Because the subject of suffering is so important and so complex I am taking a third week to draw together some key points. I welcome any comments you have. To sum up:
1. Flawed. It may sound harsh, but we need to recognize that none of us deserves any good thing from God. We deserve judgment rather than mercy. Nevertheless it is God’s desire that we come to him. Sometimes he will use the tragedies of life, not so much because he is especially angry with one person or group, but rather as a wake-up call. We need to sort out our relationship with him while there is time (Luke 13:1-5; 2 Peter 3:8-10).
2. Justice. We often overlook the fact that it is God’s ultimate plan to uphold all truth and justice. A good and perfectly just God is behind the universe. One day he will bring us all into his courtroom. Perfect justice will be done (Luke 12:1-7).
3. Failures. Suffering sometimes occurs because of the disobedience of the church. It is one thing to blame society for making a mess of its relationship with God, but we also need to ask: To what extent are professing Christians or the church to blame? How often have we been so caught up with our life that we are silent about God? We may respond to the world’s injustices or poverty by mailing a check to a Christian care program, but we give little heed to the thought that we may have contributed to the ills of others through the inconsistencies of our life or the public disagreements we have with one another. And all too often there has been a failure to make church truly welcoming, forgiving, and joyful in times of change.
4. Transformation. In the meantime it is God’s desire that we come to know him and grow in our relationship with him. It follows that some of our experiences of pain will occur because of God’s wakeup call or his hand of discipline (Hebrews 12:3-13). Sometimes God allows suffering, to test us and to stretch our confidence in him. There may also be occasions when, for reasons hidden to us, God has given us a special place in participating in Christ’s share of suffering for the sake of others (Romans 5:1-5; 8:17ff; Colossians 1:24-27).
5. Answers? We also need to be honest and admit there will be times when there do not seem to have any intellectual answers to our suffering. Job’s questions, for example were not answered in the strict sense that we might have expected. Instead, God himself asked Job a series of questions concerning his own majesty and nature (Job 38-41). Job’s response was to return to God in humble repentance and wholehearted trust even though he didn’t get all the answers (Job 42). Jacob’s son, Joseph (Genesis 50:19, 20), and Jesus himself, exemplified a confidence that God would ultimately vindicate them (Romans 8:28ff).
6. Jesus. We need to remember that God, in Jesus Christ has experienced every agony that we experience. We may not always understand our plight or the plight of others, but we can be comforted and comfort others in the sure knowledge that God in Christ has tasted the agony of injustice, the pain of suffering, ignominy and death (Hebrews 2:18). On the cross, when evil humankind crucified the sinless Son of God, when Jesus took evil on himself without retaliation, God bore the sin of those who turn to him. It is the cross of Christ that gives us confidence that God has our best interests at heart. Jesus’ resurrection assures us of this.
In Romans 8:38 we read,
“I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”