31 May Why Does GOD Allow Suffering ?
“I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
The topic of suffering is an important one because it seems to be all around us, on the news, in our families, all over the world, and often its hard to make sense of. Several years ago, Lee Strobel a noted Apologist and author of the bestseller “The Case for Christ”, commissioned a national survey and found that if people could only ask God one question, it would be ” Why is there suffering in the world ?”
The above words, spoken by Jesus more than two thousands years ago, ring as true today as they did then. We should not be surprised when trials, tribulations, and sufferings come our way. In this fallen world which we find ourselves residing in, this is quite natural.
But Jesus is firm in his confident proclamation to have Courage because He has overcome the world, with all it’s Sin, Death, and Sorrow. If we can build our foundation on Faith in Jesus, and in the Hope of our Resurrection into Eternal Life with Him, than the sufferings can be endured with that heavenly perspective in mind. But lets not get ahead of ourselves, lets go back to the beginning, to the Genesis and Origin of it all.
The Beginning of Suffering and Sorrow
We have heard the story of the Garden of Eden in Sunday school so many times, that maybe it has lost some of its original impact, but I assure you, it has powerful implications on the current state of the world, the suffering we experience, and even Jesus’s incarnation.
God had created Adam and Eve, and gave them an idyllic home called Eden to enjoy forever, without pain, suffering, toil, or any other lack. All was provided for and God walked with them in the cool of the day, and His presence was intimately felt and enjoyed. God then gave His first commandment – as a way of testing our Obedience – and seeing if we would choose to trust Him as Our Father and that His decrees are in our best interests.
“And Jehovah God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou may freely eat: 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eat thereof thou shalt surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17
I know when I first read this, it caused me some inner discomfort. Why even put that One Forbidden Tree in the garden ? Why prohibit one tree amongst a million other trees designed for enjoyment and pleasure?
Thanks to a very insightful post by John Piper, I have come to understand that prohibiting that one tree is meant to preserve all of the other pleasures of life God has given us. If we decide to eat the fruit of that tree, we are saying to God ” I know better than you, I can take care of myself better than you, you are not a good father, and I will reject you”. God didn’t want you to eat that tree because he knew it meant rejecting Him, all his Good gifts, Wisdom, and care for us.
But He also wanted to give you the ability to choose for yourself, so that our Love towards God is a willing act and not a robotic gesture. God created us to have Free Will, so that choosing to Love Him through Obedience could be a conscious decision.
The Serpent and The Original Deception
God would have preferred that you trusted Him, ate of the thousands of other fruit trees in the Garden, and enjoyed the pleasures provided by Him as a way to Enjoy Him as a Father and Provider. But, instead here comes the Serpent and he immediately flips all of that on it’s head. First he gets Eve to question and doubt God.
“But from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!” Gen. 3:3
He also plants the idea that God is trying to withhold something from them. That once we eat from this tree everything that God has hidden from us will be revealed and you shall become like God. What an attractive and motivating lie, one that tickles our ear just enough with the idea of independence and power. Here we have our first move away from God-dependance and towards independence.
This is the first lie recorded in the Bible, and the one that caused the Fall of Man and this is the moment sin, sorrow, and death entered the world. God’s punishments were just, and we were expelled from the unbroken Presence of God in the Garden. We still feel it’s ramifications today, as we have inherited from Adam, a fallen or sinful nature, one in which rejecting God comes natural to us.
We also feel an subtle emptiness that comes from being disconnected from our Creator because of sin and rebellion. Some have called it the God Gap, and we often try to fill it with all manner of things ( drugs, sex, work, alcohol ) to fill the hole only intimacy with God can satisfy.
Following this punishment, God also gives us His first prophesy about the seed of the women coming to crush the head of the serpent, which foretells of the coming of Christ :
“and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Gen 3: 15
Ever since then, Satan has done everything in his Power to stop the birth of Christ, but He is powerless to stop the Will of God. Thank God for Christ, for God knew we would need a Saviour, to rescue us from our sinful and rebellious natures, to pay the price we could never pay, and to restore and reconcile us back to the original plan of intimacy with God. And who better to achieve this than God Himself in Human Form.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 2 Corinthians 5:18
The Fall of Man, is countered by God through the Raising of Christ from the Dead. If we die to Self, and Live for Christ, we shall find Eternal Life in Him, because of His atonement for Sin on the cross, His triumph over death, and His Resurrection.
The Meaning and Purpose behind Suffering
For Christians, even though suffering doesn’t always make sense, we can at least take some comfort in the fact that there is meaning behind it, and that whatever you go through is not in vain. This is contrasted by some of the Eastern Religions who say that suffering is not real or that it is your fault because of karma. We serve a God who is willing to suffer with us, and who uses suffering as a way to purify and strengthen our faith, so that we may enjoy closer intimacy with Him.
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6
We can also see in the Life of Christ that His Glory came about through His Suffering. This was a suffering that was predicted by the prophets before he was born, and His Glory followed after the suffering. First comes suffering, then comes the glory, and this is what we should anticipate to happen to us as well.
So we should not be surprised or unprepared for the suffering that is certain in this life.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4: 12
This isn’t meaningless or just an illusion, it has supreme value and purpose, and it is for your testing. Like Gold put into a furnace, our Faith is tested by Fire, to remove any impurities that link performance to Salvation. Salvation is by Grace through Faith, and it is a gift from God. It is not by works that we are saved. This is done so no one can boast ( Ephesians 2: 8). Works are the evidence of our Faith in Action. It is evidence of God in Us working through us for His glory.
And guess what, suffering comes in many forms. Some of which are natural like disasters or disease, some are brought on by consequences of our own sin, and some are from persecutions because of our faith in Christ.
But for each one God has an answer, and His Name is Jesus. He is our Redeemer, Our Rock, Our Refuge, Our Helper, Our Strength, and In Him We Shall Find the Promised Comfort for Our Souls. God works all things out for Good, for those who Love Him.
“We are hard pressed on every side,but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4: 8-9
As Christians, we are also called to adopt a heavenly perspective, in which we do not focus on the seen, but we focus on the unseen, Eternal realm of God. From this perspective, our momentary afflictions become more bearable, because we know we will spend eternity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect harmony and union, and we hold strong to the promises that He will wipe away every tear and heal every hurt.
“This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18
Although we see through a glass darkly, one day we will fully know and be Known by God, and in that day, because we were willing to share in the sufferings of Christ, we also share in His Glory and inheritance as the sons and daughters of the living God, who reconciled us back from our fallenness and darkness back into the glorious Light of His Being.
If anyone reading this is suffering now, I pray that Jesus draws close to you, and lets His Spirit rest upon you, providing comfort for you Soul. I hope you reach out to your Heavenly Father who loves you and longs to hold you in His embrace, in the midst of your pain. His promises are True, and He said he will never leave you or forsake you even until the end of the world.
“Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7 Amen.