The Paradox of Suffering
It is something we would never ask for, if we could we would give it away, yet suffering is a season that God lets us experience because He loves us. I know that this seems hard to believe and when we suffer great loss or tragedy we think; “Why would God allow this?” or “If God were a loving God he would have prevented this.”
Yes, when we look at it from our perspective we would never allow this tragedy to occur if we were in control.“So why should I believe that God is in control when there is constant pain and suffering in the world?”This is fair question and the answer is paradoxical.The answer is in the rest of this document.
Christians believe in a loving God who is in control and who gave His son as a living sacrifice for the world’s sins. He also made available to us the Holy Spirit after Christ rose after the resurrection to be with the Father. The Holy Spirit was given to all who believe that Christ is their Savior. For those it is their way to have a living God inside of them who guides them in accordance with the will of the Father. Note that it is the will of the Father, not our will.God loves us and part of that is that he gives us a choice or free will; we don’t have to give our life to him, we don’t need to be obedient to The Ten Commandments or any of the other instruction that he revealed to the world because He knew it would be good for us. Instead we are totally free to focus on “me.” So in the first paragraph when we say that we would never choose this loss or tragedy, what we’re really saying is: “I know what’s best for me and I really don’t trust a God who says he loves me and has a plan for me.”
What God said is this: “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29:11-13
When we believe that our well being is solely up to me, we miss out on the plan that an almighty God has for our lives. We assume that when things go poorly in life that there is no real God and the only way to recover from our pain is by figuring it out ourselves.
We forget the real character of God when we do this.
Suffering is no stranger to God, in fact, God suffered more than anyone in this world when he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to the cross to die for the sins of humanity.Yes, God knows our pain because He knows His own pain.God knows suffering.The biggest mistake we make in life is believing that God doesn’t care about us. He does and although we suffer we are also comforted by His love.
(2 Cor 1:3-7 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. NIV)
God didn’t design the world to suffer, he designed it to be paradise, but the love of “Free Will” allowed evil to enter and turn paradise into fallenness in which there was a gap between God and his creations. God made covenants, or promises with His people to provide what was best for them if they would obey His commands and trust Him. God did this over and over through time. His final covenant with man was the gift of Jesus Christ to die for all of man’s sins once and for all. A choice that God made that caused great suffering for Christ the son, and God the Father.
Although consumed with legitimate pain and suffering we should not forget that God knows because He too has been there and his Son in human form suffered cruelty, torture and agonizing death which in fact for that moment in time he could not understand.
(Matt 27:46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"-which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" NIV)
Yes, Christ knew his fate long before the crucifixion, yet in those final agonizing moments He questioned if the Father was sure about what He was allowing. The world was shaken that Friday afternoon when those who believed Christ was the Messiah was now dead. What grief, what loss, what shock, what now? “It was all wishful thinking,” many must have thought. “I thought I could trust Him and I believed what He told me; now look where I am!” The world questioned what was going on. The non-believers said, “I told you so,” like those today who tell us that there really is no God, or if there is, he really isn’t almighty and all knowing. Or maybe it’s that there are many gods that man has invented along the way to worship and we just need to find the right one for where we are at right now in our circumstances. How many people that crucifixion weekend went to find another god to worship? Maybe wine, or the sun or some prophet or statue. How quickly we lose faith in God when things don’t go the way we think they should.
What a surprise that Sunday morning to find an empty tomb! What joy on one hand the disciples must have experienced and confusion at the same time. Aren’t most of us like Thomas, doubting that God really meant what He said; doubting that Jesus is the one and only way. Looking for scientific proof positive that Jesus is the Messiah that rose from the dead, that God is in control and that what God the Father and Jesus Christ told us over thousands of years is 100% accurately the truth.
The gift of suffering is paradoxical. God calls us to join with Him what He has already experienced. He wants us to believe that He really knows what we’re going through. He tells us that he will work things for good for those who believe, (Rom 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. NIV)
The paradox is that when we suffer we have an opportunity to be united with God in a way that our mind tells us can’t possibly be worth it! Yet just like the Father told Christ, he tells us to believe in Him and his love for us.
