Text: Psalm 77 and Romans 8:35-39

If God is all-good and all-loving and all-powerful, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? Why do good Christians lose their jobs or experience disastrous financial reversals? Why does God permit babies born blind or deformed? Why does He allow a young man in his twenties to have a life snuffed out by Leukemia? Why do some people have to die slow, lingering, painful deaths?

These are hard, honest questions.

How tempting it is to offer glib answers. Perhaps right now you’re going through some painful experiences… or have recently come through a difficult situation. I realize that to you almost any answer to the problem of suffering may seem like a trite theological slogan or a cold philosophical argument. Let’s face it, when you’re suffering, pain isn’t a proper subject for debate. When you’re dying … or have lost someone close to you, death isn’t just an abstract term to be intellectualized.

Yet questions about suffering deserve some kind of answers. I agree with what Frederick Nietzsche said, “a man can endure any “HOW” if he knows the “WHY” the reason for pain. If you have some sort of meaning for your difficulties, it’s easier to trust God through your hurt.

I don’t claim for a moment to know all the reasons for human suffering. Philosophers and theologians have dealt with these questions for centuries. Yet I believe the Christian faith offers some intelligent answers to the problem of suffering.

Why does God allow suffering? Here are a few possible reasons:

FIRST, because of the sins of others.

God could have created you and me as robots with built-in computers, pre-programmed to love each other and Him. But that wouldn’t really be love, would it? Real love is voluntary. In creating us free to choose to love Him and our fellow man God took the risk that we might not.

The Bible gives a realistic explanation of results of our freedom of choice:

None is righteous, no, not one…All have turned aside, together. They have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 8:28)

The Apostle James explains how this sin problem surfaces in the human race:

What causes wars and fightings among you? It is not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. You covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. (James 4:1,2)

Men, women and children are injured or killed not only by the ravages of war–caused by the greedy, aggressive actions of nations. Thousands of innocent victims are killed each year on America’s highways –by drunken drivers careening down highways. People are crippled and killed by buildings and bridges which collapse under minimal conditions. Why? Because some contractors cheat on building codes. Unfortunately some suffering is caused by the sins of others.

SECONDLY, some suffering we experience is due to our own sin, our own wrongdoing.

There are numerous instances in the Old and New Testaments where suffering was the direct result of God’s judgement for a person’s sins.

God afflicted Miriam with leprosy for challenging the authority of Moses, whom God had appointed leader of His people. God took the life of David’s child, born out of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. Ananias and Sapphira, a couple in the New Testament church were struck dead for lying, cheating and hypocrisy. These examples are sobering reminders to us ofthe fact that, whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

I must say here that although there sometimes is a link between sin and suffering this is not usually the case of the Bible. Not all suffering is the result of God’s punishment for sin. Yet some people feel that their suffering is the result of God’s judgment for their past. For instance, I frequently hear hospital patients ask, “what have I done to deserve this?”… or “I guess I had this coming after all the bad things I’ve done wrong.”

One of the deep truths of Scripture is the Judgment of God is always preceded by warning. Only after repeated warnings were ignored did God punish His people. Listen to God’s words from the prophet Ezekiel, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked … turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die.

Some suffering is the result of our sin, but most is not.

THIRDLY, suffering can be caused by the activity of Satan.

Remember Job, the great man of God in the Old Testament? He was afflicted with all sorts of tragedies. His business was wiped out. His children were killed by raiding bands of terrorists. His body was stricken with painful boils from head to foot. What caused his misery? The Bible says that God allowed Satan to cause Job to suffer to test his faith.

Jesus once told a parable about wheat and tares. He explained why a farmer’s crop of wheat was ruined. He said, an enemy hath done this. (Matt. 13.28)

Perhaps years ago you read the book, “Helter Skelter,” the story of Charles Manson’s murders of Sharon Tate and others. It’s fairly clear that Satan motivated those atrocities.

FOURTHLY, sometimes suffering is the only way God can force us to re-evaluate our lives.

Sometimes being forced to lie flat on your back on a hospital bed proves to be a positive experience. All you can do is think and review your life and what’s really most important. Countless individuals can testify that a period of illness was one of the best things that ever happened to them. The psalmist put it this way, “It was good for me to be afflicted afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. ” (Psalm 119:71)

FIFTHLY, God allows us to suffer so as to develop and strengthen our characters.

Nietzsche aptly said, “the discipline of suffering has produced the greatness of humanity.

The New Testament puts it this way: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character.” (Rom. 5:3,4)

Suffering can either drive a person closer to God or further away. It produces a bitterness that poisons and destroys, or it develops a quality of life that makes positive creative use of suffering. How true this is in almost everything:

  • In music, it was after Beethoven became deaf that he produced some of his greatest pieces.
  • In government, although crippled and confined to a wheelchair, he said, “I will do something great for this land of mine.” He did. His name? Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States.
  • In poetry, even though he was blind, he felt he could create beautiful pictures in others minds. He did. He wrote poems such as Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. His name?

