Making Sense Out of Suffering – God’s Megaphone (Part 2)


(I wrote this post early Sunday morning.  I finished it at 5am, while sitting in the dark, still suffering with a Kidney Stone.  I am presently at 18 days.)

The reality of suffering measured against God’s goodness is one of the foundational problems that unbeliever’s use to disprove the existence of God.  The line of thinking usually follows this pattern:  There is, without question, a great amount of suffering in the world.  If God is all-powerful and he is all loving, then why does he allow such suffering and death to take place?  In order to reconcile this problem, it is argued, a logical person must take one of only four positions: (1) that God is not all-powerful and therefore cannot stop our suffering, (2) that God is not all-loving and therefore does not care about our suffering, or (3) that God is neither all-powerful nor all-loving and therefore cannot stop our suffering nor does he care to, or (4) that there is no God at all.  The most likely of these four, says the atheist, is choice number four.

Of course, the Christian does not allow that option. So, he is left to choose between the remaining three.  Sadly, the popular default Christian view takes option (1): God is not all-powerful.  I would in fact say that Christians “unconsciously” default into that option.  What I mean to say is, they take that option without knowing that they take it.  On paper, for sure, most Christians would affirm, without pause, that God is all-powerful.  We write it on almost all of our statements of faith – God is omnipotent, God is sovereign.  Yet, as our theology is functionally unpacked, most of us insert the caveat: “but God has limited himself”. In other words, God has tied His own hands.  He has given his power away – most commonly to satan, to dark powers, and to man.

So, functionally, we would not see God as all-powerful at all.  In regard to suffering, we would say that there is pain in the world because Satan causes it, or dark powers cause it, or because man causes it.  Now, let’s take a moment to be clear here. It is proper to say that God does not cause sin, for God is not the author of sin.  Though he allows it, he does not cause disobedience and sinful acts of rebellion.  However, it is not proper to say that God does not cause suffering.  God does indeed cause suffering.  If you go back to the garden, all the way back to the original act of sin and rebellion, you will see that, as I have said, God does not cause sin, but he does cause suffering.  If you look carefully, you will see that, after sin is accomplished in the garden, it is most decisively God who brings the curse.  Man and Satan authored sin, but God authored the suffering that followed.  It is God who ordains pain in child-birth.  It is God who ordains suffering in work.  It is God who ordains difficulty in relationships.  It is God who causes pain.  On that point let’s be clear.

Now, without getting too bogged down here, let’s restate the case.  It would be proper to say that God is not the author of sin, but that he is the author of suffering.  Yet, it would also be right to say that the suffering that God ordains comes out of one of two distinct divine compulsions:

1 – God brings suffering to the life of the reprobate as a foretaste of his Wrath.  In other words, the suffering, in this life, that God ordains in a person who will not bow the knee to Christ, is only a foreshadowing of a much more horrible suffering that is to come.  In fact, God is holding back.  Horrifically, there will come a day when the Perfect Wrath of God will be poured out in wave upon wave upon all the unjust and ungodly, and upon satan and all his angels.  So then, the suffering of the eternally rebellious, in this life, will actually seem as blessing in comparison to the suffering that is to come.  Not a pleasant thought, yet it is the proper Biblical view.

2 – God brings suffering to the life of the believer as a blessing of discipline and as way of identifying with Christ.  In other words, God uses suffering in the life of the believer as means of growth.  It is through suffering that a believer matures, becomes more like Christ, and increases in his knowledge and enjoyment of Christ. Christian Suffering teaches us to love, eradicates selfishness, mortifies idolatry, and opens the soul.  And the suffering that believers endure is not an eternal suffering, as it is in the case of the ungodly.  Suffering for the believer is temporary, fleeting, and passing away.  Suffering will not overcome us.  We will overcome suffering!  This is the beauty of the Cross – it ends in joy.  There will come a day when Christ will say of our suffering the same thing he said of his, “It is finished.”

This perspective then creates a whole new category for the Christian. Remember the three categories that we thought we were left with: (1) God is not all-powerful, (2) God is not all-loving, or (3) God is neither all-powerful or all-loving.  Yet, with a proper Biblical understanding, a new category is formed: God is all-powerful.  God is all-loving.  God is justified in causing pain in the life of the ungodly as a precursor to the expression of His Holy Wrath.  God is justified in causing pain in the life of the believer as tool to produce maturity.  Pain hardens the heart of the ungodly, but it ultimately softens the heart of the elect.

