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.

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Published in: on August 14, 2017 at 5:21 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. “Where is God in the midst of suffering? The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be a single answer.” No answers, but it appears plenty of excuses to justify it all. If Noah’s Ark had been a real event, why was it OK for him to wipe out children and babies who knew nothing, same again for Sodom and Gomorrah?

    “A third purpose of suffering is to discipline God’s people.” Over 20,000 children everyday suffer without food and medication and die in poor countries, most are not “Gods people” does that mean they deserve what they get, just like Sodom and Gomorrah?

    “Jesus also explained that some suffering was for the purpose of giving God an opportunity to be glorified.” Well I suppose some poor buggers have to be the suckers for a vain God. He does not seem to be very active in glorification of himself these days, does he?

    “all suffering should remind us that we are not in charge.” No problem, is it a waste of time trying to feed these starving kids then and do we expect they will learn who is in charge?

    “we need to allow suffering to call us back to God.” Are suffering people and starving kids around our planet needed to call us all back to God? Mother Teresa (a Catholic saint) believed the suffering of the poor in her death clinics bought them closer to God, the same principle for the starving African kids I suppose?

    “What we shouldn’t do, is act as if He isn’t involved.” You should feel bad about supporting this stuff that obviously turns you on and reminds me of the Islamic faith, but be happy that this sort of cruel so-called loving god is not involved because he lives inside your head.

    Good luck Rebecca.

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  2. Steve, I appreciate the comment. I’m genuinely interested in your perspective, but I have to say, I think the alternative to the point and purpose of suffering that Scripture lays out for us, is really quite bleak. What you have to conclude if all you say is true, is that there is NO purpose for suffering. It’s random, it’s inevitable (since all of us will one day face death . . . and so will those we’re close to), and it’s purposeless. I’m sorry, but that is about as sad a circumstance as can be. I am so grateful to God for giving us some glimpse of how He redeems even the ravages of sin. Because that’s what I don’t think is in this article—suffering is, in the end, the direct result of sin, one way or the other. There was no death, dying, and suffering before Adam brought sin into the world.

    You really do miss that, it’s apparent. You see God as unjustly bringing judgment on innocent people. But He is omniscient. He knows what each child who died in the flood, would have grown up to become. He knows whose fault their death was—and it’s not His. He wasn’t the one cavorting with the enemy.

    I also find it sad that you don’t think the most glorious being who has ever or will ever exist deserves recognition for being who He is. I mean, is Mankind that petty? We have to be at the top of the heap, no matter what, so we can’t possibly recognize Someone who is infinitely stronger, wiser, more loving, kinder, fairer, truer, more faithful, more knowledgeable, more just, and . . . on and on, as actually deserving of our acknowledgement. Instead you say God is vain. It’s not vain when someone is the best and people praise him for being the best. In the case of suffering, God at times wants to show His kindness and goodness and power by miraculously alleviating suffering. That’s not vain. That’s kind and good and awesome and deserves our recognition of it.

    Simply put, your view is bleak and full of Mankind’s vainglory. I see no hope or help for those who suffer. It’s just a, “tough on you, I’m glad it’s not me” attitude. How uncharitable. How pointless. How hopeless.

    Becky

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    • Thank you for your informed reply Rebecca. I do not like to see animals suffering and particularly the children of the human species, therefore I can find not one single excuse for anyone with the power you claim the Christian God has to sit back and do nothing. If he actually existed I would give my own life for him to save just one days’ worth, that is 20,000 child victims, and I am sure I would not the only one.

      Even if this God knew how these children he killed were to become, as with the poor victims today he stole away their whole life, a life that they never had the chance to understand or to use their free will to make decisions. If these children had to die what about the children that grow into terrorists, mass murderers and criminals, surely, he knows what they are going to do? You cannot make excuses or use blinkers Rebecca, it just does not add up, and for good reason.

      Of course, Adam and Eve and this sin you are supposed to be born with is an ancient concocted story to trap you into feeling guilty and as long as humans have lived on Earth they have always died and suffered, please take the time to read some real science, and believe me when I tell you science has nothing to do with Satan.

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