WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUFFERING?
The Bible repeatedly tells us that God is good and that He loves all people. Should we therefore expect God’s protection 24/7? Why do we live in a world of grief and graves? Why do even believers suffer tragedy, trauma and pain?
The Bible does give some answers but not all the answers. It assures us that God is with us even in the darkest hour. God is even in the darkness. Exodus 20:21 says "Moses approached the thick darkness - where God was."
We can certainly ask “if God is good and all powerful, why is their pain?” but we should also ask “if there's no good God, why is there good in the world?”
A holocaust survivor was asked "Why didn’t God do anything during the holocaust?" He answered “When you know God you don’t need to ask why”.
Corrie ten Boom said: “Everything that happens to the believer is to prepare that person for a future that only God can see”.
PAIN IN THE BIBLE
If Christians were spared pain and tragedy the whole world would quickly convert to Christianity for all the wrong reasons. That's why today’s prosperity preaching is foreign to Scripture. From the 3rd chapter of Genesis towards the end of Revelation, the Bible is full of tragedy and pain.
Revelation 21:4 says God will wipe away all tears from the eyes of the redeemed. Don’t miss it. All the redeemed will have tears. Tears are a common experience of saved people.
PAIN PASSES GOD'S SCREENING
Before pain can touch us, it must first pass through the screen of God’s presence. If it's allowed to pass through that screen, it's meant for our ultimate good. How can we be sure of this?
Satan said to God: “You’ve set a hedge around Job! I can’t get to him!” (Job 1:10). God’s response was along these lines: “Well, you can do this and that to Job, but no further.” Did you catch that? No pain can touch a believer except by God's permission.
A pearl forms when an oyster creates a healing balm that surrounds the intruding irritating grit. The book of Revelation describes gates of pearl in God’s eternal city. Why pearl? Because we must first experience intruding irritation to enter God’s kingdom.
There were some professional fishermen who couldn’t understand how one of their competitors could deliver really fresh fish to shore. They tried keeping live fish in tanks but the fish still arrived limp and flavorless. But their cunning competitor did something else - he added a venomous catfish in the tank to keep the fish in state of agitation - never resting. The fish never lost their strength or sweetness.
Toil and trouble are better for us than unbroken periods of prosperity. Without trial our characters would quickly deteriorate.
"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our sorrows but shouts to us in our pain". (C.S Lewis).
Pain breaks the fantasy bubble that life is stable, that we're capable, that we're strong, that we know everything. Pain helps us to sense and see our fragility, the shortness of life and the nearness of death. Pain helps us to wait on God, to hope only in Him - not in the doctor, relatives or Facebook friends.
Those who want to treat God as an ATM will be disappointed. It's true that Gods people will be blessed, but Jesus explained what that means: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake”. (Matthew 5: 10) There's no hint in the Sermon On The Mount the blessed are those who've been made materially prosperous because of their faith.
GOD IS IN CHARGE
God is absolutely sovereign over even the tiny details. This is obvious in the story of Gideon. (Judges 7:9-15)
Large doors swing on small hinges. Life’s large events are controlled by small events. For the sake of a nail a shoe was lost; for the sake of a shoe a horse was lost; for the sake of a horse a battle was lost. All things are God’s servants (Psalm 119:91) - even the little things. Even the night belongs to God (Psalm 74:16).
The key to surviving personal tragedy is to accept that God is sovereign over every little tiny thing that happens to us. If we follow Christ each day then it logically follows that whatever happens to us is allowed by God for a purpose, the details of which aren't immediately obvious. It's a very hard truth to accept, but it's Biblically correct.
If we could see as God sees we would choose as God chooses.
AT THE CROSS
The worst components of any tragedy are all there at the cross of Christ: pain, strain, rejection, shame, limitation, hatred, nakedness, thirst, injustice, delay, distortion, misrepresentation.
The positioning of Jesus between heaven and earth shows He was rejected by both, but His outstretched arms indicate He continues to love us all.
The mob shouted: "He saved others; he can't save himself”. They were absolutely right. That’s the way it works. If He had saved Himself He couldn't have saved anyone.
