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.” http://www.diseaseaday.com/congenital-insensitivity-to-pain-a-life-without-pain/
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) http://www.rationalchristianity.net/evil.html
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.”