Furthermore, with this new category, the Christian is freed from glorifying satan as the author of suffering.  Spiritual warfare is given a new shape and meaning.  For the believer, life is not a war against personal suffering.  It is a war against sin.  It is a war against lies.  We must understand, Satan’s ultimate aim is not to cause suffering in our lives; it is to cause unbelief.  He wants to foster hatred of God, not suffering.  In fact, suffering is regularly satan’s greatest enemy.  For God, so often, uses suffering to arouse numb and apathetic Christians.  God also uses pain to wake up the soul of unbelievers to their need of God. So often, suffering leads us to prayer.  Suffering leads us to worship.  Suffering leads us to humility.  And suffering leads us to repentance.

Our war against the enemy then, should ultimately be against the lies that he perpetuates not a war that is geared toward maintaining our ease and comfort.  If satan could make us comfortable, make life easy, and fill our life with so called “blessing”, and by so doing, keep our hearts cold and hateful toward God, without hesitation, that would be the path he would take.

So, as I sit here on my couch this early Sunday morning, with the pain of a kidney stone stabbing into my back, I can rest in knowing that this suffering is not ultimately an attack of the evil one.  This suffering is designed by God to teach me and to mature me.  And I can rest in the knowledge that this “test of my faith will produce endurance, that I might let endurance have it’s perfect result, that I may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:3-4).”  My most heartfelt prayer in this regard, is that my love for Christ will grow more and more as a result of my present trial and that I will be equipped to glorify Christ in the trials that most certainly are to come.  Finally, as Paul says, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of these things.”

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things (Philippians 3:10-15).

13 thoughts on “Making Sense Out of Suffering – God’s Megaphone (Part 2)

  1. It’s helpful to put suffering in the context of a parent-child relationship as well. If a child runs away, the loving parents wants him/her to suffer so that they will see their error and come back home to safety and restored relationship. God, our loving Father, is willing to allow us a bit of suffering with a longer end in mind–that His best may be accomplished in our lives.

    Anyway…I keep going back to the idea of family (thanks, Tim Keller). We can’t ever look at our relationship to God apart from it.

    We prayed for you this morning in staff meeting. You need anything?

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    • So true Jennifer. I think of Hebrews 12:7-8, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.” This falls under that second category of suffering – suffering in the believer’s life. The Lord will buffet us, discipline us, and scourge us, in order to draw us closer to him and form us more fully in his image. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Thanks also for praying this morning. It seems that I have a good ways to go yet. Yesterday I went in for an xray and the stone was again hiding behind my spine. This kept them from shooting with litho. “If they can’t see it, they can’t shoot it” – that’s what my doctor says. This was frustrating, because if they could have seen it, they could have gone after it right there. As it is I have to wait until next Tuesday. If I haven’t passed it by then, we will do a stint. You don’t even want to know what that is – painful! Anyway, that’s the story.

      Love you! – T

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    • I think this is inaccurate. I think God doesn’t want us to suffer. There’s a difference between “allowing” it and “wanting” it. If he wanted it, he’d be masochistic. I’m the very opposite in regards to the family metaphor. I’d want my kids to take my advice in order to learn, to save them from hardship, and I think that’s how God would operate first before allowing suffering. Errors aren’t learned only through a suffering experience. Jesus spoke in parables all the time for more than one reason.
      I know (personally) 97% of people don’t learn through advice, but through experience. Why that is exactly, i’m still trying to figure out.

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  2. WOW! Great stuff! You are so right while most of us would never say that we doubt the power or “goodness” of God, our perception of that power and goodness is flawed because of sin. Only through Jesus and the work of the cross can we get a glimpse of who God is, what God’s character really is. I get caught up in thinking it is about me (which is really unbelief because I don’t think HE is enough) and it is not it is about Jesus! It’s about Him living and working in me giving me the perfect strength. The power to love, to worship, to see the sin in my own life. God is a jealous God. He wants my heart not “my goodness”. My righteousness gets me the wrath of God but, with His righteousness I have a relationship with Him that is unexplainable to the world. That is what the Father wants. I can say truly that I am thankful for the sufferings and discipline in my life. My relationship with Jesus would not be where it is today without them. I know that there are more to come. I can’t say that I am looking forward to them but I do pray every day “God do what ever it takes today to keep my eyes on Jesus” I pray that for you also.

    Luvya Man

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    • Jimbo, I loved your response. A true perspective on God’s Love and God’s Power can truly only come together and make sense at the foot of the cross. I especially loved the phrase – “God wants my heart, not ‘my goodness’. My righteousness gets me the wrath of God.” That is a thought that is so freeing and give us a proper category for the suffering that God brings into our lives. An earthly father will correct his children because he wants them to exhibit a certain behavior. That is not true of God. As Hebrews 12 says, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” That ‘we might share in his holiness’ is the operative phrase. This means that God disciplines us in order to bring us closer to Him. His discipline, as you have suggested, is not behavior modification, it’s heart modification. Thanks for sharing, man!

