Suffering in this life is a guarantee. There are many different levels of suffering, and many different kinds, but one certainty is that all of us will experience suffering at different times in our lives. Some pain we are generally willing to accept and live with, like sore muscles after a work out or a head ache. Other pain we are less willing to take smiling, like heartache from a breakup or the pain of injury or disease. And there are yet other pains that are so great that we can hardly handle them, like the pain of losing a child or loved one. It is in the midst of this kind of pain that we find ourselves asking “Why?”. It is in these most desperate of times that, believer in God or not, we look to the sky for an answer, for some rhyme or reason for this all encompasing suffering that we find ourselves in. Sometimes it’s not even personal. Sometimes all it takes is to watch the news to see suffering and pain on a massive scale world wide. People slaughtering each other, rape and child molestation, diseases galore, and starvation on a global scale move our hearts and again we look to the sky and ask “Why?” If God is a god of love, how could he let this happen?
This is a questinon that touches all of us at one time or another in our lives, whether on a personal level or from the mere observation of the world around us. There have been many attempts to answer this question. Some I have read have been very good, while others have not been so convincing. From these sources and of course THE source, the Bible, I have my own answer to this question.
If you believe that this life here on earth is all there is, that when a person dies that it is all over for them, then suffering in this world does not make sense. Some people live their entire life in a state of perpetual suffering because of no fault of their own. If that is the end of their story, then their life does not make any sense. The same is true of early death. If death is the end, then a child’s death is incomprehensible. How can there be a reason for that?
However, if you believe in life after death, and more specifically eternity after death, then suffering should lose some of its sting. In fact, it might even make sense or possibly even be necessary for such “trajedies” to exist. If this life is but a speck in the timeline of forever, then whatever suffering that occurs here will be so small in relation that there may even come a time when it is forgotten. The fact is that no matter how great the pain, it is temporary. No matter if it lasts an entire lifetime, it is still has an ending.
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Once again we see that our suffering is temporary, and in fact when looked at in comparison to our future glory…it’s not even worth comparing. You see we have a future to look forward to. This life is not all there is
Temporary pain still hurts, but it hurts a little less when the reason for it is known. Many people will intentionally submit themselves to short term pain for long term gain. An athlete will endure hours of painful exercise in order to become the best they can be in their chosen sport. A mother will endure several hours of intense pain in order to feel the joy of a new born baby. Many people endure years of difficult schooling because of the reward of knowledge and possibly a good job. A country will endure years of war to bring about a greater peace. These self inflicted pains are bearable because we know the reason. We know the outcome.
Sometimes the reason for pain is our own fault. Suffering brought on by our own mistakes can also be somewhat easier to bear because we know the reason why. But, when the reason is unknown, it is much more difficult to endure. Car accidents, birth defects, deseases, and senseless violence can ruin those effected because there are generally no answers to be had. These seemingly random events that bring about pain and death are the real source of the big question. For those things that we endure on purpose, and even those things that we bring upon ourselves, we do not ask God why because we already know. But, when the cause of pain is beyond our control, it can be unbearable. Sometimes, the not knowing why is the most painful thing about it.
I believe that there is a reason for everything that happens. The good and the bad. I believe that alot of the suffering that happens is a result of our own imperfections and sin, but most of the time the reason is not very obvious or clearly defined. I also believe that regardless of the direct cause of the suffering, there is an ultimate reason for why God allows it to continue. Notice I did not say a reason for why God caused it, but a reason for why God allows it to continue. I believe that all suffering is in some way caused by sin. If man had never rejected God, there would be no suffering. However, it is not as simple as “you sinned, so you suffer”. It is far more complex and dynamic than that. Sin is the poison in the batter. One little drop ruins the whole batch. But God is able to and does make use of every one of our self inflicted disasters to make us better than we ever would have been without them.
but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perserverence; perserverence, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4
Suffering has a purpose. This is not the same thing as a cause. A purpose is future leaning, a cause is about the past. The cause of our suffering is less important than the purpose. It is more important what you do with your suffering than why it happened. Suffering makes you better. Just as hours of painful exercise causes the growth of muscles and better performance, and the pain of childbirth brings about the joy of parenthood, so too does this life’s suffering have the potential to bring about much greater things than you would have without it. The reward may not be in this lifetime, but that is ok when you look at it through the lens of eternity.
The purpose of your suffering does not always have anything to do with you. Look at the blind man in John chapter 9. Jesus and the desciples encounter a man who had been blind from birth (so probably at least 30 years), and the disciples asked Jesus “who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind.” and Jesus answered, “Neither…but this happened that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” You see, this man’s suffering, his blindness his whole life was not for his benefit directly, but for the whole world. He was blind so that Jesus could heal him and prove that he was God. Likewise, your suffering may have nothing to do with you. Perhaps, since you are saved and came to Christ already, you have been put through an ordeal like a child dying so that some day ten years from now you will help someone else going through the same thing and because you truly know how they feel. And from that relationship, you are able to lead them to Christ. Does that make it worth it? I believe it does, but that won’t make you feel better right now.
