Summary: How can a good God allow human suffering to continue? The story of Joseph provides a powerful illustration that suffering has a purpose, even when we can't see it at the present time.

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:15–21, ESV)

I knew a man whose mother had cancer. She suffered tremendously as doctors tried treatment after treatment to stop the slow progressing disease. The woman never lost hope, never lost her joyful spirit. She prayed for her children and encouraged them to trust the Lord.

Her children grieved the loss of their beloved mother. But this one son was especially overwhelmed by her terrible suffering. His faith in Christ was weak by any measure. But watching his mother’s physical suffering caused him to turn away from the little relationship that he had with the Lord.

He was confronted with the reality of suffering. He lost faith because he could understand how a good God would allow his mother to suffer.

Joseph’s story teaches us that God’s plan is working on our behalf, even when we suffer. Joseph suffered under the injustices of his brothers, his master’s wife and the Cup bearer. His CIRCUMSTANCES could have caused him to become lose faith, but his THEOLOGY caused him to know that God is always GOOD and always at WORK for OUR GOOD.

Joseph understood Romans 8:28 almost two thousand years before it was written!

The FOCUS of sermon is NOT getting through tough times, but rather not letting tough times or the existence of evil cause your faith to falter.

Let’s begin by discussing the Three Types of Suffering

The FIRST type of suffering is BENEFICIAL SUFFERING. You might be thinking, “how can suffering be beneficial,” but it often is. For example, physical pain, although uncomfortable and difficult is also very beneficial. What would happen if you didn’t feel pain? You would injure yourself frequently and you would attempt to do things that would bring great harm to yourself. There is a rare birth defect called “Congenital Analgesia.” In this disease, a patient feels no pain. It is a very dangerous disease because children do not learn the natural consequences of touching hot things, sharp things, or even dangers to their limbs caused by kicking, etc. One medical source explains that children with this disease“[bite] themselves deeply, breaking bones without feeling they did, poking their eyes with their fingers, biting their own tongues.”

Christian theologian and philosopher Paul Copan writes, “If God were to remove pain and suffering so that the consequences of sin would be hidden from us, we would live in an illusory world, having the impression that we are doing fine without being reconciled to God. If we did not experience the consequences of sin, we would never be dissatisfied in our state of separation from God. If God is to deliver us from our sin and separation from him, he must make us aware of our sin. Paul Copan, 'That's Just Your Interpretation' (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001)

Another form of beneficial suffering is discipline. We read in God’s Wort that “for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12, ESV)

“Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:9, ESV)

A final form of beneficial suffering is found in the trials that we endure, which God intends for our good. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3–4, NIV84)

“because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:3, NIV84)

While the above examples of suffering provide benefit to the one who suffers, DISEASE and DEATH are forms of suffering that are much more painful and seem to have no benefit. Atheists seek to disprove God’s existence by pointing out the “Problem of Evil.”

They say, “God cannot be GOOD and GREAT at the same time.” In other words, he cannot be a benevolent God who desires to do good for his children, and also be a sovereign God who is in control of all things. If he were in control of all things, his goodness would cause him to prevent all suffering.

BUT CONSIDER THIS, the Atheist has no right to unilaterally condemn Christianity for what the atheist views as an inadequate response for the reason for suffering. The atheists must also provide an answer according to his world-view. The atheist answer is itself very week and depressing. The atheist says, “We are only matter - food for worms.” To the true atheist, we are no better than an amoeba. Atheism must ultimately deny evil if we are ultimately just random molecules with no design or purpose.

Every religion and world view is required to provide an answer for the existence of pain and suffering.

Copan writes, “Even if we don’t know God’s reasons for permitting evil (and there is no basis for thinking we should), this doesn’t prove that such reasons don’t exist. ....The problem of evil presents a question not only for the person trying to give an answer to the problem, but also for the questioner. If you have the real existence of evil and no God, since evil disproves God then how can you have an objective human-mind independent moral law? When you define evil you can define it in a couple of ways: it is either (1) The absence, lack or corruption of goodness or (2) a departure from the way things ought to be. The problem is that (1) presupposes a standard of goodness, and that (2) presupposes a design plan. If true, these objections then both point to God whose character is the very standard of goodness and who is the designer of the universe. © Paul Copan, 'That's Just Your Interpretation' (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001) and used by kind permission of the author.

The most difficult kind of suffering to endure and understand is SUFFERING UNJUSTLY. Joseph KNEW that he suffered unjustly. He said to the BAKER and CUP BEARER, “For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”” (Genesis 40:15, NIV84)

Peter describes unjust suffering in this way, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 2:18–20, ESV)

I. Joseph Understood the Following things About God

A. The Lord is always with you, even when you suffer. Genesis 39:2,3,21,23 “The Lord was with Joseph.”

B. God is in charge and can do whatever he pleases.

1. To the Baker and Cup Bearer. Genesis 40:8 “Interpretations belong to the Lord”

2. To Pharaoh. ““I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”” (Genesis 41:16, NIV84)

3. To Jacob when he gave the firstborn blessing to Ephriam. “But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”” (Genesis 48:19, NIV84)

C. It is foolish for us to take justice into our own hands. “But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19, NIV84)

D. God always works for our good even when we don’t understand.

1. “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:5, NIV84)

2. ““So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.” (Genesis 45:8, NIV84)

3. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20, ESV)

REASONS for SUFFERING. (Sue Bolin, PROBE Ministries

A. Prepares us to be the pure bride of Christ. Eph 5:26-27; Heb 12:10

B. Future ministry to others who suffer. 2 Cor 1:4

C. Develops Humble dependence on God. Rom 8:28

D. Displays God’s strength through our weakness. 2 Cor 12:8-10

E. Gets us ready for heaven. 2 Cor 4:16-18

So What is God’s purpose for allowing Evil to Continue in this world?

A. We don’t have to know completely. We are not God.

B. It has to do with bringing God Glory. God’s nature and goodness can only be known in the context of a world in which evil exists. “Finally, it is noted that God is not passive with regards to evil, but deals with evil by bringing good out of it and ultimately punishing it and bringing it to an end. some moral acts cannot be performed in a world that has no suffering or evil. Examples of such acts include:

1. Courage

2. Generosity

3. Self-sacrifice for the benefit of another

4. Justice

5. Repentance

6. Forgiveness

7. Mercy” Paul Copan, © Paul Copan, 'That's Just Your Interpretation' (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001) and used by kind permission of the author.

C. The greatest good in all human history was achieved through suffering. “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews 2:10, ESV)