SIXTHLY, we suffer sometimes because God wants to use our affliction to impress onlookers.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, I want you to know brethren, that was has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel. (Phil, 1:13)

What had happened to Paul that caused him to say that his suffering helped to promote the cause of Christ? He shares some of his sufferings:

Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea… in hunger and thirst, in cold and exposure. (II Cor. 11:25-28)

Paul’s sufferings served to “advance the Gospel” because countless people who were with him or who watched him endure his miseries, saw that he still was able to trust God and “give thanks in everything.” As a result, many gave their lives to Jesus Christ, the unshakable anchor of Paul’s life. Along with the new converts, numerous believers had their faith encouraged because of Paul’s sufferings.

SEVENTHLY, sometimes we suffer because it’s the only way God can equip us for a special task.

The Bible says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (II Cor. 1:3,4)

God never wastes any of our experiences: an illness, the heartache of losing a loved one, the anguish of a broken home or marriage. The Bible says, all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28).

Early in my ministry I spent a lot of time visiting a man hospitalized for an amputated leg. He was in critical condition and extreme pain. As a pastor all I could do was share with his promises from the Bible. But obviously, I couldn’t even begin to understand the fears and pain and questions that one goes through one’s mind after such an operation. So I asked a friend, Pat McMahan to go with me to see this patient. Three years earlier Pat had been through a painful leg amputation. Sure enough, the minute that they met, they were on the same wavelength. Why? Because Pat had suffered, he was able to comfort someone else with a similar affliction.

Why must I suffer, Lord? Maybe it’s:

  • Because of the sins of others.
  • Because of your own sins.
  • Because of Satan’s activity.
  • Because it’s one way God can force you to stop long enough to re-evaluate your life.
  • Because your character will be developed.
  • Because your suffering will influence someone else.
  • Because suffering is the only way to equip you for a special task…or

LASTLY, sometimes suffering is caused for a reason known only to God.

Jesus’ disciples, like many of their contemporaries, felt that all suffering was God’s punishment for sin. One day they were walking with Jesus and encountered a man who’d been blind from birth. They wanted to know who’d caused his blindness from birth: the sins of the man or the sins of his parents? Jesus made his point clear, Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (John 9:3) According to Jesus, some traumatic events occur that only God understands.

Adults and children often ask themselves, “What did I do to cause this debilitating mental illness? This terminal illness? This lethal car accident?

Sometimes there are no acceptable answers, no rational explanations. The tragedy remains a mystery. There are hard times in life with awful pain and no good reason. In these difficult periods, only God understands. The only explanation He gives is:

My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isa. 55:8,9)

Catherine Marshall was a prolific Christian writer. Several years ago she lost Amy, one of her grand-daughters who struggled with what the doctors had diagnosed as genetic defects in her internal organs. Catherine and hundreds of concerned Christians prayed that God would spare her little life. They prayed literally day and night during the weeks precarious of touch and go. But one day six weeks aft er little Amy was born, and just after her grandmother had finished holding her, Amy quietly died.

Catherine’s reactions? “I fell on my face. There followed months of rebellion against God, sharper questioning than ever: what can we believe about healing through prayer? I experienced to the most intense misery I’ve ever known. Life went grey.”

Several years after little Amy’s death had passed, Catherine was still trying to “understand.”

There were no rational explanations for Amy’s death, no helpful explanations for why all the earnest prayers for Amy’s healing “failed,” no amount of stringing together of causes and effects provided an acceptable answer. Only the haunting, half-bitter question WHY?

Sometimes there simply are no reasonable answers for pain or suffering. There are periods when, as difficult as they are, we simply have to trust in the loving character of a personal God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. The Scripture underscores God’s protective care from life’s calamities:

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, Nor things preset, nor things to come, now 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. (Ro 8:38,39)

Paul Meyers, who for years taught on the Haven of Rest radio broadcast once told of a little boy who had broken his favorite toy. With tears streaming down his face, the devastated boy ran to his father and cried, “Daddy, why doesn’t my toy work?” The father picked up the broken toy. As an engineer, he knew at once what was wrong with it and easily could have told his child “why” his toy was ruined. He could have given him a number of technical reasons: But the little boy wouldn’t have understood the “reasons.” Instead, the father stooped down and brushed the tears from his son’s eyes. He picked up his little boy and held him tightly in his arms saying, “It’s all right son, Daddy loves you.”

At times there are no human answers to suffering. Yet in the face of some of life’s most awful tragedies, and in spite of the fact that sometimes we will not “feel” God’s presence, He assures us that, I will never leave you or forsake you. In fact, as a Christian, there will NEVER be a heartbreak that you will ever face that your perfect, loving, heavenly Father will not say, “It’s all right, son/daughter, I still love you!”

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Hi, I'm Jim. I've been through the emotional wringer. I've been a successful pastor and leader and a loving father, but I've also been suicidally depressed. I'll teach you the techniques I used to heal myself, and give you the tools to reclaim your life and move forward!

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