If God really loves us, why does He let us suffer?

One of the great truths that God has revealed in the Bible is that “God is love.” By God’s definition, that means God wants our good, our blessing (1 Cor. 13). Love is often demonstrated through giving, or sacrificing one’s own interests for another. God demonstrated His love to us by giving His special, loved Son to die at the hands of wicked sinners. How could allowing His Son to go through so much agony and suffering be seen as love? It was love to us, because that death purchased our eternal life. It was love to His Son, because that death procured eternal glory for His Son, and a bride to be with Him and love Him forever.

Why does God allow us to suffer? This is a question the writer has been contemplating for some time, and this article is an attempt to share what I have gleaned (though only in a small way experienced). We cannot always understand God’s ways. He doesn’t always reveal to us the why in our lives, but we do 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” (Romans 8:28 NASB95). Just as pain has an indispensable purpose in our physical lives to preserve us from danger and damage, so trials are allowed in our lives for a reason. (For example, pain from touching a hot stove causes us to react to not get burned. We would hurt ourselves more if we didn’t have that painful sensation to tell us something is wrong.) Or perhaps you don’t know the Lord personally–you don’t have the peace of knowing your sins are forgiven. Consider that painful events in life may be God’s way of telling you that you need to be right with Him. If you don’t react (e.g. pull your hand back from the hot stove), you will be eternally in pain (the righteous consequence for sin), and God does not want that for you.

Job didn’t know the reason for his trial, but he never blamed God or turned from Him. We must trust God even when we utterly do not understand, and cling to the faithful, loving One when there seems to be no cause. It is easy to love God and trust God when life is going well. Suffering is an opportunity for us to demonstrate to God our love to Him and faith in Him, even when life hurts.

Romans chapter 8 has become a source of strength and comfort to me. The same God who gave up His very best for us is the God who will give us “all things” through Christ (Romans 8:32). Suffering is only temporary–we have much to look forward to! The Lord Jesus told His disciples that this life would not be easy, but that He was greater than all their trials: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The apostles taught that it is “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

God tells us one of the reasons for suffering is “for discipline” (training) which results in our lives becoming more righteous and like His (Hebrews 12:7, 11). This training is designed in love to make us more like the Lord Jesus. In Hebrews 11, some of the faithful suffered and even gave their lives to “obtain a better resurrection” (reward after death) (Hebrews 11:35). Paul was told that his suffering (not from God, but from Satan) was allowed in order to preserve him from becoming proud (2 Cor. 12:7). Peter says that suffering proves our faith to be genuine, even when tested by the fire of trials, and results in glory, praise and honor (1 Peter 1:7, Zech. 13:9).

Note that God is not the source of evil, nor does he take pleasure in our pain. Rather, He suffers with us. “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9). Peter, who wrote much about suffering, reminds us to cast our anxiety on Him, “because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Romans 8 also affirms to us that God loves us, even though He allows suffering in our lives– His people are sometimes like “sheep for the slaughter”. This is difficult for us to understand, but we must accept what our Creator and Redeemer tells us. The writer quotes that even when we are slaughtered continually for God’s sake, we still overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Why doesn’t God just stop all the evil and suffering? Though God is all-powerful, He still has given mankind the ability to make decisions, whether good or bad. He does not want mechanical obedience, which would be the result if He immediately judged every sin and failure. He does not always choose to interfere, even when His creatures’ decisions harm others. When the Lord Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem shortly before His crucifixion, lamenting that they had not come to take refuge in Him, He illustrated the fact that God has given mankind a free will, and He will allow us to go our own way if we insist upon it, even if it is to our detriment or the detriment of God’s own people, and even though it greatly grieves Him. God put this world into the hands of mankind as stewards, but mankind has utterly failed in that stewardship. During this period of failure, God restrains His judging hand in grace as He calls mankind to repentance, and in love He walks with His own when they suffer as a result, while assuring us that His true and righteous King will one day judge evil and set up a righteous, perfect rule.

