God and Human Suffering: Part 3
Understanding God’s Perspective on Life’s Tragedies
Part 3 of 3 on God and Human Suffering
Why does God allow suffering in our lives? I get asked this more frequently than most any other question. My response is Part 3 of the God and Human Suffering Series. If you haven’t read parts 1 and 2, you might be wise to read them when you can. The fuller rationale will really help you understand where God is when it hurts.
Remember, it’s a matter of perspective. Like the mother doing needlepoint, from her view, the pattern is taking shape nicely. To the child on the floor looking at the backside of the craft, the tangled randomness of the threads makes no sense (Part 1). Perspective is critical. We need to believe that God has a plan – that His view makes sense. When we do, this perspective helps us cope.
Perspective is anchored in the knowledge that God loves us and can and will sensitively use even the hardest things we will ever face in life to both shape us and bring something good out of it (Romans 8:28). We all go through trials – it’s part of the human condition. Once understood, we realize we are either pre-storm, mid-storm or post-storm, not with a fatalistic mindset but with a realistic confidence that come what may, God will see me through (Part 2).
We will never know all that is going on from God’s perspective through our hard times until we get to Heaven. For now, I will share eight reasons why God might be allowing the suffering in our lives. I will include Biblical support for God’s perspective either stated or implied. You’d be wise to read the verses in context for yourself to deepen your grasp of God and human suffering.Note too, that the reason for our suffering could be reasons – not just one! You may find that as part of His master plan for your story could have a number of the reasons combined. Occasionally, we see clearly God’s perspective on trials almost right away. With time, purpose and meaning begin to fall into place. More often, we will have to wait and see what God’s grand scheme was all about.
Here are some of the purposes or explanations as to what may be behind the hardest times in life.
Purpose 1: To expose natural consequences.
Hard things in life happen to all of humankind worldwide. God has set certain laws of nature in place that man cannot avoid. Gravity impacts all people. Falling from high places causes injury or even death in Canada, Kenya and Korea. The HIV virus and the resulting aids syndrome ultimately leads to one’s end no matter where you live. Cancer has no favourites. Bullets kill in Columbine, Coaldale or Las Vegas. You need air to breathe – that is universal. Drinking alcohol causes you to lose perspective and control – dangerous in every community. Jesus said that the sun shines and the rain falls on good people and those that are evil – the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Life happens to all people. Being a Christian doesn’t make you immune. Yet Jesus also said, in this world we will have trouble and trials but in Him we can have peace because He can overcome all things (John 16:33).
Purpose 2: To exemplify our faith.
There are times when God puts you on display. He knows the end from the beginning. HE knows how things will turn out. I know…we all wish we had that map! God uses trials to refine us – to reveal the genuineness of our commitment. As Gold is refined under extreme heat, the dross (impure aspects) comes to the top and gets skimmed off making the gold even purer. That’s exactly it! We are told “we can rejoice when we suffer grief in all kinds of trials because these trials come for a purpose. It’s that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6,7). Jesus even told this same Peter (who just wrote about faith as Gold being refined) that Satan was going to sift him like wheat but that his faith might not fail (Luke 22:31-32). And if it’s not Peter being tested, don’t ever forget about Job. You see, a person’s faith is like a tea bag. You don’t see what’s in it until it’s in the hot water. God uses our trials to reveal our faith.
Purpose 3: To eliminate our sin.
Let’s face it. Most of us learn a lot of lessons the hard way. Sometimes it’s God who is disciplining us to bring about needed changes in our lives – to deal with some sin. It’s like a parent who corrects their child whom they love. We want the best for them. In Hebrews 12, that’s the point of the whole argument (verses 5-11). You see “the Lord disciplines those He loves and He corrects and even punishes the one He accepts as His son”. God wants us to submit to Him and trust Him with the changes pending. He wants to deal with our sin and train us for our good – especially when we clearly get off track. Frankly, I have experienced God bringing critical changes in me – rough edges removed – pride leveled – and much through really hard situations. He lovingly holds up His mirror to reveals my shortcomings more often through the difficult seasons in my life. I now say in my private prayer, “God if I am going through this to learn a lesson, please help me to learn it the first time” (okay, so I’m shallow). God will seek to bring the changes one way or another.
Purpose 4: To ensure right priorities.
