Summary: Part 2 of a 3 part series on suffering.
Pain and hardships
We have already looked at suffering with an eternal perspective. Now let’s dig in a little deeper into this subject. In the modern church, we have been led to believe that pain and hardships are symptoms of mistakes or a greater problem in our lives. This is a tragic misconception. The Bible clearly teaches that we will reap what we sow, therefore bad choices and consequences may cause us pain and hardship, but this is not always the case. We live in a fallen world. Anyone who looks at this life and expects heaven on earth will be disappointed. Even the apostles acknowledged:
1 Corinthians 15:19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
Often times God uses our struggles to shape our character, alter our course, or put us in a position to benefit in ways that we cannot see during the difficulty we may be enduring. When we run from problems we are running away from what God is doing. We can expect God to continue bringing us into these circumstances until we learn what He is trying to teach us. Unfortunately, because people are taught that hardship is the result of failure, we then avoid suffering at all cost. Most of the time failure is not the cause of suffering. In this study we will take a look at how the Bible addresses these issues.
Why is there physical suffering?
One of the age-old critical questions often asked to Christians is, “Why does a loving God allow so much suffering in the world?” The faith of many believers has been overthrown because people cannot accept the fact that God allows and even uses suffering. One of the greatest testimonies of love is that God identified with our sufferings by suffering with us and for us. Hebrews 2 explains:
17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
Jesus Christ was tempted and He suffered in all ways like us so that we could be confident that He can identify with our struggles. This life is not the way God intended. God indeed knew beforehand that this world would fall to sin, but that does not mean that He desired it to be corrupted by sin. The Bible tells us that suffering, sickness and death are the results of sin. When sin entered the world through man, instead of cursing mankind, God cursed the ground for man’s sake (Genesis 3:17). We inherit the curse indirectly, but we are still in the image of God. The curse in this life is an act of mercy. Instead of judging man directly, God ended the ‘heaven on earth’ that was created for man to enjoy. Now all of creation groans for the redemption that will occur when Christ returns to reign (Romans 8:22) and we groan with it.
This is not heaven. God does not intend for us to be satisfied with this life or this world. We look forward to the life to come. It is those who put their hope in this life that are disappointed and discouraged with God. The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 2 that Jesus suffered and left us an example that we should follow. Jesus did not avoid suffering. We do see Jesus in the garden asking if there was any other way to accomplish His purpose without suffering, but He also stated that the will of God was greater than the human desire to avoid pain.
Most people suffer and cry out ‘why me God?’ Man-centered religion (even if it is under the guise of Christianity) puts the focus on ‘me’, therefore I can’t see what God is doing in my life. One thing that we have as an assurance is that God will not allow anything to come into our life that does not work for our good. Even so, the greater concern is ‘what is God’s will’? God must be the focus. God has the right to accomplish His will with or without our consent. However, if we truly trust God, we will put our confidence in His promises. Ultimately everything that happens is an act of God’s mercy. It is God’s grace that gives us confidence. Grace is unmerited favor. God’s favor gives eternal benefits to us even when we don’t deserve it. God, out of mercy and grace, carries us through suffering for our benefit. Even while we lash out at God, He is extending grace without merit and we are given His valuable promises to cling to. Most of us are familiar with these passages, but they are worth reviewing.