We can be assured that though God allows trials in our lives, He gives us grace to match the trial. The apostle Paul went to God with his trials and learned the secret of God’s grace when God assured him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul’s response was, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 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” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Therefore, suffering forces us to depend upon God, rather than ourselves. The same God that allowed Stephen to be stoned to death gave Him a vision of the risen Christ (Acts 7:56). Job received twice as much after his trial than he had before his trial. Lazarus was sick, and the Lord waited to come until after he had died, but soon after shared in their tears and then raised him from the dead. “God is faithful” to give us the strength not only to resist sin’s temptation, but also to endure in our trials (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26). Paul and Silas rejoiced and sang praise to God after being beaten and imprisoned, because they had a heavenly perspective. After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus Himself approached and began walking with two disheartened travelers (Luke 24:15). The revelation of Himself to them changed everything (Luke 24:15).

A bright life without pain and suffering awaits us beyond the darkness of this broken world’s night (Revelation 21:4). Take heart, dear child of God, there is light at the end of this tunnel. “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence” (Psalm 42:5).

Helpful passages: Psalm 23; John 14; Romans 8; 2 Thes. 1; 2 Tim 2:1-13; Hebrews 11-12:11; 1 Peter 4-5; 1 John 4

 

In summary:

Can I trust God when it comes to suffering?

  • The apostle Peter in his first epistle (which has the theme of suffering saints) reminds us that God cares for us, and that we can trust a faithful Creator.
  • We can trust that God feels with us in our suffering. He feels what we are going through.
  • We have a great High Priest who ministers to our needs and feels for us, who Himself suffered far more than we will ever suffer.

Is there always a reason for suffering?

  • We know that the primary reason for suffering is that it is the result of sin. God is not the author of evil.
  • We know that God eventually uses suffering to bring good, even if it doesn’t seem good at the time. This could include character adjustments, bringing us closer in our relationship to Him, teaching us lessons, eternal reward, etc.
  • Some suffering God uses to discipline or train us, to make us more like Him. Tribulation purifies us and produces endurance and proven character (Romans 5:3-4). We can come to know God better through trials if we have the proper frame of mind and do not become bitter.
  • Suffering for Christ’s sake gives us a way to prove our love for Him.
  • Suffering results in future glory and is a prerequisite to reigning with Christ.
  • We are called to be like Christ, to suffer like He suffered.
  • Every suffering now will turn to honor and glory in His presence. Everything detrimental now will be turned to future good.

How can I get through suffering?

  • Paul learned in his physical illness and weakness to depend upon God’s grace and strength. He found that he could rejoice in his sufferings and weakness, because when he was not depending on himself, he was forced to depend on Christ and His strength
  • We know that suffering for the believer is only temporary.
  • It is possible to have joy in the midst of difficulty and sorrow if we have a heavenly perspective. “If we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12)
  • The presence of the risen Christ is a comfort. The revelation of Himself to us changes everything.

Key passage: Romans 8:31-39

  • We conquer through Him who loved us.
  • The proof of Christ’s love is His death for us, willingly suffering at the hand of both God and man the consequences of sin
  • Mankind has not changed. What they did to Christ, they will do to us
  • God didn’t spare His Son from suffering, though He loved Him dearly. God allows us to go through suffering as well
    • God has given man a free will, which He does not violate
    • God is not the source of evil–God is for us.
    • God comforts us in tribulation, supports us in it, and suffers with us in it
    • God’s kingdom has not yet come to fruition on earth, when He will set things right
  • God promises “all things,” a bright future after death, to those who trust Him. The proof of this is He gave Son for us. These promised blessings far outweigh present suffering (Rom 8:18).

Do we need to wait until we die to experience the effects of God’s love?

  • No; the Holy Spirit pours out the love of God in our hearts (Rom 5:5). This enabled Paul and Silas to rejoice and sing in prison after being beaten, the disciples to rejoice that they had been counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake, etc.
  • We also see God’s goodness in our lives, and experience the love of God through other believers as we willingly sacrifice for one another in the face of adversity. Difficult circumstances give us the opportunity to show what true love is by helping others in distress.
  • God does at times choose to miraculously deliver us and work in our lives, revealing that He is present with us in our suffering.

While we cannot expect to have “smooth sailing” all through life, we can depend upon the God of all grace for sufficient grace for every trial and the God of all comfort who feels for us and cares about us in every difficulty.

Please feel free to comment on how God has encouraged you in your suffering.

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