We’ve all heard it said, “Why would a ‘good’ God allow suffering?” The simplest answer is love—when God gave humanity free will, as an object of love (i.e., love does not force or coerce anything), God had to accept that humanity might say, “Up yours, God, we’re going our own way.” But, despite this, God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever should believe on him would be given eternal life (John 3:16).
Besides a plethora of red herrings that would send us off on a glut of tangents, if we acknowledge that there is suffering in the world without needing to explain why we might discuss a tangible Christian response to it.
“Why do we need a Christian response to suffering,” you might ask. When people suffer, they inevitably look to faith to ask why, and sometimes they look up long enough to wonder if God might actually help.
We don’t need to go far in the Bible to discover that there’s a lot of suffering in it. In fact, people SUFFERED for their faith. Early Christians actually chose to suffer, because faith in Jesus and following him meant persecution. Millions of Christians have DIED rather than renounce their faith.
Many people who don’t know God will ask, “Why on earth do people CHOOSE to suffer for Christ?” It’s either idiotic or there’s something more. When people know the character of people who earnestly seek after God, they establish that many of these people cannot be discounted as idiotic.
This launches curiosity in them.“How can it be that a Christian might have joy amid the sorrow that suffering produces?”
The person who has experienced the presence of God has not done so on some calm and serene beach with crystal clear waters without a worry in the world. No, the person who has encountered God has done so BECAUSE of the kind of travail typical privileged humanity has no idea about—yes, the suffering of genuine anguish.
It’s in this place—where we might be kept not just for a few fleeting hours; but weeks, months, or even years, where we reached the end of our tether that much that we came to the END of our own strength than that we entered into such a weakness that was paradoxically blessed.
Coming to the end of ourselves, if there’s still the faintest desperation of hope to reach out and up, we called out to God, “Oh Lord, if you’re there, come and help me… do something… incline your ear to me.”
In other words, “God, you have my attention.”
It’s in this VERY moment that many anguished souls have encountered God—through a sign.“Ah, that could ONLY be God; the way that happened.”We Christians call that a ‘God-incidence’ which is no coincidence at all.
And this is the very place wherein MEETING God—that every prayer we never prayed is answered in an instant.“Wow, you mean that if I hadn’t suffered this right now, I would not know God?” True.
Somehow, it’s in the midst of suffering, in meeting God, in finding a way through hell by faith, that we come to understand we’ve received an eternal compensation for the personal and private sufferings we’ve been through.
Suffering often leads us to a pathway right to the door of God’s presence.
It’s from this place—having experienced something of a victory over pain, even while we’re still in pain—to have conquered the despair through a vibrant Gospel hope, though the despair may still flicker—that you see the power of God move through your life.
Then you see the purpose of suffering:
The ultimate purpose in suffering is to reveal the glory of God.
Here’s the best way to finish this,2 Corinthians 4:8-12from The Message:
“You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!”
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Tribework