One Reason for Suffering…

TWO O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING

My wife and I were reflecting last night at two o’clock in the morning (over the cries of our youngest daughter Amma, who still has trouble sleeping), why God allows challenges to persist despite much prayer and laboring to the contrary…  Neither of us have had a solid, good night of sleep in nearly two years (since the birth of Ahavah).  At times it is hard to grasp the point.

God’s actions sometimes seem to militate against other purposes God has. For example, if I don’t have sleep then I’m not as sharp for my seminary classes.  If Megan doesn’t get sleep it is considerably harder to exercise patience with the children throughout the day and model Christ-like behavior.  Both of these seem to undermine God’s desire for us at home and at school.  To us, it seems like it would be in everyone’s best interest, including God’s, to just fix the problem.  We would be able to better serve him and fulfill the calling he has placed on our lives… or so we think anyway.

So why does God not just take away whatever it is that keeps Amma from sleeping?  Why doesn’t he just fix it?

THE SOURCE OF THE PROBLEM

Some would explain the problem by saying that God has nothing to do with it.  These folk say that evil is not in God’s control; He has nothing to do with the brokenness of this life.  Plagues, tornadoes, disease, death, etc., are the result of man’s poor choices and decidedly not the result of anything God has done.  How could it be if God is good?

The answer is inadequate on a number of levels, but most obviously, it is biblically unsuportable.

After losing virtually everything he owned, from property to children, and having his body covered in sores, Job asked his indignant wife: “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).  The key phrase here is “from God.”  This is a good literal rendering of the Hebrew.  The  Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) has the preposition ek, which means “out of.”  Even though it was Satan who did the destroying of Job’s family and flesh (1:12; 2:7), it was God who gave him permission (1:12; 2:1-6).  Clearly, this good and evil has come from (“out of”) God.  He has the power to restrain it or allow it.  This is the way righteous Job understood it.

And there are countless other texts that would indicate as much and show God to be the direct actor in bringing about what appears to be evil to us.  For example, Lamentations 3:37-38 says:

                Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass,

                Unless the Lord has commanded it?

                Is it not from the mouth of the Most High

                That both good and ill go forth?

“Ill” here can be literally rendered “evil things.”  All Christians believe this in one way or another.  I would go as far as to say that to reject such a notion is to deny the core of the Christian message.  Is not the heart of the gospel that truth that God the Father put God the Son to death on the cross as payment for our sins?  Was this an evil accident, or was it ordained and orchestrated by God Himself?  If it was an accident think about the implications.  Here’s an admittedly imperfect, but helpful illustration:

Let’s say that I’m coming home one day from work in our car and a guy pulls out in front of me, creams my car in the side and totals it.  We get out and begin the talk.  The man is cordial and apologetic.  During the conversation I find out that he is extremely wealthy.  He says, “I’m so sorry sir, I don’t know what I was thinking…  Would it make it up to you if I took you by the Honda dealership and just bought you a new ride? What do you say?  It will be like this thing never happened.”

To make a long story short, after doing all the necessary paper work with the police and wrecker, the gentleman drives me over to the dealership and buys me a new Honda.  I drive home and surprise my wife.  She is thrilled to see the new car.  Tears are running down her face.  I then take her by the hand and tell her: “I got this for you because I love you so much.”

It is wrong for me to say that I bought the car for my wife because I loved her…  I didn’t even purchase it!  And what’s worse, it was all just a big accident!  If the man hadn’t hit me, I would have come home just like always in our old car.

Sadly, this is what we do to the cross of Jesus Christ when we say that God didn’t do it.  If he didn’t do it, how can he say “For God so loved the world…”? (Jn. 3:16).  How can Paul say “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  The only way we can receive Christ’s death as love is if it was planned, intentional, purposed, and brought about by God himself.  Otherwise it just becomes a gross accident that turned out in our favor.  But Scripture says it was so much more: “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief… As a result of the anguish of His soul…My servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:10, 11).  The Lord delighted to send the Son to die, and the Son delighted to lay his life down for us (see Heb. 12:2), because God loved us so deeply.

This is the core of the Christian faith and it all rests upon the glorious sovereignty of a good and gracious God.

ONE REASON WHY

So why does God still allow sleepless nights and a thousand other forms of suffering?  Contrary to the unbiblical notion (in my reading anyway) mentioned above, there is a more satisfying, God-honoring, and biblically warranted answer.

Among many other thoughts and answers that might be given, I stumbled across this one this morning.  While admittedly there is an element of mystery to it all, God has not left us without some answers:

Christians also suffer so that they would prize the cost of their salvation.  When the Puritan Richard Sibbes was asked why Christians are afflicted, he said, ‘I answer, we must suffer, first, that we may know that Christ suffered for us by our own experience, without which we should but lightly esteem our redemption, not knowing how to value Christ’s sufferings sufficiently, which is a horrible sin, Heb. Ii.3’ (Works of Richard Sibbes VI, 162).  The Apostle Paul commented, ‘I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered… that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death’ (Phil. 3:8, 10).  If we did not suffer, in other words, we would in no way recognize or appreciate the price that Jesus paid for our redemption.  (We can never completely fathom the cost of our salvation.  Not only are we hindered by our sin, but we will never suffer to the degree or extent that Christ did.  Our sufferings, therefore, provide us with only a hint or notion of the cost involved.)[1]

This is a profound answer.  If this logic is right (which I believe it is), then it is better for me to suffer and thus have a greater measure of fellowship with God in it than to not suffer at all.  Knowing God is thus elevated above our ideas of comfort, peace and pleasure.

Last night in my Systematics class Dr. Kelly said something to the effect of: “The greatest prosperity gospel, and the only one worth believing, is that of being conformed to Christ’s image.  We are prosperous not when we have a bunch of stuff but when we are like Christ.”

So sometimes God takes away our apparent prosperity to give us real prosperity.

So maybe what that means for my family right now is not what we initially think or feel… Maybe God is not so much “taking our rest” as he is giving us a deeper and more satistying kind of rest…


[1] John Currid, Why Do I Suffer? Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2004), 97-98.

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