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  3. I appreciate your perspective as well as your mind, but don’t know that it’s biblical really. Read Job 1 & 2. Satan is indeed the author of Job’s suffering, yet God is sovereign and Satan can’t do anything without God’s permission. God also sets limits on what Satan can do. Yes, Satan’s goal is to cause Job disbelief. Spiritual warfare ceases to make sense if it is God against God, clearly it is God against Satan and man must make a choice.

    I am not attempting to start an argument, but hope to receive more understanding and recognize a great mind.

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    • Emily,

      When I say that Satan is not the author of suffering, I reference Genesis 3:14-20. It is here that God ordains suffering as a response to man’s sin. God says, “Because you have done this, cursed are you…cursed is the ground because of you…I will put enmity…I will greatly increase your pains…I will produce thorns and thistles.” Notice here that it is God who increases pain. It is God who curses sinful man. And it was God who drove man out of the Garden. So then, it is God who ordained suffering from the very beginning. As I said in my post, man authored sin. And, as a result, God authored suffering.

      In regard to the book of Job, if you read carefully you will notice that it is indeed God who authorizes Job’s suffering. God is the one who begins the conversation with Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” In response to God’s proclamation, Satan asks permission to persecute Job. He says, “(if you allow me to strike him) Job will curse you to your face.” But, Satan is God’s pawn. God is planning to use Satan to test and mature Job with the tool of suffering as a way of ultimately blessing Job (Job 42).

      Again, Satan says, “Job will curse you to your face”. Yet, Job does not “curse God and die” as his wife so lovingly suggests (Job 2:9). All throughout the narrative Job honors God by acknowledging that God is sovereign over all things and he believes that there must be some purpose in the suffering that God is bringing into his life. Notice the dual position that Job takes. He holds God directly responsible – “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away” – but he does not curse God – “May the name of the LORD be praised”. The scripture continues, “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing (Job 1:21-22).” Job response is stunningly mature – God causes the suffering, but God is not wrong.

      This leads me to my previous comments about spiritual warfare. As followers of Christ, our battle is without a doubt a spiritual struggle (Ephesians 6). But, it is not, “God against God”, nor is it, as you say, “God against Satan.” Spiritual warfare is a battle that Christians wage against Satan and against the sinful flesh. The essence of the spiritual battle is not a struggle to “avoid” suffering, it is a fight to faithfully “overcome” suffering. Remember, Satan’s aim is a two-fold attack against God’s character: God is not Sovereign and God is not Good. So, with our suffering, Satan’s desire in spiritual warfare is to have us “curse God to his face”; to say, “If God is Sovereign, then he might be strong, but he is a jerk. If God is Loving but not Sovereign, then he might be good, but he is a useless wimp.”

      As as result, Satan wants us to accuse God of wrongdoing; to say, “I hate you God. You are unjust. Because you ordain this suffering in my life, you are a heartless jerk or an impotent wimp or both. So you can go straight to Hell!” Yet, this is precisely what we must avoid doing. Indeed, we can and should lament. We can complain and do so with great anguish and emotion. We can argue and unveil our hearts before God. Job does all of things and God says they are good. But Job does not curse God. So then, in our battle against the powers of hell, our overall desire should be to honor and worship God, even though we greatly lament, by saying along with Job, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. May the name of the LORD be praised.”

      Thanks for commenting Emily. I hope this helps!

      Tim

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      • I feel like God punishing sin is one thing, and suffering in our lives is another. For example, an innocent child is born into an alcoholic family. This is not a punishment of anything the child has done, though it is a consequence the child must face due to the sins of their parents, sin being caused by man and Satan, not by God. But I do believe that things like your kidney stone, or my former brain tumor (though it turned out to be not a tumor at all) are a result of God, can only be given with the approval of God. But back to the baby, Romans 8:28 reminds us that he takes situations like that and works them for the good of those who love Him. It does not say He puts those things in our paths specifically for the purpose of strengthening us, though I do belive that is exactly why He allows it and exactly how He takes broken things and turns them into beautiful.

        And as far as spiritaul warfare, if that is your belief, than out of curiosity, what then becomes the importance of intercession?

        For more thoughts of mine, http://www.emilywattles.wordpress.com

        Thanks for your time!

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  4. Pingback: Making Sense Out of Suffering (Part 3) « Sacrosanct Gospel

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