Read Job 2:1-10
Many years ago, I was able to purchase a book at the Presbyterian theological library in Pittsburgh entitled Mrs. Eddy. The author is Edwin Franden Dakin. His work was first published in 1920, much to the dismay of the Christian Science Church. The book is a sad commentary on the life and times of Mrs. Eddy.
If you are familiar with the teachings of Mrs. Eddy, and the Christian Science Church, then you know the basic mindset of the cult is to deny the reality of pain and suffering.
The irony is that Mrs. Eddy personally suffered terribly throughout her life, and was from to time heavily dependent upon morphine to ease her pain–a pain she taught others to deny.
Most of us will have no trouble recognizing that all around us there is, in the words of C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. Only, “He jest at scars who never felt a wound.”
This can never be said of Mr. Lewis for he too suffered, both physical and emotional illness in life. In the preface to his book Mr. Lewis states that his purpose in writing, “is to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering.” Says Mr. Lewis, “for the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I was never fool enough to suppose myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers, except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”
From the Word of God, I would like to examine with you some of the stated reasons for pain and suffering in the plan of God. The Bible reveals that there are many reasons why Christians suffer either emotionally, physically or both.
The first reason for pain and suffering is that of Divine discipline. I list this reason first only in order to dismiss it quickly. Not all suffering is immediately related to sin, or sinners, in the hands of an angry God. And yet, there is the direct relationship between sin and suffering as a result of Divine discipline. The sin of Adam and Eve led to their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and, to much sorrow for women as they labor in child birth (Gen. 3:16). The sin of David and Bathsheba led to the death of the young child conceived in the midst of unholy passion (2 Sam. 12:19).
The sin of Miriam, the sister of Moses, led to her being stricken with leprosy. The biblical list of illustrations is large, and so are the testimonies of our own heart. We suffer sickness or a setback. We ask God why and the Lord reminds us of sin unconfessed, sin unforsaken, and sin unreconciled.
Then second, Christians may suffer in order to be kept from sinning. It was while he was on the road to Damascus that Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9) was blinded by the dazzling presence of the resurrected glorified Christ.
Saul was converted that day. He was also blinded for three days and had to be led about by the hand. During that time period God worked a wonderful work of grace in the heart of Saul. The Lord cleansed him of the evil intention of murder he was bent on committing.
Already Saul had arrested men and women and cast them into prison. He did not care if the Christians were healthy or wealthy, or leaders of the community or not.
All Saul knew is that he hated Christians until the love of Christ completely transformed him. And the grace of God kept him from sinning more.
Sometimes the most gracious thing that God can do to us is to smite us in such a way that we no longer want to sin or have the capacity to sin. Jesus put it this way: “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast out into hell” (Matt. 5:29).
To deal radically with sin, even to the place of suffering in order to be kept from more sin, is a valid understanding of the place of pain in the plan of God. As horrible as it is, the AIDS epidemic now sweeping America may be the very thing that will help to save our country. Surely a person has to stop and wonder before being promiscuous.
One of the things that has caught my attention time after time when reading the lives of the greatest saints, is how much physical pain they were in from time to time.
John Calvin suffered from a number of ailments, including splitting headaches, that incapacitated him for days at a time.
Charles Spurgeon suffered from gout, and frequently had to leave his Church in London to seek relief in France.
When the life of Billy Graham is told, many people will be surprised to learn of the number of operations he has undergone. Then, while trying to do something special for her grandchildren, Ruth Graham, fell out of a tree and was knocked unconscious. For a week she lay in a coma.
In recent years, one of the better-known demonstrations of God showing his power through weakness is found in the life of the paraplegic, Joni Erickson. The world has come to marvel at her courage, and many worship God through her testimony. Her pain and suffering are real. But so is her Saviour.
A fourth reason why Christians suffer is to demonstrate the glory and the grace of God. Paul had a thorn in the flesh, as he called it in 2 Corinthians 12:7. What his particular area of suffering was, no one knows for sure.
It has been suggested the apostle suffered from poor eyesight.
It has also been suggested he suffered from a malaria fever picked up on his missionary journeys.
Whatever the problem, three times Paul prayed for divine healing. He who had healed so many others (Acts 19) now needed a touch from the Great Physician and the Great Physician said, “No Paul. My grace is sufficient for thee,” (2 Cor. 12:9). When Paul knew what the will of God was, he said simply enough, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
There is a fifth reason why Christians suffer, and that is in order to be able, not only to sympathize with others, but to empathize as well. Galatians 6:2 gives this holy command. “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” All around the Church are hurting people. There are emotional and physical pains represented in every assembly if the truth were known. As Christians we need to learn how to bear one another’s burdens a little bit better. God will allow suffering to make our hearts soft.
A sixth reason for suffering can be found in the life of Joseph. As a youth Joseph acted rather foolishly, and proudly, as he told his brothers that he would one day be exalted above them. In a jealous rage they plotted to kill him but sold him into slavery instead.
The years passed. In the providence of God, Joseph rose to be a leader over Israel. Then the day came when he was reconciled to his brothers. He could not forget their bad behavior, so he forgave them.
