God Does Not Directly Will Suffering – But He Does Allow It.
Back in the Garden of Eden, God allowed us freedom to disobey him and to choose evil. He made us in His own image, remember; and God Himself can choose good or evil. When we chose evil, disobeyed God, and sin entered the world, so did suffering and evil. In order for us to exist in God’s own image, which is a wonderfully precious gift from God, He had to allow us free will. And allowing us free will, He had to permit humans to choose evil. This also meant permitting the innocent to suffer because of the acts of the wicked. It meant allowing the possibility of sickness and death coming into the world as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s possible choice of disobeying God.
However, God’s primary and primordial will for humanity was absolute and unmitigated good. God is the healer, in His own way and time, of those who turn to Him. All things work together for good for those who love the Lord. (Romans 8:28). One day He will wipe away all our tears.
Though Satan and the wicked mean for us to suffer, God allows it for our good. He did this with Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers, a great evil for Joseph, in order for the great good of saving all his brothers and his father from death by famine. In Genesis 50:20 Joseph says, “You meant it to me for evil, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph became Pharaoh’s right hand man and fed all his family from the grain bins of Egypt.
Remember: it was not God’s original intention for you to suffer evil. It was His original intention for you to live with Him in paradise. “In God’s presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11). He always wanted you with Him and happy, not away from Him and suffering. Remember: God does not will evil; He does permit free will to humans, though. And therefore He does permit evil into the finite world. But there is still the eternal world where He has plans to take us, if we will only accept Jesus. And there we will experience total joy together without any evil to hurt us. Heaven must enter into your calculations and judgments about God’s character.
God Can Turn Any Evil Into Good.
The crucifixion of Jesus was the height of evil because a totally innocent Man was utterly crushed by wicked men. Yet God turned this great evil into an eternally resounding good, making Jesus our Saviour based upon His perfect sacrifice for our sins. Just when the devil thought he had put an end to this pesky Messiah, the tables were turned and Satan wound up used by God to restore those to paradise who trust in Christ. It turned out that crucifixion was just the thing that we humans needed done on our behalf.
On a lesser scale, God also can and does turn evil events in our own lives into good. Just as Mary at the foot of the cross could not understand how God could get any good from Jesus’ suffering, often neither can we understand how good could come in our situation. We are only able to see the permanent nature of our loss. We must simply trust God and wait upon Him until it is the proper time to reveal to us why God allowed us to suffer. Mary trusted and cried, cried and trusted. Then God raised Jesus from the dead. Sorrow turned to joy. Tears disappeared.
Always remember that we see things only from our own self-limited perspective. God, however, sees the whole picture and is working for the good of all individuals. He works necessarily for our good together, ie. the good must be such that all the righteous prosper and so that each gets the same measure of mercy and justice that he metes out to others. (Remember, the measure you give is the measure you get, Jesus said, Matthew 7:2.)
God Is Not Limited By Evil Persons.
In fact, often the wicked fall into their own snares, just as Satan did. A less powerful God would not have allowed so much freedom of choice in the world; as it is, however, an absolutely powerful God has allowed true moral freedom of choice. Yet this does not threaten God; God is not mocked, but the wicked reap what they sow and get the same measure they give. (Galatians 6:7; Matthew 7:2). Satan will spend eternity in hell. Yet God does not just stand by and let all things go to hell. Read the book of Revelation. God even has history under His control, while still allowing us to have freedom of will. God really is a big God.
In fact this brings us to the mysterious paradox – God allows the wicked to choose evil, yet God guides the wicked into their own snares eventually because part of being wicked is to be blind to the truth. Thus the liar is easily deceived (Proverbs 17:4). God allowed Pharaoh to reject Him, yet each time Pharaoh hardened his heart against God, God was paradoxically at the same time hardening Pharaoh’s heart, simply by letting Pharaoh get away with evil, until God was finally ready to destroy Pharaoh utterly. Yet Pharaoh chose his path. Pharaoh was a bad and hurtful dude, as the teenagers would say. But as mean and nasty as he was, he did not hinder God’s plans for God’s people, not in the least. So don’t think that what evil people do to you is ruining God’s best for your life. They simply don’t have that power. God is in control of reality itself, and God will not be mocked by the wicked. They will reap what they sow, and so will you, in spite of your suffering. Remember how Pilate had Jesus beaten, torn, and crucified? He cut short Jesus’ ministry of healing and teaching. He limited Jesus’ visits among the poor and oppressed. He tortured and murdered the Son of God. Yet he stopped none of God’s plan.
God is Not Limited By Evil Circumstances.
The trials of affliction – pain and loss to ourselves or our loved ones – are never greater than the grace of God. God can wipe away tears. It is mysterious, yet it happens. You will have to wait and experience this for yourself. No one else can convince you but your own experience will convince you. All anyone can do for you is witness to you and tell you it happened for them.
Further, when you suffer, though the pain is very unwelcome, you enter into fellowship with suffering humanity everywhere and also into fellowship with God. God also suffers, and your suffering helps you understand Him. He is not above suffering just as you are doing. Since He shares your suffering (remember He suffered the murder of His Son), you have undeniable proof that it is necessary. You are not the only one. There are reasons you do not understand, but the fact that He is there beside you, with His own suffering, gives you courage to bear your own.
