Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Mystery of Suffering

One of the most mysterious topics that one may try to examine is the presence of great suffering in this world. The El-Shaddai is (wrongfully) assumed to be evil or unwilling to intervene because of such suffering. It seems apparent that a God who is omnipotent and omnipresent should be able and willing to prevent such suffering, shouldn't He?

Most suffering can be traced back to a source, and this suffering is not hard to understand. When people suffer at the hands war, evil people, or human greed, it makes sense. God gave man the ability to make his own decisions, and man has used this freedom for evil. Likewise, when we suffer persecution it is understandable as we live in a fallen world, fighting against the power of darkness which attempts to fight us back. Both of these situations make sense, and although hard and painful at times, they can be understood. But what about suffering that is easily preventable by a God who is all-powerful and in control of all things? What about those situations where God could have warned you to walk a different path and not get yourself into a mess? Or those preventable accidents we fall victim to? I'm sure we can all think of times where we think that God could have made things turn out differently to help us avoid suffering, but I am boldly going to suggest that there are times when God wants us to suffer.

Now don't get it twisted, I'm not saying that God causes our suffering or enjoys it, no good Father enjoys the suffering of His children. Jesus said that he was the perfect representation of the Father, anyone who had seen him had seen the Father (John 14:9-11). Jesus healed every person who came to him, ruined every funeral that he attended, calmed every storm he came across and restored societal outcasts like tax-collectors and adulterers. As this is the way that Jesus felt about the suffering of his people, this is the same way Father God feels about it too. It is therefore inconceivable to believe that God brings suffering upon anybody, as He is a Father who gives good gifts (Luke 11:11-13). However, it is clear that God does allow his people to suffer at certain times.

Read through the Bible and you will find that the closer your relationship to God is, the more you will suffer, in fact one of the things that Jesus did promise us is that in this world we would suffer tribulations (John 16:33). David ran in fear of his life from Saul for most of his reign as king; all but one of Jesus' disciples were martyred; Paul was stoned, flogged, imprisoned and shipwrecked; Isaiah was sawn in half and the list goes on and on. God's people suffer, and God himself suffered with them. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do believe that some things can only be achieved through suffering.  I believe that God wants us to suffer at specific times for specific purposes. God doesn't enjoy this, but He uses these times to maximum effect.  It was during David's time on the run from Saul that God shaped him into the great king he was to become. It was the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, and the subsequent  scattering of the believers that lead to large growth in the early church. And it was through Jesus' death upon a cross that we are set free from our sin and gain adoption into God's family. It is during these hard and painful times that God moves at His most powerful - as God's power is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Some of the most dynamic and powerful moments in my life have been when God has allowed me to endure such sufferings. Nobody enjoys those times when you are walking through it, but these are the moments where God changes you in ways that He otherwise couldn't.

So whenever you come up a against a mountain, you should always pray that God moves it; it's much easier to walk in a valley then climb a mountain. Praise God if He moves the mountain for you and you do not need to suffer through it, but it doesn't always happen this way - God didn't move it for Jesus when he prayed earnestly in the Garden of Gethsemane. But if God doesn't move the mountain and you are forced to climb it, know that it will not be in vain. Suffering brings a perspective that is otherwise unseen, and gives insight unique to its circumstances. It is only upon a mountain top that a valley can be seen for what it is.

Life is not always smooth-sailing and enduring hardship is part of the path we must walk as believers. We must learn to embrace the truth that although we may not always comprehend our suffering, God will use it to bring about his glorious purposes, even though the journey may be tough. He's been doing this a lot longer than we have and He knows what He's doing, and we need to trust Him in that.

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