The past 2-1/2 years have been particularly marked with suffering. First, many lost their lives to the pandemic or suffered the loss of a loved one, then came the emotional/mental health impact of the necessary COVID precautions (shelter in place, online versus physical meetings/classes, etc.). Now, in addition to the aftermath of the pandemic, we are facing new challenges including geopolitical tensions/war, draught, hurricanes, etc. The list goes on…
As Christians, we often ask ourselves: “Why does God allow all of these bad things happen to us, especially knowing how much He loves us?” I know this question has tormented me, and it continues to do so, as I know our God to be a very loving God who only wants what’s best for us all. He is also omnipotent. IOW, He is in control of everything, and He can intervene and set the outcome of any imaginable situation. So, why does He allow these bad things to happen, especially despite our prayers for a better outcome in such situations?
This question has stumped many theologians, clergy, and lay people of nearly every Christian denomination for a long time, and it appears that no one (besides God Himself) has all the answers. It could be one of the most difficult questions that anyone could ask about Christianity. Hence, I am definitely in no position to offer any clear, concise answer myself. However, God has given us faith, which is both a gift and a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
In applying our faith and knowledge of God, the following might help us to at least somewhat understand God’s intentions regarding our suffering.
Suffering Deepens Our Faith
We are dependent on God, and God wants us to always be aware of that. Let’s admit it, we tend to focus less on God when all is good in our lives. In fact, sadly, I have heard some say they don’t need God because they are doing just fine running their own lives. Even if this might be true for a brief period, we know it is definitely not true in the long run. After all, haven’t we already proven many times over that we are totally incapable of saving ourselves? Hence, good circumstances can easily breed a false sense of security.
So, God sometimes needs to remind us that we are not in control and that it is definitely in our best interest to rely on Him. When we turn to God in difficult times, we get to know Him better, and we get to experience His grace, love, forgiveness, and faithfulness to us all the more. Although He may or may not change the outcome for the better, these things comfort us and enable us to cope with what is happening by putting our trust in Him and knowing that better times lie ahead.
Once we are through a period of suffering, we tend to have a renewed desire to always use God as our steering wheel, not just our spare tire. The more we do this, the more we trust God, honor God, and want to please Him.
Suffering Enhances Our Humility And Empowers Us
Suffering forces us to empty ourselves of our vanity and immersion in our earthly lives. This ultimately makes room for God to fill us with the Holy Spirit, thereby making us a true vessel of Himself. After all, how could we be God’s vessel if our “vessel” is already filled with our own egos and the minutia of our earthly lives?
Also, having undergone significant trials ourselves, we become more empathetic toward others who are suffering, thereby making us better/more effective witnesses and ministers. I always find that, when I tell people of my past trials and tribulations, people tend to open up to me more, trust me more, and, most important, trust God more. This situation cultivates, in all of us, a genuine desire to put our problems and suffering in God’s hands and let Him take it from there.
Suffering Is Only Temporary
I know when I am facing a significant challenge or loss, it seems like the situation will go on forever. But, deep down, we all know this isn’t at all true. Everything on earth – including our mere existence – has a beginning and an end. Hence, our suffering will eventually end.
I often think of our lives as a typical Hollywood drama. Things often start out well and, at some unexpected point, take an unexpected turn for the worse. As I’m watching such movies, I am almost certain the movie will somehow end well, and it almost always does. Regardless, one thing is certain: As we’re watching/reading, we remind ourselves that movies/books usually don’t end with worst-case scenario, but yet we don’t know how well it will end. As Christians living in reality, we already know the outcome. And it’s a great outcome – one that we know will be much better than anything we could imagine, so long as we keep the faith and hold close to God! 😊
Jesus already proved this out. His crucifixion, death and burial seemed like a horrific ending at the time, but Jesus returned from the dead 3 days later and later ascended in glory to be with His and our Father.
No Servant is greater than his master
I believe it’s a foregone conclusion that Jesus suffered more than any of us ever will and more than any of us could ever imagine. Although we are confident that we will never have to suffer as much as Jesus did, we should definitely expect suffering to be an integral part of our salvation. This concept is well-covered in scripture: Luke 9:23 “…If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
My main take-away from this is suffering on earth is actually a rite of passage to eternal life with Jesus in heaven, in a similar but less intense way as it was for Jesus Himself. So, during our times of trial, tribulation, and suffering, we can be confident that such is actually bringing us closer to salvation.
Our suffering is for an ultimate, lasting good
The book of Job is one of my favorites in portraying this concept. As we know, Job was a very righteous man, and God allowed the devil to attempt to dissuade him from being a faithful follower of God by inflicting catastrophe upon catastrophe upon him. In the process, Job lost everything – his health, his wealth, and his family. However, the devil’s plan didn’t work. Job, although he had his moments of doubt, remained faithful to God. Eventually, God restored everything that Job had lost plus a lot more. This illustrates the goodness that comes by trusting God.
Another good example is the story of Joseph in Genesis 50. Chapters 19-21 sum up the ending very nicely: “But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
As you can tell, there aren’t any straight-forward answers. In fact, it almost seems to me as if I’m only talking around the subject and that there is still a dichotomy between the fact that God so loves us (we know this because Jesus, who is God, laid down his life for us) and the fact that He allows us to suffer.
However, if we take the above points in aggregate, several underlying themes become very clear:
- God wants us to trust Him, and he uses our sufferings to foster that trust.
- God allows us to suffer as a means to build our character and strengthen us such that we will be better equipped to fulfill His mission for us here on earth and in the life to come.
- Although God allows us to suffer, he never abandons us. He journeys with us as we suffer and guides and strengthens us, so long as we hold close to Him.
- God will eventually take away the bad things that happen to us and turn the situation into something that is very good that will endure.
When I step back and look at all this from a 50,000-foot view, I can at least see some purpose to our suffering and that it is necessary for our ultimate good.
What do you think?