Suffering

Speaker: Pastor Darin Browne

Most Christians have no real understanding of suffering. When we or someone we know undergoes some kind of suffering, be it sickness, loss, persecution, poverty, depression, or anything else, we look for a reason. We wonder if we’ve offended God so much that He has abandoned us, or He is getting His own back in afflicting us. We hear that God is a God of love, but whenever something goes wrong, we are sure He is somehow punishing us, giving us what we deserve. Even if we caused our own problems, we blame God! Why do I suffer? Am I in sin? Do I not have enough faith? Is it your fault, or God’s?

So, what is suffering, why does it happen, where is God in it, and how can we deal with suffering?

WHY IS THERE SUFFERING?

1 Peter 4:12-19 (ESV)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner.”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

People of all faiths, and no faith, postulate as to why there is suffering in the world. Some say suffering shows there is no God, or that if He exists, He is horrible, distant, and detached, or He doesn’t recognise it’s happening, so He is not omniscient, all knowing.

For the Christian, who confidently asserts that God is love, we still face a dilemma when it comes to suffering. Some say He will never allow any of His children to ever suffer. If there is suffering, either the person is sinning, or has no faith. If God never allows suffering, the only other explanation for suffering is that God is not powerful enough to stop evil, and the devil wins. Either God in His sovereignty somehow allows it, or He is not strong enough to stop it.

I believe that God is all powerful, so the idea of the devil winning is not plausible. The only possibility then is that an all-powerful, all knowing, all loving God, for reasons we do not understand, sometimes permits the devil limited liberty for a limited degree for a limited time.

WHAT IS SUFFERING?

So what is suffering and why, oh why, does a loving God seem to permit it? If God never gives scope to suffering, even in the lives of believers, then what we see and indeed the entire Bible is at odds with our interpretation of Scripture. Suffering is part of the Bible, it is part of the life of every Bible character, so there must be a divine purpose to suffering.

Many Christians have faced this dilemma, and some have walked away from their faith because they cannot understand suffering. Charles Templeton was an early associate of Billy Graham’s ministry, and his right-hand man, preaching powerfully with Dr Graham.  When Templeton saw a copy of Life Magazine, which featured a photograph showing a woman who was skin and bones holding her dead baby in her arms, looking skyward as if to ask God, “Why?” Templeton said at that moment he decided that a God that who could send rain and save millions but didn’t was not a God he could love and serve – so he walked away, renounced his faith and ministry and became a self-avowed atheist.

Hosea 4:6 (ESV)
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;

We not only need to understand suffering, but we need to change how we perceive it. So why is there suffering? There are many reasons, but here are four…

1: SIN

Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Genesis 3, sin has been a constant in human existence. People are selfish, nations are selfish, and as a result of sin everybody suffer.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis makes this point, “When souls become wicked, they will certainly use this possibility to hurt one another, and this, perhaps accounts for 4/5ths of the suffering of men. It is men, not God, who have produced racks, whips, prisons, slavery, guns, bayonets, and bombs…”

The suffering we see around us originates with sin, and man’s sinful nature. It’s sin when a politician uses his position for personal gain, or a successful businessman becomes an alcoholic, or a successful pastor falls in adultery. Decisions determine destiny, and sinful decisions cause suffering, both for us, and those around us. We make choices every day that build up, or pull down, and if we sin, we suffer. Don’t blame God, man up and take responsibility.

Proverbs 19:3 (ESV)
When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.

2: SUPERNATURAL

So called “Acts of God,” things like Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and famines. True, they may often be exacerbated by mankind’s decisions, but they have a supernatural source. Surely God could stop these if His agenda was to minimise suffering on earth?

Thing is, when sin came into the world, creation also suffered.

Romans 8:22 (ESV)
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

All creation groans and travails, ever since sin came into the world, and yes, this causes suffering and pain, even today. Adam’s sin has a lot to answer for!

