If God has ordained my suffering, what can I do about it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, nothing about my circumstances, but I can do something about my heart.
I only have three choices. First, I can cry out to God like the psalmists and cling to what I know to be true about God’s character and promises. I can, in great weakness and desperation cling to the sure and steadfast anchor (Heb. 6:19), the shepherd and overseer of my soul (1 Pet. 2:25) who has promised to never leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5).
Second, I can make the mistake of distorting the biblical picture of God into something more palatable. I can come to believe that God is not in control, that God does not will my suffering, and that he weeps with me in my agony, but cannot do anything about it. Those who choose this path often want to attribute suffering only to Satan, but certainly not to God. They may even come to believe that God only ever wills for his children to live in health and prosperity here and now, so that He could not possibly ever desire suffering, difficulty, or loss.
It is true that Satan can be an instrument of God to bring suffering (Job 1; Mark 1:13; 2 Cor. 12:7), but to attribute all suffering to him is to reduce God’s Lordship in the universe. So, God does not sit by helplessly as suffering happens, neither does he promise bliss and glory now.
Third, I can grow bitter and ultimately reject God. This is actually an easier choice to make than the second one for some people. For those who cannot accept a diminished God or the false promises of the prosperity gospel, the realization that God controls their suffering is unbearable. They cannot see how their suffering could possibly be good. They cannot discern any justifiable reason for God allowing their circumstances. They surrender to the truth that God is control, but it does not lead to worship. Rather, it leads to resentment. This typically leads to an abandonment of the faith, at least for a while. The unfortunate thing is that such a response does not change the circumstances of their suffering. They continue to suffer as before, but now with no one to whom they can turn.
What is the solution for this dilemma? The solution lies in one of the purposes for suffering—to know God. That is, one of the reasons God ordains suffering in the life of his children is that we may be cast upon him in our desperation and come to know him more fully, richly, deeply, and truly. Paul connects suffering with knowing God when he says,
…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… (Philippians 3:10)
It was through sharing in the sufferings of Christ, enduring incredible trials, pain, loneliness, and betrayal, that Paul came to understand more deeply the love that Christ has for his people. When we endure suffering, great or small, and taste its bitterness, we are reminded that Jesus suffered the infinite wrath of God for us. We come to appreciate the incomprehensible price Jesus paid out of love to bring us into the grace of God.
All our suffering should draw us into a desire to know God more. This does not mean that we will gain answers for the “why” of our suffering. It does mean that as we know God more fully we can trust him and rest in him in the midst of the pain. We can, with Paul, glory in our weakness and suffering because through them we come to know the sustaining grace of God better and God’s power works in us mightily (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
This series is meant to draw you into a deeper, personal knowledge of God through your suffering. The more we know the truth of God, the more we can accurately and transformatively worship God (John 4:24). Theology is not meant to be merely academic but should lead to worship. After Paul contemplates the inscrutable acts of God in history, he bursts forth in praise:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)
The purpose of this series is to help you know the riches of the glory of God so you might worship him with an overflowing heart. Such worship in the midst of suffering is transformative. It moves us from a focus on our pain and circumstances to a focus on our glorious God who is greater than our pain and circumstances. It allows us to step out on the stormy waters with our eyes fixed on Jesus, rather than looking around at the storm and sinking beneath the waves.
My prayer is that as you come to know God more fully, your suffering will be transformed. Whether your circumstances change any time soon or not, may you be changed by fixing your eyes on the one who has promised to never leave you nor forsake you.
Read Part 1.