The point of suffering

Dear RZIM community,

Suffering and pain. What is the point of it? Is there a point to it? Is it just the result of the fall in Genesis 3? Does the Bible tell us more about the how than the why? Can we summarise the whole of suffering as preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison? 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. Is God as the God of primary causes always the author of suffering in the life of every believer or is it more that he just permits it at times especially when we bring suffering on ourselves? Or does he not differentiate in that seemingly harsh way between deserved and undeserved suffering? Is suffering of any kind always for the believer for His glory and for our good? Can we say that evil and suffering are an absence of good or is evil more than the antithesis of good? This privatio bono theory as determined by Plato and Aristotle refutes the notion that evil is an entity. So many questions! I am so keen to read your responses!

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Hi @Ame!

You made a lot of questions! But good ones. Thank you for sharing.

First of all, let me make a statement about suffering. It is a reality in many lives and a painful one. But God is not indifferent to it, He cares about it, He cares about us. He cares that much that He sent his only beloved Son, and He suffered to set us free from the sin that is the origin of all this suffering.

For centuries, many philosophers have been asking themselves the same questions. And the Bible gives us many answers but not all of them.

Many people say that there’s no point to allow suffering and if there is a God, He should stop it. They say God is all-powerful so He must stop it. But they forget God is also all-wise and all-love. So He has a purpose behind suffering, but it is not his goal. We don’t know how exactly evil became to exist in creation but we know sin opens the doors to it in our world. That’s why when Jesus will return and restore everything, there will be no evil, no suffering, no sin because we will be uncorruptable.

Also, I think suffering is not a measure of how just is a person. Because in the Bible we see the case of Job or Jesus himself! They did not deserve their sufferings but they experience them. In the case of every Christian, it is true that every suffering helps us to good, and we don’t have to pursue suffering as a good thing (because it is not by itself) but let God decides in his wise providence when He allows it in our lives.

What do you think?

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Dear Amy,

So many answers around the question of suffering. And such an important topic as we look around the world at so many people who are suffering. You’ve asked many, many good questions and from such a diversity of angles. I wanted to focus on this one…

Is suffering for the glory of God and for our own good?

Suffering is a very personal matter. Whether we’ve brought it on ourselves or something has imposed it on us. Our immediate and understandable reaction is to push away from it; to want it to stop! With the why questions rapidly following. But the bottom line is, we want the pain to stop and when we’re in the middle of it, our brains have very little capacity to absorb encouraging words of scripture and simple answers.

  1. God’s response. I’m reminded of something John Lennox says so frequently in his lectures when the topic of suffering comes up. He always points out that God does not remain separate from our suffering. He came into the world and became part of it. I love that statement, because it’s so very hard to relate to anyone who has not suffered as we have suffered. So first, I am grateful that our dear Lord is able to meet us where we are. We are able to talk to Him and share the experience with someone who truly understands the extent of it. Will help us carry the weight of it. And is sovereign over it. He sees the beginning and the end of it.

  2. The point. I strongly believe this also is a very personal matter. This is not a one size fits all matter. In sports, suffering can be a necessary and good thing. It builds endurance and strength. When we sin, suffering can be a consequence, a correction, an encouragement to turn a different way. In Job’s case, the suffering included a testing of truth. Suffering can be a preparation for service to others. God’s enabling for us to be able to come along side and genuinely help someone else who is suffering, because we’ve suffered in the same way and gotten through it. What is the point of our suffering? I believe we individually find the answer to that question as we walk through it and trust Him with it.

  3. The outcome. I wanted to emphasize, praise our mighty and gracious Lord, that there is an end to the suffering. Even when it seems unending. And I have dealt with and continue to deal with some things in my life that seem unending. Which is why I cannot emphasize enough the importance of knowing and memorizing as many of God’s promises as one reasonably can. If memorizing is hard then put up scriptures on your mirrors on the dash of your car on the fridge, in your purse or wallet. When you’re in the midst of long term suffering, knowing the outcome of the promises He has made, make all the difference in being able to put one foot in front of the other each day. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11. When we hold fast and trust Him to bring us through the suffering, we see close up and first hand the vastness of His love for us and His sovereignty over it all. He walks with us in it and sees us safely through it.

  4. God’s sovereignty. God is able to bring good things out of our suffering. And He is glorified in connection with our suffering because His perfect and good will is accomplished in both the good we experience in life and in the suffering. When we follow Him, and give up our lives for Him, trusting Him with that offering, His stated purpose is to redeem us. He is bringing us from death into life. Loving us to unimaginable depths of His being willing to experience death and suffering Himself in order to bring us out of this world, into a place where suffering is a fading echo. There is an end of it.

Final thought. I know that God’s word promises that He will wipe away every tear. But sitting here in the midst of this broken world, I think the experience of our suffering becomes a part of who we are as living human beings. I don’t want to forget my suffering. It has taught me the dreadful consequences of attempting to live a life apart from God. I value the truth that freedom and peace and love and victory and compassion and kindness and every other spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms is mine in Him. I never, ever want to forget who His is and who I am without Him.

Dearest, Amy…I hope something you’ve read on Connect connects (no pun intended) with the heart of your questions. Definitely here to continue the conversation if you’re interested. Wondering if there is anything specifically in your life or someone you know’s life that we might be praying for?

Grace be with you,

K.C.