3: SATANIC

A third reason for suffering in this world is Satanic. There is an enemy in this world who stands opposed to all that is of God and is good; His name is Satan. Jesus said this…

John 10:10 (ESV)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

I suspect that the enemy and his demons are behind a lot more suffering than we realise. I’m not totally sure how it all works, but any study of suffering must include a look at the book of Job. In the book of Job, we get a glimpse behind the curtain of the supernatural at an exchange where Satan accuses God of favouring Job and proposes a test to see if Job is really a faithful worshipper of God.

God agrees, and in the book, He allows Satan limited scope to attack Job, his possessions, and his body, but only for a limited time and to a limited capacity.

Job 2:6 (ESV)
And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”

I’ve heard it preached that Job’s fear allowed this, but I think that’s harsh on Job, and anyone else who is suffering. The clear cause of his suffering is a celestial exchange, and the Bible says that even in his worse moments, Job did not sin. What this clearly shows me is that God is always in complete control and does not allow Satan to cause suffering without limits. God doesn’t cause suffering, Satan does, but always within divine limits set by God. This is why we must stay alert to satanic influence…

1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

ATTACKS AND  SUFFERING

Listen, if we stand for righteousness in this godless nation, attacks and suffering will come! I believe we are about to see persecution on a scale never before encountered in Australia’s history, but frankly, I don’t care. I choose to be faithful and proclaim truth! I’m not going to say that abortion is a choice, I’m still going to call it murder. I am not going to say that a transgender guy reading stories to five-year-olds is ok, because it’s an affront to righteous parenting. I’m not about to say it’s ok for a teenage boy with a fake tale and ears to be called a cat. This is not just sin, it’s lunacy! I’m not going to quietly suggest that our lawmakers have lost their way, I’m going to loudly proclaim that they’ve lost their minds!

I love that Job, despite his wife saying, “Curse God and die,” remained sinless.

Job 1:22 (ESV)
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

Let me remind you, this one reason why it’s so important to stay close to God and stay in church. Satan is working today through lies, deceptions, fear, immaturity, false teaching, and in other ways to rip us from effectiveness for the Lord and joy in Him. Be on guard – stay sober – stay humble before God and others, and always trust God. God, not Satan, holds you in His hand, even if you don’t understand why you suffer.

1 John 4:4 (ESV)
he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

4: SPIRITUAL

A fourth reason is a simple Spiritual reason. Many people are making their own lives miserable because they have turned their back on God – which includes His love, mercy, and forgiveness that is available. They are doing life on their own. When you walk away from God, or church, there are consequences. You are free to choose whatever you like, but you are not free to choose the consequences!

Proverbs 14:12 (ESV)
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

If you turn away from God, you walk out from under His protection and provision.

Psalms 91:1 (ESV)
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

God shelters you, shadows you, cares for you, and when you suffer, He is right there with you, walking the path with you. He covers you and protects you. The Lord is like an umbrella; an umbrella does not stop the rain from falling, but it protects you from being wet. God’s hedge of protection doesn’t stop your suffering, but it brings best out of it, (Romans 8:28). But, if you walk away from Him, all bets are off!

So, these are just four possible reasons why we have suffering in the world. The reality is that every one of us will experience suffering of some sort, whatever the cause. Question is, how do we respond when we face the inevitable suffering.

WE NEED TO CHANGE OUR VIEW OF SUFFERING

Most of our sufferings can be traced back to these four categories – Sinful, Supernatural, Satanic, and/or Spiritual. Is there anything we can do about suffering? How can I rise above my pain, the evil that’s been done to me, the suffering that’s causing me to lose heart and hope? Let’s get back to 1 Peter 4.

1: DON’T BE SURPRISED

1 Peter 4:12 (ESV)
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Look at how Joseph suffered…sold into slavery, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, thrown in prison. Suffering is all around, and it’s not a question of if we will suffer, it’s how we suffer. It takes various guises, often is unrelated to our actions or faith, and we should not be surprised. Joseph saw the bigger picture…

Genesis 50:20 (ESV)
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

2: STAY POSITIVE

I know that when you are suffering it is really hard to stay positive. Peter even says rejoice!