(John 12:42-46) Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. Then Jesus cried out, "When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. NIV)
To suffer, to cry out from pain and to cry out for comfort is so familiar to God because He heard it from his own son from the Garden of Gesemene to the cross. We are loved by Him and he hears us. We are not alone. We weep like Jesus wept. We question like Jesus questioned in that final moment. We chooseto believe Him because He chose us first.
(Eph 1:4-10 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment-to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. NIV)
To walk with the Lord (or not with) is painful at times. When we lose someone we think again about our loss. Our focus is on me
again. But when we listen to His Word, when we believe that He has a plan for us, when we believe that there is a heaven and that Christ is who he said he was and is the only way to that great paradise, then the world looks very different. The end on earth is not the end but the beginning! Loss turns into gain! Pain isn’t forever, it’s only for the short time were on this earth and life is everlasting!
As we have thought many times about our beloved son, John, we have wondered what happened that moment he died in that hotel room lobby. People have asked us, “Was John saved?” Besides that being the most insensitive question a person can ask loved ones at the time of an unexpected loss, the answer is, “I don’t know.” Why, because we can only know about one person on this earth, ourselves. We know our heart toward God; He knows our heart even better.
We can share with you all of the stories about the heart of our son. We can tell you endless stories of years of fruit and service and commitment to the Lord. We can also tell you about the darker moments; but each of us can do the same about one another. So how do we know? We know because God tells us He is merciful and just and loving and forgiving. When we ask him into our heart the Holy Spirit takes up residence. He loves us so much that despite our transgressions the Spirit stays; guiding us, sometimes gently and other times with a searing awareness in our conscience of our wrongdoings in life. Like a parent who wants the best for his child, God wants and knows what is best for us.
Suffering is painful but God does not ask us to endure something that He and His son have not already experienced. They say that the highest form of calling to God is suffering for the faith; in this way it is to be a martyr for Christ. (2 Cor 4:8-9 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. NIV) Our suffering is usually not to die for Christ, but rather to die to ourselves and our attitudes (habits of thought) that this world is all about “me!”
This world is not all about me, or about you, it is about Him. He created us and all that we have. (1 Cor 4:7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? NIV) When you truly believe that in your heart, God will open your eyes to seeing the world completely different. It will be about what His will is not ours.
If you have read the section in our website on Grief and Trauma you will recall the story about the 19 year old girl who lost her life in a horrific car accident that was 100% not her fault. Pam knows the family and we also know different families who are friends with the family who lost their beloved daughter and sister. What we also know is that this family believes that Christ is their Savior and they have given control of their lives to Him. Their daughter died while she was studying to be a missionary and serve the Lord. Why did she die when there was so much good to come from her pursuits in life? Why did John die for the same reasons? We don’t know; but God knows why He allowed it. God is never surprised. He sees the big picture; He has a plan for the world and for you and I. He promises to work things for good as we saw in Romans 8. He knows; we don’t.
When we suffer He asks us to believe the same thing that He wants us to believe when life is going great: “Will you believe in Me?” He also wants us to know of His deep love for us. His love is unconditional and we cannot stop Him from loving us; despite what we do.
(John 17: 20 - 23) My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. NIV) He is a relational God; he chooses to want to be in a relationship with us. That is love.
In our feelings dominated world we seem to hear more on the TV, radio, newspapers, movies or books about love than almost anything else. It’s sold to us as romance, as happiness as sexual as exciting and every euphoric thought you can think of. But love is not a feeling; it’s a commitment. Yes, God designed love, He gave it to us and He is it.
(1 John 4: 15 - 17) If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. NIV)
God committed to us as His beloved creatures and He gave us dominion over everything else he created.
(Gen 1:27-30 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Then God said, "I give you every see-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground — everything that has the breath of life in it — I give every green plant for food." And it was so. NIV) He hopes that we will make that love commitment back to Him.
Suffering is painful, comfort is appreciated and God’s love is priceless. Life will not be happy all of the time, maybe not most of the time, but know that you through your pain can join hands with a God who knows, a God who has been there and a God that commits to love you forever. The result----Peace.
(Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NIV)