Years ago I led a high-school junior to Christ with the promise that He would make her life easier and her circumstances better.
A few months later she wrote something to this effect in a letter to me: “Why is it that all this trouble started after I became a Christian? Before I was saved, I never had this kind of trouble.” How would you respond?
Following the tragic and untimely death of his son, a grieving father looked directly at me and said, “God is punishing me for not taking my boy to church.” What would you tell him?
Ever since Cain killed Abel, and Job lost nearly everything dear to him, the universal question of the race has been, “Why?” None of us seems to have much of a problem with the wicked getting what’s coming to them, but why do good people have to hurt? Why is it that those who are healthy enough to come to church stay away, and some of those who most want to come cannot? Why does it seem, at least for a season, that those who are most faithful with their finances are tested the most with hard times? Why does it seem that pain is reserved precisely for those who have already endured all they can stand?
Unless we understand our situation from God’s perspective, we can give in to a cynical and bitter attitude. But fortunately, the Bible does deal with the issue. It’s the dominant theme of Job, and is also dealt with in Isaiah and Psalms, among other books. Four principles speak to my heart from what the Bible says about suffering:
1. God does have a plan.
Whether or not you can see it at the time, coincidences don’t exist for a follower of Christ. We serve a purposeful God, who has promised to finish what He has started in you. Difficult or painful circumstances build patient endurance in us, help mature us spiritually, further the gospel, and even inspire or challenge others. While they do subject us to temptation, they also expose what is in our hearts. And they are a vivid demonstration of how desperately we need something only God can give – grace for the moment.
2. It’s O.K. to ask God why.
Maybe you’ve been led to believe that “questioning God” is dangerous and sinful, and maybe a it is under certain conditions. But if asking God, “why” is a sin, then a lot of prophets, kings and heroes in the Bible must have stayed in trouble. Jeremiah called God a liar. Moses railed at Him because of the army of stiffnecks God had asked Him to lead. David repeatedly complained to God about his situations. And Job? He challenged God to a duel of words. Trash talked Him! Yet in all these cases and more, they all lived to tell about it. And God never rebuked any of them for asking, “Why?”
3. God is not obligated to answer all our questions.
Picture Tom Cruise (that’s you) demanding the truth from Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. “You can’t handle the truth!” Yes, hindsight is (often) 20/20. And sometimes we can look closely and see God’s hand in our times of suffering. But He never offers us simplistic formulas or a theology of clichés. Check out God’s reply to Job. Even though God didn’t condemn his questions, He didn’t answer them, either! He just blessed Job for hanging in there. I would caution you to beware of anyone who acts like he has more answers than God. There are times when answers aren’t enough – or you can’t handle the answers that are.
4. No Christian has ever suffered alone.
“I am with you always,” Jesus said. “I will never leave you, or forsake you.” Some things in the Christian walk can only be learned through suffering. There is also a level of intimacy with God that can only be gained through those times. Think about it: would you rather suffer in the presence of Jesus, or live in prosperity without Him?
One thing is sure. Nobody will ever be able to point a finger at Jesus and say, “You have no idea how I felt!” Is it not interesting that when God came to identify completely with the human race, the ultimate expression of that took place on a cross?
You still want to talk about what’s fair or what you deserve?
If you’re in a world of hurt, there is most likely no way to say to you, “I understand how you feel.” But I can say with absolute confidence – Jesus does. And He’s waiting to have that talk with you.
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