Why Does a Loving God Let Us Suffer?
God has a purpose for the pain in your life that is for your ultimate good, even though everything about it looks and feels bad.
by Nancy Guthrie
You probably did not invite difficulty into your life. More likely, it was thrust upon you. In fact, most of us spend our lives doing everything we can to avoid suffering. In today's modern world, we expect a cure for every illness, a replacement for every loss, a fix for every failure. We are shocked and shaken when hardship comes our way.
But look around. How many people do you know who have escaped experiencing profound difficulty at some point in their lives? Look at the Scriptures. Can you find a person in the Bible—even the godliest of persons—who did not suffer greatly?
Job wasn't looking for suffering, and yet it doesn't seem to catch him off guard. Just as his wife wants him to completely give up on life and give up on God because of his suffering, Job says to her, "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?"
Job's acceptance and even expectation of both good and bad things from God is in sharp contrast to our expectation today, which is why we have such a hard time responding to suffering in a godly way like Job did. We have an unspoken expectation that a good God will bring only what we consider to be good things into our lives. We never expect Him to allow and perhaps even bring difficulty into our lives. But He does.
"But," you say, "God does not willingly afflict his children." That's true.
"For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men" (Lamentations 3:31-33 NIV).
What does this mean? No suffering for God's children? No.
It means no meaningless suffering. If God has allowed suffering into your life, it is for a purpose. A good purpose. A holy purpose.
The world tells us to run from suffering, to avoid it at all costs, to cry out to heaven to take it away. Few of us would choose to suffer. Yet when we know that God has allowed suffering into our lives for a purpose, we can embrace it instead of running from it, and we can seek God in the midst of suffering. Accepting suffering drives us deeper in our devotion.
"Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat—I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything; you want and lose you, the real you" (Luke 9:23-25 The Message)
Jesus is suggesting that we do more than simply endure suffering. He's inviting us to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and focus instead on learning from suffering. Not only does Jesus invite us to embrace suffering, but He also shows us what that looks like. According to Hebrews 5:7-9, "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (NIV).
I have clung to this verse in the lowest days of my grief. In it I see that sometimes God's plan includes suffering and death. Amazingly, His plan to redeem the world and to make a way for you and me to spend eternity with Him included the suffering and death of His own Son. It helps me to know that Jesus wrestled with that plan even as He submitted to it.
When you groan because there are no words for the hurt, when you cry out to God with hot tears, when you agonize over His plan that has caused you such pain, look at Hebrews 5:7-9 and see that Jesus understands! He understands what it is like to cry out to the Father, who has the power to make another way, enact another plan … but chooses not to.
In fact, the prophet Isaiah wrote, "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief" (Isaiah 53:10 NKJV). It pleased the Father? How can that be?
The answer is that God was pleased by what Jesus' death accomplished for you and for me. He was pleased to demonstrate His love for the human race through such a significant sacrifice.
Amazingly, history's most evil act brought about the greatest good of all time. Though those who put Jesus on the cross meant to do evil against Him, God used it for good, in order to bring many to Himself.
Why has God allowed so much suffering in your life? Ultimately, the purpose is not to disfigure you for life but to mold you into a person who thinks and acts and looks like Christ.
Looking for your purpose
Every difficulty—from the minor irritation of a broken piece of crystal to the piercing pain of a broken relationship—God has allowed every one for the singular and supreme purpose of transforming your character into the likeness of His Son.
Sometimes it requires pain to refine our character and to remove our selfish, sinful attitudes. Pain can do that. Or, pain can make us bitter. We can just become bitter when we don't get what we want out of life.
I believe God has a purpose for the pain in your life that is for your ultimate good, even though everything about it looks and feels bad.
Rather than running from your suffering or trying to pray it away, would you embrace it and look for God in it?
Taken from Holding on to Hope © 2002 by Nancy Guthrie. Published by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.