Summary: How can a just God permit suffering in our lives?
OPEN: A woman who was employed as a dental receptionist told this story:
I was on duty when an extremely nervous patient came for root canal surgery. He was brought into the examining room and made comfortable in the reclining dental chair. The dentist then injected a numbing agent around the patient’s tooth, and left the room for a few minutes while the medication took hold.
When the dentist returned, the patient was standing next to a tray of dental equipment.
"What are you doing by the surgical instruments?" asked the surprised dentist.
Focused on his task, the patient replied, "I’m taking out the ones I don’t like."
APPLY: None of us likes suffering. Given the choice, we’d “pick out” the things we didn’t like in this life:
- the hardships
- the suffering
- the pain and loss
- the tragedies
and we’d just get rid of them.
Unfortunately – just like man in the dentist’s office – we really don’t get much of a choice. We don’t get to pick and choose. We get what we get.
But the question for today is not… what suffering would we remove from our lives?
But rather: Why does God allow suffering?
I. The first thing to realize in evaluating this question is this:
We live in a fallen world.
We live in a world where
- everything decays
- everything grows old
- everything dies
In Romans 8:18-21 Paul tells us:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was SUBJECTED TO FRUSTRATION, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its BONDAGE TO DECAY and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
We live in a decaying world where disease and death are part of the unavoidable aspects of living.
Jesus warned us not to get to attached to this world, because it is a world of decay and loss:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19-20
Indeed, Jesus also warned us:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33
So, Jesus has told us that – in this life – suffering and difficulties will be a reality even for us.
II. But then, along comes this passage in II Corinthians 12 that gives an entirely different perspective on suffering.
Here is Paul
– one of the greatest apostles in the early church
– a man who wrote nearly half of the New Testament
– a missionary who worked tirelessly to plant church after church throughout the known world
– a person who would be amongst the first to be named “Christian of the 1st Century”
And he’s suffering.
He has a thorn in the flesh and he can’t seem to have it removed from his life.
We don’t know what this hardship was that he had to endure, but it was so serious, that Paul prayed 3 times to have it removed.
Why did he suffer from this affliction?
God gave it to him.
Now, this passage tells me two things about suffering.
1st There are times when Suffering has a specific purpose
In Paul’s case… God sent the suffering to keep him from becoming conceited. He had been privileged to receive extraordinary visions and overwhelming power. And these advantages threatened to create in him a self-centered spirituality.
ILLUS: A woman once told of the time her 4 year old son and she were walking to their car after they’d been to Bible study. She said that her son looked up at her and said, "Mom, I’m not going to sin anymore."
She said “I got to wondering why he said this, so I asked him.”
This was his answer: "Jesus said if you don’t sin, you can throw the first stone and I want to throw the first stone."
You see…a self-centered spirituality carries with it the feeling of “power” over others. It can create a self-righteousness and smug superiority that angers God. And if that were to happen in our lives we’d begin saying:
“Look at me. I’m spiritual”
Rather than “Don’t look at me… look at Jesus”
So, in Paul’s life, the suffering came to help him avoid the danger of self-righteousness