Gods Will Concerning Suffering
It has been said that nature is exceedingly cruel. Wherever we turn, we are confronted with the mystery of suffering. The human race has their part in a common suffering, of which Paul speaks in the eighth chapter of Romans. "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." Romans 8:19-22
Why is it that there should be so much of suffering in the creation of the merciful and loving God? Perhaps we shall never understand it in its fullness until we "know even as we are known," but all of us are confronted with the fact that so long as we live in this world, we must have a part in its suffering.
We understand some of the uses of pain in the physical world. Pain is nature's safeguard. This was illustrated just a few moments ago. The end of my finger began to tingle with pain. My attention was attracted; I began to examine it and found that in some way I had cut it. The pain that I felt was nature's call for help. If we run a splinter in our flesh, nature, by means of the pain that follows, not only calls our attention to the injury, but demands the removal of the intruder. If we did not feel the pain when our flesh was burned, or cut, or bruised—our life might be endangered many times. So pain is our safeguard in the physical realm.
It is no less so, in the mental and spiritual realms. Without the sense of discomfort that comes to the conscience as a result of wrong-doing, we would have no safeguard against wrong-doing. And so, after all, pain and suffering are God's blessings given to us in his mercy.
Seeing that such is the case, we need not be surprised to find suffering classed as one of God's gifts to us. We read, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Philippians 1:29). God's gifts are all blessings, and so, whether we can understand it or not, suffering is God's gift to us—the manifestation of his merciful kindness.
To be sure, much of the suffering in the world is the penalty of a broken law. Yet who can say that even this suffering does not work out a benevolent purpose? In 1 Peter 4:19, we read of "those who suffer according to the will of God." In chapter 3:17, we read, "It is better, if the will of God be so, that you suffer for well doing than for evil-doing." These texts make it plain that it is God's will that people suffer.
From a physical standpoint, we note that it is impossible for suffering to be avoided, because in order to have the capacity for physical joy, we must also have the capacity for suffering. If our sensory nerves respond to favorable influences, they cannot avoid responding to unfavorable ones. It is so throughout the whole scope of life.
The possibility of pleasure, carries with it the possibility of pain; so the Christian, even when he is doing the will of God, will suffer. He will suffer spiritual conflicts with the powers of evil; he will suffer under the power of temptation—sometimes very sorely—and he will have mental conflicts with doubts, fears, and perplexities; he will have physical temptations.
We sometimes ask why this continual warfare must be. It is one of God's mysteries, but we know that out of this conflict the spirit rises to higher heights, to nobler attainments, and to finer achievements than would be possible under other conditions. The most of us have things in our dispositions that must be overcome. We must war against these tendencies, master our dispositions, and conquer ourselves. It is this conquering of self, that makes us kings. The blood of Jesus Christ is the antidote for sin; yet these things of which we have been speaking are not sin, but natural dispositions and traits—things inherently in us. These things, grace does not obliterate, though its high tide often overflows them.
The Christian has also to meet the opposition of evil people. Jesus said to his disciples, "You shall be hated by all men for my name's sake." The call to Christian service in any capacity, is a call to suffering. Jesus appeared to Saul in order to show him what great things he must suffer in the new life to which he was called. This suffering, Paul explains to us, "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake which is the church" (Colossians 1:24). Satan hates Christ and is constantly warring against him, but since he can not reach Christ directly, he attacks him through his followers. He stirs up the hatred of evil men who hate righteousness and love iniquity, and causes them to persecute the children of God, and he makes bitter enmity in the hearts of these evil-doers against God's children.
When Christ was in the world he suffered many things from the people, and had he continued in the world in the flesh, he would have suffered many more things before this. Since he has left the world, the remainder of that suffering falls, not upon him directly, but upon us. As the stripes fell upon his physical body then—so now they fall upon his spiritual body, and we, making up that body, suffer with him that which remains of his suffering.
But it is not only his suffering in which we share. There is something else that goes with it, and this something else, which is the fruit of the suffering, is a divinely blessed thing. We read, "For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort." (2 Corinthians 1:5-7). There is nothing sweeter than the consolation that Christ gives, and this consolation can come only after suffering.
The offense of the cross has not ceased. Satan has not gone out of business. It is God's will that we still be here in this world suffering the things consequent upon this life, and our present environment. But out of it all, shall come a richness of experience, a strength of soul, a likeness to Christ, a holy disposition, and an unshaken fidelity which will prepare us for the eternal blessedness that awaits us, and will thus assure our holiness throughout all the ages.
God's purpose in this world, primarily, is not so much to make us happy—as to make us holy. Being holy, we are happy as a natural consequence. And so he lets us suffer those things that develop Christian character and assure our holiness. The things that we suffer in the process, are God's will for us. We should not lament nor murmur, but should willingly suffer the will of God, knowing that it will work out for us a "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Sometimes we suffer for doing well. We are often misunderstood. Holiness is never popular with evildoers, but we are told that "If, when you do well, and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God" (1 Peter 2:20). The Christian can rejoice in tribulation. Like the early Christians, he can rejoice that he is counted worthy to suffer affliction for the name of Christ, for he remembers the promise that has been made to him. We have the promise, "If we suffer—we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12). Almost anyone would be willing to reign with him—but are we willing to go with him through Gethsemane and take the rugged way to Calvary? Are we willing to be crucified with him, and then to bear the reproach of the cross and the opposition of evil men and demons, and to suffer the various things that may come upon us in this life?
The reigning will be glorious. We shall be crowned with crowns of righteousness at his right hand. We shall sit with him in the throne. How glorious all this is to anticipate—but the suffering must come first.
The humiliation must come before the exaltation,
the labor must come before the reward,
the suffering must come before the consolation.
So let us suffer what we must needs suffer—with patience, looking forward to the glorious hope which is set before us.
God has certain things he desires to accomplish in us. These things can only be accomplished through suffering. He wills to accomplish them through the only possible means; so here is the result: "But the God of all grace, who has called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you" (1 Peter 5:10). Suffering is the gateway into these things. We need to be settled, established, and made to be vigorous, virile Christians—and suffering is God's way of making us such.
Some of the finest paintings that have ever been made, have been painted by half-starved artists in the midst of the direst poverty, in garrets or cellars. Most of the great achievements of the world have been wrought by men whose lives have been full of suffering. The strength that has made their achievements possible, has come . . .
through patient endurance,
through loyally striving against obstacles.
The grandest views are seen after the toilsome and perhaps dangerous scaling to the summits of the mountain-peaks. The mightiest triumphs come after the sorest conflicts.
The story is told of a young lady who had a beautiful voice, who had studied under eminent teachers until she had perfected her technique, and was ready to appear before the public. She entered confidently upon her life's work, but as she sang to the great audiences she failed to meet with the response from them that she had expected. After many determined efforts to succeed that ended in sore disappointment, she went back to her former teacher and asked him what the reason was that she could not move her audiences.
He replied, "You have never suffered." He knew that it took suffering to put into the voice that quality, which appeals to the heart of the hearers.
In the same way, God knows that it takes suffering to put into our voices, and hearts, and minds—the quality that he desires in them. He lets us suffer, but in the end, compensates us for it all.
Looking back over our lives from eternity, we shall value the things which we had suffered, far more than the things which had then seemed most desirable, for the "peaceable fruits of righteousness" wrought in us are, in the main, the fruits of pain.