Suffering must be important if God doesn’t even spare Himself from it. He suffered when His Son died; and God suffers with us – He sees us hurting, and it hurts Him. He mysteriously gives you His own grace to bear your suffering when you draw near to Him. (I Corinthians 10:13; and remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh, II Corinthians 12:710, where God says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”)
Suffering Produces Wisdom In the Godly.
The same sun that hardens the clay will melt the wax. Let’s seriously take another look now at what the Bible says to you in your suffering. “Whom the Lord loves, He chastens.” (Hebrews 12:6). In fact, He makes you holy by putting you through what He does; it is a sign that He has taken you to be His child that you undergo the discipline that suffering brings. All this is found in Hebrews 12:4-13. God’s chastening produces righteousness and peace in you, like it or not. It just does. So let it happen and stop being mad at God.
Don’t think this is saying that specific hardships and tragedies are punishments sent directly by God – it may sound like that is what is being said here, but it is not. Chastening is different from punishment. My football coach, Lamar Dingler, used to make us repeat tackle practice, not because he was mad at us, but because we needed it to become good football players. My nickname was Spider. I never was much good, all arms and legs; but I sure learned to love football. I loved it even though I suffered doing it.
Jesus Himself reminded us in Luke 13:45 that God doesn’t deliberately single people out for suffering. There He plainly said that the people on whom the Tower of Siloam fell were not more evil or guilty or sinful, even though unbelievers, than all the believers in Jerusalem itself, where the priests and people worshipped God. It was just an accident. That’s all.
The point is that you were not singled out to suffer. Jesus said the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Rather, you were singled out by God, after it happened, to profit from your suffering. He goes through it with you, stands beside you, and educates you into holiness through your suffering because you are His, while another person who rejects Him learns absolutely nothing from their suffering. You can choose worldly grief, and get further and further away from God and the truth; or you can choose godly grief. You can lay your head on God’s chest and bawl, and let Him hold you and mold you in your time of pain. The choice is literally yours. Will you be wax or clay, clay or wax? Will you harden yourself against God, or will you yield to Him and let Him melt and mold you?
Suffering Makes You Appreciate and Desire Goodness and Joy Even More.
Theologian Thomas Oden says suffering “puts goodness into bolder relief”. You see the diamond better against the dark black velvet on which it lies. Being separated from a loved one by death drastically increases our desire to be with that loved one. We begin to desire our heavenly home. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. This does not deny the absolutely crushing nature of pain, nor its bitter cruelty. It is not intended to imply that God increases your suffering in order to increase your later happiness. God intends to redeem you from all your suffering in His own time. Since He is most merciful, we can assume it will not be one second longer than necessary.
Suffering Makes You Grow.
Calm seas never made a master mariner. “Opposition, tension, and struggle are necessary to growth, development, and healthy formation,” Oden says. The butterfly must struggle out of its chrysalis or else its wings will be malformed. The struggle causes the butterfly’s blood to flow through the wings so that they are not crumpled after it comes out, but functioning. It hurts to fall, yet fall we must if we are going to learn to walk. The only way to learn patience and perseverance is to suffer through trials (James 1:24). And losses. And pain. A good gardener gets a rose bush to produce roses by pruning it. And God is a good gardener. In John 15:1-2, Jesus says, “1“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He £takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Note that God prunes you that you may bear more fruit.
Three Verses to Cling To and Ponder Again
Psalm 119:67 says, “67Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.”
Psalm 119:71 says, “71It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”
Psalm 119:75 says, “75I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.”
Jesus was sure God loved Him. Jesus wants you to be sure, too! In John 17:23 says, “…thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” God loves you just as much as He does Jesus — Jesus said so! And that is the only explanation for why He was willing to give up His Son for you!
FOR FURTHER READING
Billheimer, Paul E. Don’t Waste Your Sorrows. Minneapolis: Bethany Home Publishers, 1977.
Eeits, Bob. Life After Loss. Fisher Books, 1992.
Gerstenburger, E.S. and W. Schrage. Suffering. Nashville: Abingdon, 1977.
Gutierrez, Gustavo. On Job: God Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1985.
Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1977.
James, John W. and Frank Cherry. The Grief Recovery Handbook. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
Kolf, June Cerza. When Will I Stop Hurting? Dealing With A Recent Death. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987.
Kreeft, Peter. Making Sense Out of Suffering. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1986.
Langdorf, Joyce. Mourning Song. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1974.
Lewis, C. S. A Grief Observed. New York: Bantam Books, 1961.
Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. New York: Macmillan, 1962.
Oden, Thomas C. Pastoral Theology. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983.
Schaeffer, Edith. Affliction. Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1978.
Schaeffer, Francis A. He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1972.
Smith, Harold I. When You Don’t Know What to Say: How to Help Your Grieving Friends. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2002.
Yancey, Philip. Where Is God When It Hurts. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977.