Four men decided to go mountain climbing over the weekend. In the middle of the climb, one of them slipped over a cliff, dropped about sixty feet, and landed with a thud on the ledge below. The other three yelled out, "Joe, are you OK?" "I'm alive but I think I broke both my arms!" They called back, "We'll toss a rope down to you, and pull you up. Just lie still." A couple of minutes after dropping one end of the rope, they started tugging and grunting together, working feverishly to pull their wounded companion to safety. When they had him about three-fourths of the way up, they suddenly remembered that he had broken both his arms. "Joe! If you broke both your arms, how in the world are you hanging on." The strained cry came back, "With my TEEEEEEEEEEETH" (Swindoll, Standing Out).
That fellow knew first-hand about trials! It's a funny story, and we laugh, but we all know that when you are the one facing the trial, it is no laughing matter. What are trials? Trials are hardships and difficulties over which we have no control. If you are facing a tough circumstance that you cannot change and must endure, that's a trial. Your trial might be difficulties in home life, marriage, children, or siblings. Your son or daughter may have a child before they're married. Your son or daughter may turn from God, even though you've given your whole life to raising them to honor Christ. That is a trial! Your trial may be a hardship on the job, an over-demanding employer, inept employees, or any number of other career-related stresses. Your trial might be poor health, strapped finances, grief over the death of a loved one, or maybe just the inevitable process of aging.
1. PAIN AND SUFFERING IN THIS LIFE ARE CERTAIN
One fact is certain: WE ALL FACE TRIALS. Job, the quintessential sufferer stated, "Man who is born of woman Is of few days and full of trouble" (Job 14:1). He also said, in Job 5:7, "Yet man is born to trouble, As the sparks fly upward." God promises us that trials will come. Solomon put it this way:
Ecclesiastes 2:23 (NKJV) For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity.
Believer, the Bible doesn't teach a health, wealth, prosperity gospel. But it clearly teaches that suffering is a part of the Christian life. The question is never, "Will we face trials?" but rather "How will we deal with the trials that come our way?"
2. PAIN AND SUFFERING ARE PROVIDENTIAL.
Without an understanding of God's sovereignty over our suffering, we cannot understand the meaning of our suffering. We must learn to think biblically. Your stability is related to the attitudes that you have. It is not related to your circumstances, it is related to how you think. The mind is the command center which determines our conduct, based upon how we have been influenced to think. We must understand that God is in control of all our pain and suffering.
Rabbi Kushner, in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People says, "God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives, but sometimes even He can't bring that about. It is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming their innocent victims."
Kushner is, in effect, saying, "If God is both powerful and good, why is there so much suffering, so much pain, so much heartache in the world? God is either good and not all powerful, or He is powerful and not all good. You can't have it both ways." it seems that the majority of the church has bought into this lie. I think, in an attempt to shield God from accusations that he is not loving, we make him impotent in the face of suffering. We think it is better to comfort the afflicted with the idea that God is full of sympathy, wishing the suffering would just go away but unable to make it happen. Pain and suffering can often cause believers to question the goodness of God. Have you ever asked the question, "If God loves me, why am I suffering?
Kushner's argument assumes that a good God necessarily wouldn't want his creation to suffer. This assumption certainly appeals to us. Wouldn't it be great if God's goodness required that we experienced no suffering or pain?
But the love and goodness of God does not preclude him from allowing suffering or pain. The real difficult question is not, "How could God allow us to suffer", but "How he could allow us, who rebel against his authority every day, ever to experience pleasure?" The mystery is why God would allow pleasure in the lives of those who hate him, and do not obey his commands.
We are all familiar with the story of Job, did Job deserve the suffering that he went through? Think about that before you answer. No, Job didn't deserve what he went through, he deserved far worse. Job's suffering fell way short of what was really due him - eternal damnation. Was Job a sinner? Yes, he was:
Romans 5:12 (NKJV) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned;
Since the fall of Adam, all men are born sinners, born separated from God and deserving of eternal damnation.
