan’s dominion (1 John 5:19 – see Suffering Part II)

Matthew Chpt 13:24-30, 36-43 — In the parable of the weeds the servants wanted to pull up the weeds, but the master refuses (vv. 28–29). “Let both grow together until the harvest” (v 30a) “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them” (v 29b)

At the time of harvest a judgment will come (vv 36–43). Jesus warned of the fate of everything that causes sin and all who do evil (vv.41). The weeds will be “burned in the fire” (v.40). He promises “the righteous” (made right with God through Jesus) “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v.43). It is your relationship with God that is the key to coping with suffering!

But God won’t allow the destruction of all that is evil yet because He wants to gather all the wheat into His barn. He deliberately planned a delay until ‘the end of the age’ (v.39), so that more people have time to respond to the good news about Jesus

The end of the age

Romans 11:25 “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in

This age (since AD – anno domini) has lasted for 2,000 years because God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2Peter 3:9). “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation….” (2Peter 3:15)

So now we have an idea of why God has allowed evil to persist, and consequently allowed suffering, for so long, well, long in our time-frame but a fleeting moment in eternity

However, God “…has set a day when he will judge the world with justice …” (Acts 17:31) and then all suffering for His people will end – completely

3rd approach — God providing total protection

Let’s say God controlled every moment, every day for every individual so they were free of suffering. Then He also stops us from making mistakes or deliberately behaving in a way that causes others to suffer. That type of rule is mere puppeteering. It is not a Loving relationship but ‘manipulation’. It is worse than the accusation of ‘bribery’ made against God by Satan regarding Job – Job chpts. 1 & 2

Rather than an austere Creator God sovereignly controlling life on planet earth from afar we have Jesus’ words of great encouragement in the midst of the evil (and suffering) in this world ….

John 15:1-11

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete

God’s Covenant

Biblical and world history to-date shows that God’s consistent and persistent call to repentance and faith into relationship with Him for all people has been wilfully ignored. Driven by disobedience and rebellion this turning away from God that started with Adam and Eve is born in the hearts of all of us. God’s perfect Justice, Faithfulness and Righteousness ensures He will honour His promises (covenant) – those who trust God in faith will be themselves made righteous in faith and those who don’t will remain in sin and under the curse of judgment. [see Suffering Part II]

Conclusion

How we cope with suffering depends enormously on how well we know and relate with Jesus. How did He cope with suffering? Remember, He was a real live human, with feelings and emotions. He went before us, so He understands – He conquered it all, so has the solutions – He promises to be with us, so He can help us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”  (Hebrews 4:15-16)

So without being trite, God allows suffering because:-

  • He can use it for our good
  • in His pure Justice, He has set a sentence date for Satan and all evil. He can’t mess with that date for our sake or any other reason
  • the “long” delay in Satan’s sentence allows the gospel to be taken into all the world. Thus maximising the number of people given opportunity to meet the Lord and trust in His Grace, Goodness and Love. It is a ‘long’ delay in our eyes but a speck of time in eternity
  • He has provided numerous coping mechanisms for us to be able to handle anything that we face. None the least is a walking relationship with Him if we remain in the vine of Jesus

In the midst of suffering we all need to heed the advice of the Sons of Korah who penned Psalm 46. Hug in tight to the Lord and focus – our soul will soon be stilled. [God’s Covenant Relationship with man may be a topic for another day]

just sayin’

Before you go, take a few minutes to hear/see this powerful testimony and song. Powerful in its openness (vulnerability) and authenticity – I can’t think of a better ending to the series on suffering …. Praise God. Thank You Jesus

Bibliography –
  • The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984.
  • Bible In One Year https://www.bibleinoneyear.org
    (BIOY days 25, 26)
  • Crowd image courtesy unsplash.com
  • Video: Dan opdeVeigh, flatirons_aurora – Worship Wednesday: Psalm 103 (Oh My Soul) on Instagram

You can download an A5 booklet in pdf form containing this post “… suffering part IV – why?”
Click on the image of the cover (left)
[The free Adobe Acrobat Reader can print these A5 pages into a booklet on half-fold A4 paper]

2 thoughts on “why all the suffering? is there good suffering?

  1. Thanks again. The only answer for us is to Trust Father knows what He is doing, and be still!

    Bless you.

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