To say these things and to know them do not take away from the realness of the suffering. Pain is real, it hurts and yes it matters. I will not tell the mother of a child that has died that her pain is not real. It is, and deep, and there is no easy way out of it. This is where the question comes from. We are able to cope with pain brought on by ourselves, by mistake or on purpose, because we know the reason and maybe we can see the positive outcome. But what positive outcome can come from the seemingly senseless death of a loved one? What greater purpose can I give you so that you will feel better? I don’t know, but I know someone who does. His name is Jesus.
Jesus suffered more than any person ever has or ever will. To this you may say that his physical death was surely not the most painful that exists. Surely burning to death or being eaten alive, or maybe radiation poisening from a nuclear bomb would actually be worse, but that’s not all he endured. You see Jesus was God. He and the Father are one, and they had never been seperated. I know the trinity is hard to understand, but it is real, and Jesus (God the son) and God the Father are seperate persons but still one God, so it is possible for the persons to be separated. This was the pain that Jesus endured. Jesus, being God, was perfect and blameless yet he took upon himself all of our sin. Sin is what has caused all of our human pain for centuries, and he took all of that pain upon himself…willingly. Imagine your worst pain, and then multiply it by the number of people who have ever lived. Then he paid the price. He was separated from God the Father as punishment for our sins. Jesus has experienced the ultimate of pain and suffering, and on a scale much larger than you or I could imagine. So, he knows what you are going through. He has literally felt your unique and specific pain because he took it on himself on the Cross.
Knowing that Jesus suffered like that is not enough though. What does that do for me? Just because I know that someone else has felt this way doesn’t make me feel any better. So what’s the use? I will tell you.
In John chapter 16, Jesus is nearing the end of his mission on earth and is telling his disciples about the future. He tells them first about how in a little while he will be leaving them, but then will come back. When they are confused, he goes on to tell them about how they “will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has bain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: now is your time for grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice” (v 20-22). He is telling them that hurt is coming, but it is not the end. Then later in the conversation, he says one of the most beautiful things in the whole Bible:
v 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Did you see that, he tells us plainly: In this world you will have trouble – I know it, I have seen it and felt it. It is unavoidable; it is necessary. He says he tells us this so that we can have peace in Him…why? Because He has overcome the world! The battle is won! All we have to do is trust him. He will not abandon us. Just as he told Joshua “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Josh 1:5), he tells us the same thing. “Surely I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He has seen the other side and knows where this is going, and it’s good.
He never promises to keep us out of trouble. He doesn’t promise to heal us immediately or protect us from pain, but he does promise that he will be with us every step of the way. He didn’t stop Daniel from being thrown into the lion’s den, but He was in there with him. He didn’t stop Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from getting thrown into the fiery furnace, but He was in there with them. He will never leave me, never forsake me. He will always be with me and he has shared my pain.
And this pain has a purpose. It is making me better, no matter how much it hurts. Peter says “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10) How awesome is that! My suffering is not for naught! It is to refine me, to purify me, as David says “For you God tested us; you refined us like silver.” (Psalm 66:10). God has a purpose in me. I am not just a lump of clay, not just the result of random chance. I have been fearfully and wonderfully made, then placed in the middle of the battle field. He has great plans for me that stretch beyond this life and into something I can’t even imagine, but he has to test me first. He has to know that he can count on me, that I trust him.
Isn’t that what we see in our heros? Do we watch movies about people who had it easy? Or do we idolize those who struggled and won, who perservered, who endured? Isn’t that what we are most proud of in our lives? Isn’t that what we look back on and talk about the most are our victories? What is a victory without a battle? What is a battle without pain?
Our world is defined by contrast. What is light without dark? What is hot without cold? What is pleasure without pain? What is forgiveness without sin? Jesus demonstrated this kind of contrast with the woman who washed his feet in Luke chapter 7. The pharisees were questioning him about associating with “sinners”, and he gave them a quiz. Two people owed money, one more than the other. When payment time came, they were both forgiven their debts. Who was more thankful? They answered the one who owed more, and they were right. We who have been forgiven much will love much, and we who have suffered much for his sake will be rewarded much.
In the early days after Christ had risen, the apostles were arrested for preaching the gospel and then they were beaten. Afterward they were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41). It is an honor to suffer for Christ, though we do not always see our suffering as “for Christ”. Though your suffering may not be a direct result of you preaching the gospel doesn’t mean that it is not for Christ. You can make it for Him. If you are a Christian, you can be sure that the Devil is out to get you. Your pain is not random. He is a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” and he will stop at nothing to ruin you. Your circumstances may seem to be far from a holy battle, but that doesn’t mean God can’t use your experience to help others.
“And we know that all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). This does not mean that ALL things end up in good, but that God works for the good for those who love him. God is good, and he has a plan for you. It may not be your plan, it is better. We must learn to trust him. He is here, right in the middle of the pain. If he took it away, what would be gained?
Don’t give up. Don’t throw in the towel and call it quits. What great joy awaits you on the other side of this valley. The Apostle Paul in one of his last letters tells Timothy “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the riteous judge, will award to me on that day” (II Tim 4:7-8) You see, he had fought a fight – suffering – he had run a race – suffering – and he had kept the faith. He didn’t give in the many times he was beaten and left for dead, or during the years he spent in prison, or when he was ship wrecked. He had seen suffering and knew that a crown waited for him. The same is true for you and me. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! Jesus has overcome the world!