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He was to be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and Scribes; there we see the suffering of the heart broken by the disloyalty of friends. He was to be condemned to death; there we see the suffering of injustice, which is very hard to bear. He was to be mocked by the Romans; there we see the suffering of humiliation and of deliberate insult. He was to be scourged; few tortures in the world compared with the Roman scourge, and there we see the suffering of physical pain. Finally, he was to be crucified; there we see the ultimate suffering of death. It is as if Jesus was going to gather in upon himself every possible kind of physical and emotional and mental suffering that the world could inflict.

Even at such a time that was not the end of his words, for he finished with the confident assertion of the Resurrection. Beyond the curtain of suffering lay the revelation of glory; beyond the Cross was the Crown; beyond the defeat was triumph; and beyond death was life.

William Barclay commentary

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@Ame. You’ve received some very good viewpoints and suggestions as to why we suffer. Several months ago it dawned on me that suffering is not a bad thing if we view it as God’s accommodation in dealing with pain, hardship, loss, and tragedy. Sin and evil entered the world, we know. But, as many through the years have asked, “If God is all good, why does He allow suffering?” I believe He has allowed suffering here on earth as a means of drawing close to Him. It’s proof that He IS good. It’s His answer to evil, not as punishment, but as His means of our persevering through evil. All of what we experience, whether from our own doing, the result of others, or through natural disasters can cause us to want to “curse God and die”, as Job’s wife advised,(Job 2:9). Or we can draw close to the heart of God and find His comfort, His peace, His joy, His answers…even the ability to “forgive those who intend evil against us” (Gen. 50:19-20).

Satan intended the cross to be a mockery of the bruised and bleeding Christ, scorned and berated. But it was, in reality, God’s answer to a hurting world. The cross was God’s message to relate to Him vertically, and then relate to others horizontally. In doing that, we draw strength to love and serve others. What many view as a defeat on the cross was actually God’s greatest victory.
So it is with suffering. It’s how we choose to view it. Will we draw close to God and be victorious through it? Or will we allow it to become our greatest defeat?

I like what KC @KCB said:

We suffer if we live apart from God. We find assurance of His goodness and love when we stay close to Him in spite of suffering
.
So, rather than viewing suffering as part of evil and a bad thing, view it as an opportunity to experience His love. Our outlook will change dramatically to one of rejoicing and gratitude, as Paul experienced and advised. Phil. 4:4-6

I hope this has helped you see suffering from a different perspective.

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The “how” is because of the fall. It is the result of wanting to be like Him, of wanting our own way, of thinking we have the power and wisdom to govern our—and other’s—lives. The miracle is what happens after the fall. Eve is immediately told that her seed will be the source of redemption. And while Adam is told the curse will make him live by the sweat of his brow, the only other man in the scriptures whom we are told sweat from his brow is Jesus as he fought to break the curse. God’s heart and plan is to restore.
I have seen the Lord continually take events that appear as though they never should have happened and turn them into something that works for our good and his glory. And the ultimate event that walked that out was the crucifixion.
We know the how. We want to know the why. There are probably as many answers to that as there are people and events. We do know the one who can take our whys and turn them into praise, humility, and wisdom.
Finally, I have found that suffering gives me access to the Father’s heart, a camaraderie with him, in a way nothing else does. When that happens I find I no longer want to know why because I am overwhelmed with thanks for growing that much closer to him.

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Thank you to everyone who has posted such helpful comments on this. Fantastic responses! Bless you all.

I may be presumptuous to think that I would give Plato’s challenge reason to pause and ponder.

But so be it. Here is my answer and explanation to Plato:

Evil is more than the antithesis of good. But it is still Evil; even if it is delivered by the hand of God.

Growing up into adulthood I had to learn that it would be better to show up as “the real me” and be punished by criticism rather than to pretend to be who or what I really wasn’t to simply avoid the conflict.

Growing up into adulthood I had to learn to push back against pleasant and popular things which I knew weren’t proper and to suffer the burden of choosing what I knew would be sound.

Growing up into adulthood I found that when I stood up for who I really am, or when I stood up for what was right, it was often against great threats and opposition. Failing to rock the boat when it was necessary would have avoided all of that. But I learned that temporal peace should not be purchased at the cost of ongoing regret.

Learning to do these things properly would make a huge difference in the effectiveness, sustainability, honor, and privilege to be able to stretch out and do them at all. Standing up within my true identity would mean learning who I was created to be. It would be a call to courage, prudence, long-suffering, a love for kindness and peace. This call would require answers that come from the mouth of wisdom and grace and love. There would be no substitute for knowing God and following Him. The cost of this adventure would naturally involve suffering. But as I fell short in all of these areas my awareness and appreciation and recognition for them would grow. And inadvertently, so would I. And so would my understanding.

Maybe this growth can be called character. Maybe it can be called one’s identity. Whatever it’s called it is life worth living regardless of the cost of whatever inescapable suffering that goes with it. The battle scars of having dared to truly show up and live (even if the scars were the results of sin and stupidity) outweigh the bland narrative of painless comfort and security. (Although those things are good too)

Sign me up for a future where life and relationships can be painless and perfect. It would be great if virtue and value and truth and goodness wasn’t all mixed up with evil and suffering and groaning and damage. But until that future comes there are valid reasons to wait patiently. For I have come to find that for the sake of growth and character suffering has its place in this temporal narrative we call life.

Weeping may endure for a night but joy commeth in the morning (Psalm 30:5)