When you and I are on our cross of pain we look for a shortcut. But Jesus endured. His first and last words on the cross began with “Father”. He could stand the terrible pain because He knew God was there, although at one stage He too asked “Why?” just as you and I would've done. It’s quite human to ask why. Jesus asked it too. “Why have you forsaken me?” He asked, but then He quickly moved on to say “into your hands I commit my life”. When we we ask “why suffering?” we also should quickly move on and say "into your hands I commit my life."
In just 6 hours Jesus experienced what was justly due to everybody ever born. As a result the sun refused to shine. But when He said “My God, My God” heaven’s light flashed upon the scene. When you and I bring God into our darkest depths, light will shine on us. When we fail to see God in pain and suffering our experience becomes even more chaotic and even more dark, a world without light or love.
The only complaint Jesus ever made about physical pain on the cross was “I thirst”. Let's remember that the next time we go to hospital. The only person who experienced all of the world’s pain in one long session was Jesus. The rest of us experience only our own pain and we must be careful not to exaggerate it to others.
THE CROSS LIFTS US UP
When we suffer we can draw comfort that Jesus sanctified suffering. Refugees can draw comfort that Jesus as a child was also a refugee - in Egypt. The poor can draw comfort that Jesus also came from a poor home. Jesus the suffering Servant, turned Black Friday into Good Friday so that there could be a resurrection Sunday. Where there is no cross, there can be no resurrection.
The Bible never offers a crown without a cross first. The path of the crown is by way of the cross. If we will accept that principle, it will be like wings. In lifting the cross, we'll find that it lifts us - then we can lift others in trial and trouble. If we save ourselves by some shortcut when we're in trial, we can't help others. Wounded people minister best to the wounded.
Great trials fortify us to acquire unique Christian character that transforms pain into a blessing - and to be a blessing to others. Suffering shouldn't be seen as an ugly growth on our life, but as fertiliser for others. Stars shine brightest when nights are darkest.
Simon of Cyrene thought a terrible trial had been dumped on him when the cross of Christ was thrown on his back. But that trial brought him into very close fellowship with Christ. His role as Christ’s cross-bearer has been envied ever since by countless people across the centuries. So it is with all crosses laid on believers. When we lift Christ's cross, the cross lifts us.
It's a myth to say that all trouble is good for our character. Most of the time trouble sours rather than sanctifies. Without trial our characters would quickly deteriorate. Nothing could be worse for us than uninterrupted sunshine and ease. God uses upsets to set us up. He uses downs to bring us up. He uses humiliation to lead us to glory. He uses pain to usher in eternal pleasure.
It's also a myth to say a person going through suffering is 'karma' - that he's a big sinner whose sins are catching up. The Bible describes how perfect Job was, upright and righteous. And yet trouble was heaped on his head in full measure. (Job 1). Job's message is: “God is, and that’s enough to know”. When the disciples asked Jesus "who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" - Jesus said “Neither, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him”. (John 9:1-3)
To say that trouble comes on us because of lack of faith is another myth. The great apostle Paul asked three times that his thorn in the flesh might be removed, only to be told “My grace is sufficient for you”. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
BIBLE VERSES WHEN YOU ARE SUFFERING
“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms”. (Deuteronomy 33:27)
“You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor”. (Job 11:16-19)
“I sought the Lord and He answered me. He delivered me from all my fears. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all”. (Psalm 34: 4, 19)
“Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall”. (Psalm 55:22).
“God sets the lonely in families; He leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land”. (Psalm 68:6)
“Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up”. (Psalm 71:20)
“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man”. (Psalm 112:4)
“The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down”. (Psalm 145:14)
2 Corinthians 12:9; 4:8-10; 1:3-7
Romans 1:4; 8:28, 35, 37, 38, 39
John 14:1-3, 14, 18, 27.
Matthew 14:27; 11:28; 10:29-31
Isaiah 63:9; 58:10; 54:4, 11; 50:7-10; 43:2
Isaiah 42:3; 41: 10, 13-14, 17; 40:1-2, 29
Isaiah 30:19-20; 25:4-5
Psalm 147:3; 138:3, 7, 8; 103: 13
Psalm 73:26; 55:22; 34: 4, 19; 31:7; 30:5.