If God really loves me, why do I have to suffer?
How can the good and gracious God be in control of all things and allow his people to suffer?
As we consider the conditions in our lives that tend to rob us of our joy in Christ, perhaps there is no more perplexing problem than that of human suffering. At least it is a problem while we undergo suffering, but afterwards there is an incredible sweetness and understanding. Let's approach this difficult dilemma from a Biblical perspective:
- God is sovereign over the realm of all human activity, including suffering. Sometimes people get the idea that suffering is "just one of those things“ that happens and that God has nothing to do with it. Such a notion would mean that something other than God causes suffering, and God would be less than all-powerful if he could not prevent it when he really didn't want it to happen. Neither chance, the laws of nature, nor anything else but God rules this universe. "Consider the work of God; for who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, so that man can find out nothing that will come after him.“ (Eccl. 7:13-14)
- All suffering God ordains for his children is for their good. God knows just what we need to refine and sanctify us; thus, God does not delight in inflicting pain, but does so only because it is necessary for us. As one minister so well put it, "God does not waste pain on anyone.“ Scripture teaches that God does not afflict or grieve the children of men willingly, that is, from his heart, as if he enjoys inflicting pain (Lam. 3:33). Peter tells his readers to rejoice as they are grieved by various trials, because these fires of trial will reveal the genuineness of their faith, as gold is refined by fire, and this refinement will lead to the praise, honor, and glory of God (1 Pet. 1:6-9). James writes that the person who endures trials is blessed and he should count it joy, because the testing of his faith produces patience, and patience develops the Christian character into maturity (James 1:2-4, 12). Paul writes in a similar way, telling the believers in Rome that we should glory in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces endurance or patience, which in turn produces a proven character, and finally hope that does not disappoint us because we understand that God's love has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:3-5). And remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
- Suffering is a sign of being true children of God. Scripture teaches us that God disciplines his own sons for their good, and that such discipline, although difficult to bear at the time, results in partaking in God's holiness (Heb. 12:3-11). As strange as it may seem, our suffering as Christians becomes a badge of our sonship and a means for God to sanctify us and transform us into the image of Christ. For that reason, we need to thank him. At the same time, no one would foolishly argue that this discipline is not difficult and painful, and scripture agrees: "Now no chastening (discipline, NIV) seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.“ (Heb. 12:11)
- We were called to be followers and imitators of Christ in his suffering. The first letter of Peter to the Christians in Asia Minor deals primarily with helping them understand and endure their suffering. Peter makes the statement that "when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps" (1 Pet. 2:20-21). We normally think of being called to eternal salvation, or being called to holiness, but we often fail to remember that we were also called to imitate the life of Christ including his suffering. Paul writes that he "counts everything but rubbish in order to gain Christ, to be found in him, to have the righteousness which is not his but Christ," and "that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death" (Phil. 3:7-11).
It really seems strange to people to talk about good that comes out of suffering, and yet I have talked to so many people who look back at their sufferings and see the hand of God in it all, how that God broke them from all pride and self-sufficiency and taught them their total dependence on him. They learned from him what was really important, they learned strength and patience, they learned of his grace and love, and, yes, a blessed fellowship opened to them with Christ only through partnering with him in his suffering. True theology that blesses us, comforts us, assures us, and motivates us cannot really be assimilated into our souls just by teaching. True, we must teach. But only the Holy Spirit can take the lessons of truth and make them reality in our hearts and minds, and, interestingly enough, he never does this apart from suffering!
John baptized with water, but the Savior baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt. 3:11). Our baptism is necessary for our final salvation in both aspects: the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of fire in our trials and suffering. Paul wrote to the Philippians and told them that "to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake." (Phil. 1:29) We know that the wonderful gift of faith is necessary for our salvation, but we must not forget that suffering is another necessary gift! Can we be grateful for all his gracious, saving gifts?
May God bless you as you endure the trials God has appointed for your life as he develops holiness and character in your soul and teaches you his love. May you find strength to endure, and may he soon grant you relief from your trials and the realization and full experience of the great joy for which it was all intended. Please contact us at Engedi Ministries if we may be of any service to you in your Christian journey.
(This article is dedicated to my beloved friend and brother Lonnie Taylor, and to other young people I have been blessed to know and share truth with, who have had to endure much suffering during their young lives, but who have found confirmation of their calling and election and God's eternal love for them in the process.)