It’s not uncommon for most of us in our faith journeys to get off track from time to time. We get busy doing our own thing – calling the shots day-to-day like we are in charge. Our commitment to the Lord slips. We get chasing the wrong things; money, positions, relationships, pleasures and a ton more. We see ourselves on the throne of our life and start “worshipping and serving created things rather than the creator” Himself (TEXT). But God wants us to seek Him first – period (Matthew 6:33). He wants us to have “no other Gods before Him” (Exodus 20:3) – especially ourselves. Trials can get our attention like few other things. When we suffer – we sometimes start listening in a new way. Paul learned the hard way too. Listen to him, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this (all the stresses and trials) happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). We get out of balance and hard times can help us refocus and realize again what really is important.
Purpose 5: To enhance personal growth.
Isn’t it true that our faith grows the most through our hardest times? It’s in the testing crucible of crushing reality that real character is forged. God allows suffering to bring the needed life attributes that will reflect Him. You don’t mature in character in a moment any more that you mature physically overnight. Growth takes time. And spiritual strength – just like in the weight room – comes through resistance. The connection between our personal growth and hard times is so central to faith development that we are told we are to “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope“ (Romans 5:3-5). James goes so far that he calls it “pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Suffering is sometimes God pruning the tree to bring better growth next season. Yes it hurts but it make great sense in the grander scheme of things. When we submit to God and trust Him through the hardest of times, we come out the other side deeper and more mature – frankly, more like Christ.
Purpose 6: To experience God’s strengthening.
At least at one point in your life, you have no doubt felt you were at the end of yourself. There’s too much going on. Too much is being demanded of you. There’s just no more strength. You were running on empty already weeks ago. You can’t take another step. You are already running on fumes. In your emptiness and despair you desperately whisper a prayer, “God, I can’t do this. It’s too much. It’s been too long.” Then it happens. Yes, something “above the normal” happens. It’s like God is lifting you, strengthening you, leading you and anchoring you. This is when we hear the Lord say; “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” As Paul experienced this strengthening he penned, “therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). When I realize that I fully need God’s help – that’s when I am most likely to experience it. Paul also said and so you and I should too, “I can do all things through Christ who STRENGTHENS me” (Philippians 4:13). Come to Him with your burdens and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
Purpose 7: To enable greater comforting.
I am fully convinced that God doesn’t waste pain. He can take our worst suffering and our hardest experiences and use it for good – to enrich the lives of others. Maybe it was a harsh job loss, a broken relationship or childhood sexual abuse. It is when we have felt the compassion and comfort of God in our lives that we can bear witness of what God can and will do for someone else. The lessons we learn in suffering can be transferred and bring hope to many others. Read it for yourself – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). We can better pass on God’s comfort because we have felt it ourselves. We can actually become better at burden bearing. God, who allows the suffering, is also the one to bring incredible healing. It’s not over yet. Now He wants to use your journey – your story to strengthen others.
Purpose 8: To enlist us in a new direction.
Sometimes God closes a door that we thought would be ideal for us. The pain of the lost opportunity isn’t small. When things don’t go as we hoped, the shattered anticipation of ‘what could have been’ can make us give up. Why God? This possibility looked perfect. To you, yes, but not to Him. Your disappointment and discouragement are part of the battle to trust Him. Joseph had a ton of reasons to seriously complain about what he went through. Seriously, think about it; hated by his brothers, betrayed by family and sold into slavery, hauled off to a foreign country, worked as a servant, accused of an affair he didn’t have, thrown in jail and then forgotten for years. Yet while surrendering to God’s plan through it all he was able to say to the brothers who betrayed him, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). We need to remember this truth when life’s course doesn’t make sense, “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the lord, “plans to proper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Rethinking Your Views on Suffering
I truly hope you have found some God-honouring truth to anchor you in your suffering. Keep asking yourself if you are basing your response to suffering on a healthy Biblical perspective? I deeply believe that you trust that God loves and cares for you through all your trials. Ask God to show you what He has for you in your trials. What’s the purpose? What’s the reason? And while you wait for the His answer, stay as close to Him as you can. He often whispers clearest in our fullest surrender. Bravely follow Him every moment of every day. Remember, when you can’t see the hand of God you can always trust the heart of God. I would love to hear from you.
Part 1 on God & Human Suffering, click HERE
Part 2 on God & Suffering, click HERE
© Dr. Dave Currie – Dec 2017
Feature image used with permission by 123rf.com/40186040/©author: NejroN