Romans 3:10 (NKJV) As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one;
Job was a sinner, and because of this he deserved eternal damnation.
Romans 6:23 (NKJV) For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because Job was a sinner we can rest assured he was dealt no injustice by God. God is not guilty of any wrongdoing in the story of Job.
God is sovereign, You understand that, don't you? I think you do, but do you understand that his sovereignty extends to our suffering? It is biblically wrong to say that God merely permits suffering. Suffering is something that God is actively involved in. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:
God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass (chapter 3, section 1).
The Bible puts it this way:
Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
God doesn't permit, he ordains! When we say that God permits something to happen, we often mean that God, in his heart of hearts, doesn't want a thing to happen, but will allow it for some reason. This is not biblical. God works all things according to the counsel of His will. Or, as the NIV puts it, "Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will." God does not merely permit suffering, he planned it. All that comes to pass in our lives is according to the eternal plan of the all-wise, all - powerful and all - loving great God and our father.
The sovereignty of God is absolute, irresistible, infinite. God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases: whatever takes place in time is but the outworking of that which He decreed in eternity. Is this too strong for you? If it is, you do not understand the God of the Bible.
Psalms 115:3 (NKJV) But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.
How could He do whatever He pleases if He is not sovereign? If God was merely to permit suffering, he would not be doing what he pleased.
3. PAIN HAS A PURPOSE IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
What is the purpose of suffering? There are all kinds of lessons to be learned from our suffering. Let's look at a few.
1. Suffering can be because of sin.
1 Corinthians 11:29-30 (NKJV) For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
Many of the Corinthians were sick and dying because of their sinfulness.
Romans 13:2 (NKJV) Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
Suffering can come as a result of breaking the law, which is sin.
Caution: We must be careful here not to conclude that we can measure the sinfulness of a person by the degree of his or her suffering. All suffering is a result of sin; had Adam not sinned, there would not be suffering in the world, but not all suffering is a result of personal sinfulness.
2. Suffering matures us in our practical Christian lives.
We suffer because it is a training tool. God lovingly and faithfully uses suffering to develop personal righteousness, maturity, and our walk with Him .
Hebrews 12:5-6 (NKJV) And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives."
The word "chastening" is the Greek word paideia, which means: "tutorage; education or training; by implication disciplinary correction." God uses suffering and pain in our lives to train us.
3. Suffering weans us from self-reliance:
2 Corinthians 1:9 (NKJV) Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
Many men and women have testified that God taught them this lesson, that they are dependent upon him, by taking away all the things they had mistakenly depended on . We suffer to bring about continued dependence on the grace and power of God. Suffering is designed to cause us to walk by God's ability, power, and provision, rather than by our own. It causes us to turn from our resources to His resources.
4. Suffering is an evangelistic tool:
Philippians 1:12 (NKJV) But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,
When believers handle suffering joyfully and with stability, it becomes a marvelous testimony to the power and life of Christ that we claim and name. Suffering provides key opportunities to manifest and magnify the power of God through His servants in order to verify and confirm the messenger and his message.
5. We suffer to develop our capacity and sympathy in comforting others:
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NKJV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
Often God sends suffering to give us an opportunity to minister to one another. How can I help those in need, unless God causes someone to be in need? In the midst of the suffering of others, we must see an opportunity to minister in His name.
6. We suffer to keep down pride:
2 Corinthians 12:7 (NKJV) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
The Apostle Paul saw his thorn in the flesh as an instrument of God to help him maintain a spirit of humility and dependence on the Lord, because of the special revelations he had seen as one who had been caught up to the third heaven.
There are many reasons given in the Bible why God sends suffering into our lives, but the supreme reason is the ultimate reason for all he does.
7. We suffer to bring glory to God.
Jesus taught his disciples this lessen in John 9.
John 9:1-2 (NKJV) Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
The disciples either hadn't studied Job, or if they did, they didn't learn much from it. Their false assumption was that there must have been a terrible sin to warrant the blindness. Jesus corrects their misunderstanding by teaching that this suffering was not a result of personal sin.
