By Don Ruhl
Man says that suffering speaks against God. Atheists argue: If there is a God and He is all-powerful, He must not be loving, for suffering exists. Or they argue: If there is a God and He is all-loving, He must not be all-powerful, for suffering exists. Sometimes they simply reason: Suffering exists, therefore, God does not exist. In their minds suffering and God cannot co-exist, because they believe that suffering is always bad and that no good can come of it.
Does man’s suffering show a shortcoming on God’s part? Does man’s suffering indicate God does not exist? We shall see that the answer to both questions is no.
There are many non-atheists who have a negative view of God if suffering comes into their lives. Job 2:9, 10 juxtaposes two views of God, one view that being faithful to God is not worth suffering for, while the other view is that we should be just as willing to receive suffering for belief in God as we are to receive the benefits of believing in God. After Job had suffered the loss of all his wealth, his children and his health, his wife said to him,
“Do you still hold to your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job’s wife saw God as worth something to her, if nothing but good things happened. This is like someone who wants all the glory of competing in the Olympic Games, but does not want to agonize through the pain of training. Give me all gain with no pain. I am entitled to nothing but good, and deserve no suffering, is the mentality.
However, Job had a right understanding of God and pf life. To Job, suffering did not speak against God, but that sometimes we come under attack for our beliefs in the Lord. While we are quick to see the benefits, let us realize that suffering will come to us in this life, and that we can still see God’s love in our suffering.
I have seen many Christians fall away because they thought that only good things should happen to them as Christians. They had marital troubles and they became so distressed over it that they left the Lord. One Christian after another has fallen because he or she was under the false impression that they were not supposed to suffer in Christ.
Still others have agonized over why they thought that God was punishing them, or why in their minds He had forsaken them, believing falsely that their suffering meant something negative about God. One Christian woman even blasphemed God, calling Him a turkey, because she had suffering in her life. Another Christian woman told me that God let her son down because God did not stop a horrible tragedy in the boy’s life. Another Christian woman fell away temporarily because she thought that everyone was supposed to be nice to her now that she was a Christian, and she just could not understand why God was not helping her.
Both the Scriptures and experience teach us that the love of God can be seen in suffering.
Suffering brings out the good in other people
In North Dakota, in the Red River Valley, as whole towns were being evacuated because of flooding in 1997, people in areas not affected by the floods were taking strangers into their homes. Love was shown during a time of suffering. This love may never have been known, except that a time of suffering caused it to blossom.
We see this often in the news when there is a great catastrophe and people come together. They help one another when normally they would not be involved with each other. Can we not say that the Lord is working providentially in these situations?
Suffering in the Scriptures shows the love of God
Joseph suffered that his family might live. In Genesis 50:15–21, the great man Joseph explained to his brothers the love of God when they meant Joseph harm, but God used the situation for their good,
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.” So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.” Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Joseph had pleaded for his life when his brothers threw him into a pit and then sold him as a slave. Moreover, the brothers themselves suffered terribly during the seven years of famine. However, this all served to get the family of Jacob into Egypt where God wanted them to stay for 400 years while the Amorites were completing their sin, and Israel grew in Egypt. So what looked like a time of suffering and neglect by God was really God showing His infinite love, but it took man a long time before he saw it.
Second Corinthians 1:6, 7 shows that sometimes we suffer, not so we may be benefited, but God uses our suffering for someone else’s benefit,
Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.
Paul and his co-workers suffered, but the Corinthians benefited from it. God’s love was still being shown, but somehow someone else received it through the first person’s suffering. This happens all the time. A woman who suffers the pangs of childbirth does it that another may live. A man who suffers in war does it that others may live. In Christ, we often suffer so that others may gain and thus see the love of God.
It was through suffering that God showed the greatest extent of His love in the crucifixion of His blessed Son. If you want to talk about suffering, then just consider for a moment the suffering of Jesus Christ upon the cross. What would it be like to have nails driven through your hands and feet, especially after having been beaten and scourged? Jesus was even momentarily forsaken by the Father. Was the Father neglecting His Son? Was the Father powerless? Was the Father without compassion? Did the Father cease to exist? You know very well that the answer to all those questions is no, because you would say correctly that there was a purpose in the suffering of Jesus Christ, and that purpose is summed up in the love of God. According to Romans 5:6–10, it was through the cross that God was showing His love toward the human race,
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
God often takes what man says is a defeated situation and uses it for victory. Look into your own life, even during the times of suffering, and do not become bitter, but see the love of God.
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