God’s Purpose In Man’s Suffering – Reprise


The recurring question from the time of Job until today seems to be, Where is God in the midst of suffering? The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be a single answer.

One purpose, and the one people often camp on, is that God uses suffering to punish the wicked. The best example of that is the flood that wiped out all the inhabitants of the earth except for Noah and his family. Another clear illustration, which I mentioned in “Have We Neutered God?” is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah — two cities whose inhabitants maintained depraved lifestyles.

A second purpose for suffering according to Scripture was to test a believer’s trust in God. Satan initiated such a test of Job, and God gave him permission to do so.

Abraham was tested similarly when God uprooted him from his home and told him to go to a land He would give him. Of course that test was followed by years of infertility though God had promised to make of his descendants a great and numerous nation.

When his son was finally born, Abraham then faced the test of giving him up in obedience to God. Some might not count that test as “suffering,” but I suspect the emotional and spiritual testing he endured were equal to any physical pain he could have gone through.

A third purpose of suffering is to discipline God’s people. When Israel, for example, arrived in the promised land, they lived with God as their king, but they continually disobeyed Him and followed after the gods of the nations around them. God would then bring the people of Moab or the Philistines or one of the other people groups against them. They would live under the dictates of these oppressive conquerors until they cried out to God for deliverance, then He would send a judge to liberate them.

This pattern continued, with some variation, even after God granted the people’s demand for a king. The ultimate discipline was when first Israel, then Judah, was carried into exile.

Israel serves as an example of another purpose of suffering. Having forsaken God from the beginning of its existence, the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians. Their suffering served the dual purpose of disciplining them but of warning Judah.

Luke records that Jesus used two local disasters as a means to warn his listeners of their need to repent (13:1-5).

Finally, Jesus also explained that some suffering was for the purpose of giving God an opportunity to be glorified. He said this specifically about the man born blind whom He then healed. He also seems to have allowed Lazarus to die for the same reason.

What does all this tell us about suffering today?

For one, that we don’t know what God is doing. He’s not limited to the five purposes I’ve identified in Scripture, but even if He was, I still wouldn’t know any better than Job’s friends did, what God is doing in someone else’s life.

Secondly, we should realize that He is using suffering to accomplish His purposes in the same way that He uses blessings. Though they may look un-caused or haphazard to us, they are neither, if God is indeed sovereign.

Sometimes the cause is evil. I have no doubt that Satan employed evil against Job. And Joseph said plainly that his brothers meant evil when they sold him into slavery. Certainly the people who stoned Stephen and the ones who crucified Christ had evil motives. None of that thwarted God’s purposes. Instead, He took the evil and made it good to advance His plans, or He took it and used it to convict of sin, in Job’s case, and advanced His plans.

Third, all suffering should remind us that we are not in charge. We can diagram and explain, analyze and hypothesize all we want, but in the final summation, we need to allow suffering to call us back to God. The message is never for someone else. It’s for those of us who hear. We should examine our own hearts, not point the finger at others.

And finally, suffering affords us an opportunity to reach out in the name of Christ to minister to those in need. We don’t have to be rich. We can always, always pray for those in need — for their spiritual needs as well as their physical needs. We can pray that God provides people to come alongside them. We can pray for His mercy to spare them from more tragedy. And we can pray for His mercy to save their souls.

What we shouldn’t do, is act as if He isn’t involved.

This post first appeared here in May 2011.

Published in: on August 14, 2017 at 5:21 pm  Comments (3)  
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