John 9:3-5 (NKJV) Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
Jesus tells them that the man was blind, not because either he or his parents sinned, but rather that God might be glorified in the healing of the man.
Here is where we find comfort in our suffering. This is not an isolated case wherein the suffering served the purpose of glorifying God. All suffering is designed to glorify God. When we are in the midst of suffering, we must remember that in this ultimate sense, all is right with the world. Things are operating as they should. Not one thing happens in our lives that God had not planned to happen.
When we are in the midst of a severe trial, it can be very difficult to celebrate God's glory. When we are hurting, we tend to be rather consumed with ourselves and find it difficult to say with much sincerity, "I sure am glad this disaster in my life is glorifying you, Lord. Please let me know any time that I can suffer great pain to bring you glory."
So, let me give you another reason to celebrate in our suffering. We have a guarantee from the Lord that everything that happens to us is for our good.
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
This is, in fact, a promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us. Think about it! If everything works for our good, then nothing can be bad, because it is always turning out for our good.
Are these words of Paul so familiar to you that they have lost their power? This verse should always give us hope and comfort. We aggravate our suffering when we do not take this promise to heart. Or worse, we call God a liar.
Did your car break down when you could least afford the repairs? Did you lose your job? Did a loved one come down with a terminal disease? The God, who created and controls the world, also controls the machinery on your car, your boss, and every virus, germ or disease.
Jesus taught that God exercises His sovereign control in very minute events - even the life and death of an almost worthless sparrow.
Matthew 10:29-31 (NKJV) "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. 30 "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 "Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
If we are going to make sense of our suffering, we must understand that God is in control of every thing that happens in our lives.
Let's remember that Romans 8:28 didn't just drop out of the sky all by itself. It must be studied in light of its context. Romans 8:18-30, is a unit that deals with the subject of comfort in suffering.
We may have no idea how our suffering could ever be seen as good. And we may never on this earth see how God is glorified. But our inability to understand all of reality is no reason not to believe what God has revealed about reality. He has told us he is glorified in all the suffering across the world. And he has promised that the suffering of those who belong to him will work for their good. Faith is believing God.
We must remember this wonderful truth about God in the midst of our storms; He is sovereign and he is working all things for our good. When we don't understand, we need to trust. The hymn writer put it like this:
When darkness veils His lovely face
I rest on his unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the vale
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.
We need to trust him when he sends suffering into our path, and then we must praise his name and thank him for working for our good.
We will have a very hard time trusting God in the midst of trials and adversities if we don't understand his sovereignty. And we must also understand that God is Holy and Just. Whatever he does is right.
Genesis 18:25 (NKJV) "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
The sovereign Judge of all the earth will always do what is right. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we be able to rest in His care in the midst of the worst circumstances. Let me share with you the testimony of a man who understood that all the pain and suffering in our lives is under the control of a loving and good God.
Horatio G. Spafford was a dedicated Christian businessman whose life was much like that of Job. Sorrow and grief seemed to follow him. He lost his only son at age four to pneumonia. Later, he lost a large part of his life's savings in the great Chicago fire when all his buildings on the waterfront burned down. In 1873, he booked passage for a family trip to England. He wanted to attend one of the great revivals sweeping that country at that time. However, the day before they were to leave an important business delayed him. His wife and his three daughters went on, and he was to follow on the next ship.. An iceberg struck his family's ship, and it went down very quickly. All three daughters perished. Only his wife survived. Her telegram said, "Saved alone." Heartsick on his voyage to meet his wife in England, he asked the ship's captain to let him know when they were at the place where his daughters plunged into the icy sea. He went up to the deck to pray and be comforted by God. While he did, he thought it was so peaceful - it was like a river now, and how terrible it must have been that night. Words and feelings kept pouring into his mind. He went back to his stateroom and wrote these words...
When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, "It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well because our sovereign God is in control and He is working all things together for His glory and our good. Pain is providential!