With much spiritual maturity Joseph told his brothers, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). The pain of suffering has led many doctors in the spirit of Dr. Evert Koop to research and experiment in order to do good and find a way to preserve life. We do not always know how God will so ordain our lives that good may come out of acts of injustices endured.
There is yet another reason for pain and suffering in the plan of God, and that is to teach a specific theological truth, which is that He is the sovereign Ruler of the universe. As Creator, God has absolute freedom to do what He pleases, even to the issue of deciding who lives and who dies, and what health is enjoyed in time. When a person is born and what his abilities are to be have been appointed by God. The absolute sovereignty of God was one of the first lessons that Moses learned, for the Lord said unto him, “Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who makes the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord” (Ex. 4:11; Psa. 94:9). Sickness and pain, handicaps and total health all come from the same sovereign hand. It is a lesson worth learning well and submitting to.
There are other reasons why Christians suffer, but I would like to address four popular assertions that are being made over and over again in the Christian community.
First Assertion. Sickness and suffering are a result of sin.
A Biblical Response. This is not a new concept. It is the same argument the friends of Job used against him and they were wrong. Jesus responded to this very mindset in John 9 and dismissed it at once (9:3-5).
Second Assertion. God is a loving Father and does not want His children to suffer.
A Biblical Response. God is indeed a loving Father. However, there is the fact that we are not removed from our humanness and the results of the fall. Believing that God loves us and loving Him even when there is not an end in sight to the pain demands great courage, strength, and demonstrates nobility of the soul. It is easy for faith to falter in times of suffering, and to have harsh thoughts about God, such as rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
Third Assertion. God is the great Healer; it is not His will that any should know tribulation but only health and wealth.
A Biblical Answer. The kindest thing that can be said about this bold assertion is that it is simply not true as the Doctrine of Tribulation reveals. The term “tribulation” is found 22 times in the Authorized Version while “tribulations” is found 4 times. The word speaks of affliction, sorrow, and anguish. It is derived from the Latin ‘tribulum,’ which was the threshing instrument or harrow whereby the Roman farmer separated the corn from the husks. Tribulation in its primary significance of the act was this separation.
To suffer tribulation (Gk. thlipsis) is to suffer affliction, to be troubled, to suffer due to the pressure of circumstances, or the antagonism of persons.
In examining the passages that speak of tribulation it becomes evident that all God’s people in all ages have known emotional, spiritual, and physical affliction (Deut. 4:30; Judg. 10:14; 1Sam. 26:24; 1Sam. 10:19; Matt. 13:21).
Tribulation also comes to those who are not God’s people in the form of Divine discipline (Matt. 24:21, 29; Mk. 13:24; 2 Thess. 1:6; Rom. 2:9).
Of particular concern is the Christian and tribulation. The Bible clearly makes the following statement:
The disciples of Christ for as long as they are in the world shall have tribulation (Jn. 16:33).
Only through much tribulation will the saints enter into the kingdom (Acts 14:22).
The value of tribulation is that it works patience (Rom. 5:3; 12:12).
To endure tribulation is not to be loved less by Christ (Rom. 8:35) for nothing shall separate us from His faithful love.
God finds a special way to comfort the saints who suffer (2 Cor. 1:4).
Paul could find reasons to rejoice in the very midst of tribulation (2 Cor. 7:4; Rom.5:3; 2 Thess.1:4) and therefore did not want anyone else to worry on his behalf (Eph. 3:13).
When believers at Thessalonica were surprised at the suffering, they had to endure Paul reminded them he had taught that Christians must suffer (1 Thess. 3:4).
John on the isle of Patmos does not divorce himself from tribulation nor does he ever say of himself that he represents those who shall not suffer tribulation. On the contrary John considers himself at the moment of his writing to be a companion in suffering (Rev. 1:9).
The tribulation of the saints is well known to the Lord (Rev. 2:9,10) and is for a stated purpose.
Always, God’s people emerge victorious out of tribulation no matter how great (Rev. 7:14).
In all the Biblical passages there is not a single word that God will spare His people from the purifying effects of tribulation. Just the opposite is stated and demonstrated time and again.
The story of the Old Testament, the writing of the New Testament, the documentation of 2,000 years of history testify to the blood of the saints in the church.
Any teaching which seeks to exempt God’s people from tribulation during any period of human history will not find support from the 26 passages which uses this word.
Fourth Assertion. Healing is dependent on faith; if a person believes deeply enough, they will be healed.
A Biblical Answer. This type of teaching is fundamentally unfair. There are far too many cases of healing in the Bible where one’s faith had nothing to do with healing. Miriam needed to confess her sin, not her faith. The man healed at the Gate Beautiful had no faith (Acts 3:6-7) as far as the record goes.
In her book A Step Further, Joni Erickson addresses her struggle with the assertion to have faith. She began to have faith in faith that she would be healed. God never gave her permission, and it was a disaster. Even Jesus cried out for relief from the pain of the Cross (Luke 22: 42). Then He died.
The conclusion of the matter is this: there is a place for pain and suffering in the plan of God. Not all of suffering is the direct result of sin, or Divine discipline. The Church will see much pain, and needs to be able to answer the heartfelt question, “Why?” May the Lord grant us biblical answers.