1 Peter 4:13 (ESV)
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Many people in the midst of suffering are full of self-pity, and to be sure we’ve all done that at times. It never eliminates the pain of suffering; it just adds to the misery and the power suffering has in our lives. We need to make the choice to rejoice in the Lord regardless of the circumstances.

Peter began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focussed on his circumstances, and so will we.  With the suffering, grief, and pain you are facing – as hard as it may seem – trust in God, not in your circumstances. Many people find a new vitality in their walk with God as they undergo suffering. We grow far more in suffering than in prosperity.

If you are a believer and you are suffering, I’m going to ask you to change how you view suffering today.

3: STOP ASKING WHY

The most overused word for a three-year-old is the word, “Why”. Why cant I see my own eyes? Why was everything black and white in the old days? Why did swear words get invented if you’re not allowed to say them? Why don’t crabs have eyebrows?

We are no different, especially when we are suffering, we demand to know why. Is it sin, is it the devil, is it my brand of deodorant?

Habakkuk 1:3 (ESV)
Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?

Job 7:20 (ESV)
Why have you made me your mark (target)? Why have I become a burden to you?

John 9:2-3 (ESV)
And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Instead of asking why and trying to find a reason for what we are going through, we can choose instead to focus on God, no matter what. As suffering Job said…

Job 13:15 (ESV)
Though he slay me, I will hope in him;

4: SEE SUFFERING AS AN OPPORTUNITY

1 Peter 4:16 (ESV)
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

When Fiona and I lost everything in a financial collapse, including our house, I remember choosing to view our intense suffering as an opportunity to trust God, and watch Him restore us. If you are suffering, don’t despise it, don’t ignore it, and don’t be ashamed of it. Rejoice, and embrace what God will do with it, because it’s in suffering that you develop character and hope, and it’s in suffering that you can bring glory to God.

Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

How can Paul write this? If suffering was down purely to your lack of faith, Paul must be the most faithless of all apostles! After all he went through, the stonings, shipwrecks, persecutions? Paul recognised that these were not due to his sin, or lack of faith, but that God had a purpose in all the uncomfortable suffering he endured, even in His own execution. Paul recognised that God has divine purpose, even in His own Son suffering! The symbol for Christianity is a cross, not a cushion!

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (ESV)
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

If you don’t believe God allows suffering, look at Paul, he must have had zero faith, right? No, he was serving and trusting, but Paul saw suffering as the opportunity to shine for his Lord.

Romans 8:18 (ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

5:  STAY THE COURSE

When you change the way you view suffering, not as a negative but as a positive, seeing it as an opportunity rather than a burden, just like Joseph did, and Paul did, then it’s a game changer. Now all you have to do is be at peace, trust God, be patient and refuse to give up. In your suffering you can be at peace and trust God, because,

Romans 8:28 (ESV)
we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Galatians 6:9 (ESV)
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

When we focus on God, when we busy ourselves serving Him and loving others, somehow suffering diminishes and is far more tolerable. So whatever you face, He is with you. Where is God in the cancer diagnosis, the baby with birth defects, the divorce or the financial collapse? Right there with you, that’s where.

Psalms 34:18 (ESV)
The LORD is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE

I believe we need to change our perception of suffering. We need to see suffering the way Paul saw it, the way Joseph saw it, the way even Jesus Himself saw it. When every human fibre of His being didn’t want to face the cross, suffering on an immense scale, He said…

Matthew 26:39 (ESV)
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Whatever suffering you face, He is with you. If you are suffering today, God is not punishing you. He’s not bringing you down a peg or two. He’s not allowing suffering to teach you a lesson, although we grow far more in times of advertise than prosperity.

If we change how we see suffering in our life then we will change how we deal with it. We will become victors instead of victims.

Romans 8:37-39 (ESV)
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I believe that today is a day of breakthrough, when during our suffering, we see a ray of light break through.

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