I think of believers whose sufferings are recorded in God's Word,
I think of Adam, Eve, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Moses, Job, Samson,
Abigail, Isaiah, Jonah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Naomi, Mordecai, Daniel,
David, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Jacob, Joseph, Hannah, Paul,
Silas, Mary, Martha…all the way to Christ Himself.
My point is that suffering is not
the exception--it's the rule. In my study, I found that believers
have suffered from sickness, death, violence, loneliness, loss,
poverty, persecution, stress, pain, and even guilt. Sometimes
the source of the problem was concrete (for example, a famine
or war), while other times the problem was abstract (such as feelings
of shame or sorrow).
Examples of people whose sufferings
were concrete are Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery,
and Christ, who was brutally beaten and crucified in our place.
Abstract suffering is exemplified
by Adam and Eve, who tried to cover their shame with fig leaves
and lived with the realization that their own disobedience had
unleashed sin on the world, later resulting in the murder of their
son, Abel, by their other son, Cain.
Did you know that even God feels
abstract pain? Genesis 6:6-7 reveals that it distresses God to
see the sin of mankind. In Noah's day, this sin became so prevalent
that "it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth,
and it grieved Him at His heart."
God, who witnesses every murder,
abuse, abduction, rape, and bullying that occurs on earth every
day, suffers pain as a result of our sin. He feels the rejection
of every unbeliever who hatefully uses His name as a curse word,
but He also feels unloved by each believer who has time for everything--except
fellowship with God.
He who allowed His friend Lazarus
to die, and later wept at His graveside, also feels sadness for
us when we are sick. The One who sees the sparrow fall, also hears
the panicked cry of pain from the unborn child, as its death is
being caused by the very mother God designed to nurture and protect
it. How amazing to realize that God, the Creator, suffers pain
because of these and other sins.
Knowing that God suffers and that
Jesus His Son took on human form to suffer in our place, gives
us the confidence that God knows exactly how we feel--He truly
"feels our pain"! The apostle Paul, often imprisoned and beaten
for the cause of Christ, put it this way: "For we have not an
high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities;
but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin"
So, if God knows how it feels when
we suffer, why doesn't He keep it from occurring? Well, for one
thing, God has an eternal perspective. Remember how He wished,
in Noah's day, that He never would have made man? Yet He had anticipated
that very feeling on the sixth day of creation, when he spoke
man into existence. Why did He make us, knowing that our sin would
bring Him grief and eventually cause the death of His Son? The
answer is that God was willing to put Himself through suffering
because of the eternal benefit. His desire to spend forever with
us in heaven motivated Him to endure the temporary pain. (Hebrews
Another reason God allows suffering
is to show His
power and glory. This
may be why God allows the Hitlers and Husseins of this world to
commit multiplicities of murder and violence. "What if God, willing…to
make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels
of wrath fitted to destruction…that He might make known the riches
of His glory on the vessels of mercy" (Romans 9:22-23).
A Bible example of this would be
wicked Pharaoh, who relentlessly enslaved and persecuted the Jews,
even throwing their male babies into the Nile. His sin unleashed
God's power through plagues which confiscated the Egyptians' firstborn
sons. Afterward, when Pharaoh pursued and cornered the terrified
Jews at the banks of the Red Sea, God revealed His glory by opening
up a pathway for His people and closing it again to trap Pharaoh
in the watery grave to which he had doomed so many helpless infants.
A third reason that God allows bad
things to happen to believers is to reveal His glory within us.
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not
worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in
us" (Romans 8:18). God's ultimate goal for us is that we become
more like Jesus Christ. Job, during his time of intense testing,
promised, "when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold"
A fourth reason for difficult times
in the life of a Christian is so that we can help others. Just
as Rae's mother in the story, "A Rae of Sonshine," became a shining
example of Philippians 4:13, our experiences of faith in difficult
times can often be the most powerful and convincing testimony
we could ever give. Because Rae had experienced feelings of deep
sadness and loss, she was enabled to comfort another who felt
isolated by his grief (1 Corinthians 1:3-4).
The fifth reason that Christians
may suffer is the chastisement of God. "Now no chastening for
the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward
it yeildeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11).
The apostle Paul assures us that God will chasten every child
of His. When problems arise, the first response of each Christian
should be to carefully examine her own life and repent of any
sin that could be causing God's chastisement (1 Corinthians 11:31-32).
However, since the Bible contains
many examples of hard times that were not a result of unconfessed
sin, we should be careful never to assume that someone
else's problems are a result of God's punishment. Matthew 7:1-5
warns us that we are only to judge ourselves, not one another
(unless God has put us in a position of authority to do so).
The important thing to remember
when you're in the middle of a difficult time is that God is in
there with you and He will bring you out the other side. Each
Bible story shows us that those who remained faithful to God during
the difficult times were rewarded with earthly possessions, the
increased presence and power of God, and/or eternal rewards laid
up in heaven.
Sometime later we will understand
why God allowed each circumstance in our lives, and how each one
was used as a tool to work His plan for ourselves and others.
Like Joseph, we may be able to see in our lifetime that "God meant
it unto good" (Genesis 50:20), or it may not be until we reach
heaven that we fully understand His promise that "all things work
together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called
according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).