(Answered on 10/24/2015 Program)
Everyone will experience some form of suffering since it is common to life. The Bible even acknowledges there will be suffering in life though gives a perspective there are greater things ahead to focus on:
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (NASB)
The question asked makes a connection between suffering and God. For the Christian who understands God is the creator with the power to protect from harm and bring pleasure, it might not make sense He would let those He approves experience suffering. In fact, it is quite challenging for the Christian to reconcile how a good God would permit unjust suffering.
Is God Good? He is.
In wondering why God permits suffering, it is useful to first affirm He is truly good and lovingly looking after our best interests. God’s goodness is characterized by a love that lasts forever:
Psalm 107:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever
The Bible tells what was done out of love that further shows His care for our good:
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (NASB)
This well-known passage expresses the extent of His love for all mankind (the world) that He let His Son suffer a cruel death so that those believing in Him will have the ultimate reward of eternal life. He has shown such goodness that even while some of us were enemies of God (Romans 5:6-11), He let His Son die for us to free us from punishment we are due for our breaking His laws (sin). Jesus distinguished God as being the only one that can be described as truly “good” in Mark 10:18 and His actions to take on the pain of His Son’s death for our behalf is the epitome of love (this is love):
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (NASB)
Even before the good done by lovingly sacrificing for our benefit, God’s very giving us life and creating a world that provides for our needs show His goodness that are often praised throughout the Bible (Psalm 145:15-16; Psalm 136:25-26).
There is no evil way in God. No matter how painful suffering is, it should not not diminish God’s goodness. God reliably should be known for His being the source of everything that is good:
James 1:16-17 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
With total power, man might reason the a “good” God would not choose to let harm come to people He cares for, yet there appears to be an inherent place for suffering in His plan. Instead of preventing hardship for those He loves, He allows pain that can come from various sources and bring various fruits.
God’s View of Hardship
Knowing no one likes to face hardship, it sometimes isn’t obvious good can come from hard things in life. It is paradoxical how God has useful purposes for things that are presented to us in ways that might seem the opposite of what man would expect. It might make little sense that the humiliated will receive honor (Philippians 2:8-9); or becoming a slave to Christ brings freedom (Romans 6:18); or to truly live we must die (Galatians 2:20); or that God’s power and our strength can be most effective when one is weak and even distressed:
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (NASB)
Paul is content to face these challenges of weakness because he understands God has greater purpose to further the cause of Christ (Philippians 1:12). These paradoxical ways of God communicate suffering can in many cases bring very positive results. We can see on a practical level it is through work that we get reward (no pain, no gain), though God wants us to see it can be through dealing with trying situations that we can learn how to gain patience. Paul says our character and hope stem from tribulation:
Romans 5:3-4 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; (NASB)
Hebrews 12:11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (NASB)
My idea of what is best for me may often be different from what God knows is for my benefit. It appears God’s view of hardship is that it is a useful means to help prod us to grow. The testing of our faith is compared to the fire that will refine metal to illustrate results of an enduring trust in God will become evident:
1 Peter 1:7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (NASB)
This “proving of your faith” might come from the suffering when standing for what you believe. Those suffering for their faithfulness are instructed to be joyful considering they are in a sense sharing in the suffering Christ endured:
1 Peter 4:12-13 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. (NASB)
So we can see God’s design and goal for hardship is for our maturing. Romans affirms that trusting God can bring useful outcomes in any circumstance for those who love God:
Romans 8:28, 31-32 28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (NASB)
“All things” that God causes to happen do not include a senseless murder that God does not approve, but rather it is qualified to say good outcomes will come to those who love God and are of those that responded to His call to do what is in keeping with His will or purpose.
Sources of Suffering
God might be said to be the cause of all things since He has set in place a world with natural processes with chance and free will to its inhabitants. If we go back to the beginning, humanity is responsible for suffering as a consequence of the choices the made. Consider God’s first command and result of disobedience
Genesis 2:16-17 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (NASB)
The suffering that followed was a consequence of their choice to disobey God. He warned them. It is a part of the free will we have to choose to do wrong that can bring suffering on ourselves and to others.
When we ask what is the source of the suffering man experiences, we can see it can come from random events, acts of evil and even our own doing. A random chance storm might bring ice we slip on, flood waters that might drown loved ones, rains that causes a car accident. Regarding any good or bad that can happen to everyone, Solomon observed that there is random chance to life showing no good is guaranteed to anyone:
Ecclesiastes 9:11 I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. (NASB)
Man’s free will to do evil means he can cause suffering for himself and for others. We may even observe just as the psalmist did in Psalms 73 how evil people enjoy pleasures while righteous people face suffering. God’s message to the obedient Christian is they will receive the benefits being part of His family and also share in the suffering in this physical life.
Romans 8:16-17 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (NASB)
Whether God is the direct source of suffering that comes or it is from the playing out of this worldly life, He can make use of any hardship that arises. We cannot make sense of every instance of suffering in life, but at least we know God wants us to make choices in facing trials that always presents a choice of how we respond.
Our Response To Suffering
We cannot know with certainty what is the cause each time we suffer, yet on each occasion we have a part in facing and possibly overcoming what makes it so difficult. The good or bad outcome of any situation often comes down to how we respond to our circumstances. Paul advises enduring even unjust treatment as a matter of good conscience toward God since God values this:
1 Peter 2:18-21 18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. (NASB)
Seeing the evil that has and will occur in life; it is at least understandable that it is confusing seeing we do not always have answers why God allows these things. Some blame God for the suffering in the world yet seeing God’s will is to endure wrong against us; He apparently wants us to have a perspective on the things we encounter in this life. Intellectually, we may understand the place of suffering in life for somethings, but clearly it is a challenge view each trial as an opportunity to choose to respond in a way that pleases God.
God does not leave us alone with our suffering since he offers comfort and explains it allows us to be the source of comfort to others:
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (NASB)
Job indicated it was foolish to not think it acceptable that we might receive both good and difficulty from God.
Job 2:10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (NASB)
Let us too have the mind that we should be willing to endure any challenge in life with the hope it will have fruitful results in our lives. Let’s also remember that God’s desire is our salvation by various means (1 Peter 1:3-9) and if it is by suffering; may we face it boldly if it brings us closer to Him.