Is There Any Hope?
Each new report of violence, ethnic cleansing, or terrorist brutality forcibly reminds us that we live in a horribly broken world. We look for scapegoats. First we blame the perpetrators of the violence. Then we tend to blame their families or even society.
It is certainly right to do whatever can be done to minimize wrong influences, to promote wholesome influences, and to protect people from violence, abuse, and manipulation. We should applaud every effort to limit evil and never resign ourselves to the proliferation of wickedness. In the final analysis, however, there will never be peace on this earth until the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, returns to rule the nations with a “rod of iron.”
As much as we would like to deny the reality of pain, suffering, and evil all around us, many of us are quite familiar with the fear that springs unbidden when the telephone rings in the darkest hours of the night. We know about the quickened pulse and wildly racing imagination upon seeing a uniformed person standing at our door. We dread the somber countenance of the medical doctor approaching us from the surgery room.
The reason things get worse and not better is that we are broken people living in a broken world.
This Is NOT What God Wants
But God never intended for the world to writhe in pain, suffering, and violence as it does today. He created human beings in His own image and delegated to them authority over the earth, including the responsibility and ability to “subdue” it. He placed Adam and Eve in a paradise, free from fear, shame, violence, sickness, suffering, poverty, and dysfunctional relationships. That idyllic existence was not to endure.
But until the time when evil is eradicated, what is to be the attitude of those who believe in God?
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter… Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (I Peter 4:12-16, 19).
Trusting God in Our Suffering
Pain and suffering are facts of life. David wrote, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm, 34:19). We can attest to the many afflictions experienced by those who believe, but we may wonder about the statement, “The Lord delivers him out of them all.”
We might at first think the stories of miraculous victories recorded in most of Hebrews 11 are proof of the genuineness of the faith of these people, while the stories of suffering, defeat, and death evidence the lack of faith of the rest. But we would be wrong. One conclusion to draw from Hebrews 11 is that it is impossible to determine whether somebody is a person of faith by the circumstances of that person’s life. Indeed, the chapter concludes after describing these sufferers with these words: “…of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise” Hebrews 11:38-39).
Putting It in Perspective
The apostle Paul was a man of great faith, but he was no stranger to pain and suffering. Listen to the following excerpt from his words on this subject.
“But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings…by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report…as dying…as chastened…as sorrowful…as poor…as having nothing…in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in peril of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (II Corinthians 6:4-10; 11:23b-27).
Words like these make us uncomfortable. We would rather read bright, cheerful, and encouraging words.
A Biblical View of Pain and Suffering
To begin to understand pain and suffering from a biblical point of view, we must first be aware of God’s attributes. Then we must understand what it means to be human. The pain and suffering we experience are the consequences of being broken people in a broken world. God’s interaction with us in our pain and suffering is determined by the fact that He is the perfect, holy Creator whose interaction with His creation reflects His wholeness and our brokenness.
The attributes of God particularly relevant to biblical understanding of pain and suffering include His omnipotence, or the fact that He is all powerful; His omnipresence, which means there is no place where God is not; His omniscience, meaning that God has no beginning and no ending; His immutability, or the fact that He does not change. We must also consider His sovereignty, love, justice, truth, freedom, and holiness.
God’s Nature and Human Nature
As believers, our questions about human suffering inevitably involve God. Why does He allow suffering? Is He able but unwilling to alleviate suffering? Is He willing, but unable? What does our suffering tell us about God?
Thinking carefully about our suffering presents another line of questions. What does our suffering tell us about human beings? How much suffering is a consequence of broken relationships between human beings, whether personal relationships, subcultures, or nations? How much suffering is due to self-abuse, carelessness, neglect, or other causes that could have been avoided? How much suffering is beyond our control? We may think that in an ideal world, suffering would be eliminated altogether. But we must live with reality: we are broken people living in a broken world.
Since we’re essentially spiritual beings, God’s first interaction with us in our suffering is on the level of our spirit, not our body. That is, He seeks to comfort us spiritually, with assurance of His presence and His care and with the gift of inner strength. Even if we’re never comforted physically, God’s comfort reaches deep within to the recesses of the human spirit.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father f mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
It’s one thing to know the promises of Scripture, but its’s another to know how to respond to specific episodes of suffering. Common but self-defeating responses include denial, anger (at God, self, or others), depression, euphoria, and bargaining with God. In order to respond to suffering in a way that honors God, we must prepare for the suffering before it comes, as it certainly will.
Not only must we prepare for suffering before it comes, we must recognize when suffering does come that grief is a gift from God to help us begin the process of emotional healing. As Solomon said, “There is a time to weep…and a time to mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Not only must we prepare for suffering and grieve and accept our loss, we must put our trust in God. David sang, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3)
The words of C.S. Lewis bear hearing again: “Pain insists upon being tended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” We don’t face tests only because God needs to learn about us. We face tests because we need to learn about us. Trials of faith show our hidden weaknesses, and they give us opportunities for unexpected growth—growth that will ultimately result in sharing in Christ’s glory.
Think about it: if you embrace suffering as a friend, it is no longer your enemy.
***Excerpted from ‘If God Loves Me, Why Am I Hurting.’ Published by Word Aflame Press and available at pentecostalpublishing.com. Written by Daniel L. Segraves.
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