Is God Distant In Our Suffering?
“What the enemy means for evil, You (God) are working for my good.” rang through my head as my toes brushed the floor and pain surged through my feet. Early morning hours and in the midnight watch are when pain riddles my body in the worst way possible. Suffering in this present world is not easy, it’s inconvenient and unwelcome, and yet it will befall on all of us at one time or another. It may not be in the form of autoimmune disease for you as it has been for me, maybe it has or will come in the loss of a job, friends turning on you, a flood, a fire, a sick spouse, a rebellious child, I don’t know what’s ahead, but I do know that the Word is riddled with Saints who have suffered. In our Churches the chairs are filled with brothers and sisters who are struggling and searching for hope. To suffer in this life is not to be on an island by yourself but in the company of many, navigating the journey with you and in support of you.
The question comes often “If God is good then why does He allow suffering?”
Most of us begin to ask ourselves questions like, “Have I done something wrong?” “Am I being punished?” “What can I do to fix this situation?”
Yet when suffering comes or we see it peaking over the horizon the worst thing we can do is start asking ourselves anything, because our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Turning inward in a time of crisis is not the best strategy. Doing so causes us to feel we are being treated unfairly, unjustly and breeds an entitlement mentality, an-- I deserve better than this, perspective. But do we really, actually deserve anything better? Christ suffered much for our sake and in everything He gave, we gained!
How do we come face to face with the questions from others, and from our own hearts? The Shorter Catechism question comes to mind; “What is the chief end of man? Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” When everything is going great, and the skies are clear it’s easy to shout “God is good.” “I’m blessed.” “Be thankful in all circumstances is my motto.” Even Satan himself knows as believers in this space we have much to boast of, and he is the great accuser standing over us asking “What if everything was taken away, I bet you would curse God then?” How do I know this?
“Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.” Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t you placed a hedge around him, his household, and everything he owns? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he owns, and he will surely curse you to your face.” “Very well, the LORD told Satan, everything he owns is in your power. However, do not lay a hand on Job himself.” So Satan left the LORD’S presence.” (Job 1:8-12)
Satan accused Job before the Lord. He basically said, the only reason Job served, loved, worshiped and lived upright with great integrity was because God had given him much. If you read the beginning of Job 1, you see that the foundation is laid quite clearly, Job had done nothing that merited punishment or rebuke from God. So why, would God allow the suffering to come upon Job? Why does He allow it to come to any of His children? Because suffering is not allowed, it is ordained.
“God ordains suffering in the lives of His children to confirm our faith, love, and fear of God.” -John Piper
When we walk the road of pain, trials, suffering, persecution, and hardship we have the opportunity to live out what we say we believe. Our story, Job’s story, they are not about us, rather about the value of God and His sovereign power!
First we can notice Satan didn’t bring up Job, God did, and second God tells Satan, he may take everything from Job, but He can’t touch Job himself. God holds the power over EVERY circumstance not only in Job’s life but in ours also. Nothing comes to us, or can be taken away from us, except if God ordains it. We cannot miss this critical truth. Because as things enter into our lives and the lives of those we love, our true north is always Christ, and our chief end is to glorify Him forever.
It can be difficult to wrestle with the question “Why does God allow suffering if He is good?” Especially when like Job, most of our trials will never reveal an answer to the, why, behind it all. We must turn to Christ because He alone will supply grace and peace through the momentary affliction of suffering. We can rest assured “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2nd Corinthians 4:17-18)
When my body flares, burning from the inside out, barely able to hold the coffee pot to pour my morning cup, I can be encouraged and stand on the promise that God is working in my life, “Even what the enemy means for evil, God is working for my good. His plans are still to prosper, He has not forgotten me, He is faithful forever, perfect in love, He is sovereign over my life.” And your life too! Have you considered this in your trials? It's hard to regain our focus, but life is sweeter when we engage these truths.
Suffering presents the opportunity for us to turn and worship with our whole heart crying out “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) It doesn't mean it feels good, it doesn’t mean a “fake it till you make it” mentality rises, it means we believe with all our heart, soul and mind that God’s glory will have the final word over all our suffering. It means that we embrace what we were created for “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And while we don’t relish in the pain, we are called to truth- we were never called to enjoy our health, our spouse, our children, our homes, our stuff, or anything else, in the way we are called to enjoy God Himself. So if it’s all taken away is God enough? Can we bless His name?
As we look beyond the darkness, and struggle through the heavy mist, we can become keenly aware, God is working in our story, for our good, and even the hard uncomfortable situations will be used to fortify and strengthen our faith and therefore bring God all the glory. This world is temporary, it’s not our home, our lives are “but vapors, they appear for a little while and then will vanish away.” (James 4:14) We are being prepared for something far greater than this place, we are living lives that are revealing, and sharing the Gospel story, there is death, burial and resurrection is happening in all of us. Suffering happens, and even if our story doesn't end like Job’s, (Job 42) here in this present world, we can trust and rest in the truth that all things will be made completely new in Heaven, there will be no more suffering, simply great rejoicing for the Goodness of Christ, for His death, burial and resurrection. So in the here and now we can sing “I know my redeemer lives!” Even in the midst of the storm, He is not asleep, He is ordaining, moving, and working for our good and His glory. And as we grasp to understand the doctrine of suffering, we can know and be comforted by the very fact, Jesus knows the depth, the darkness and the truth about suffering. He fulfilled the plan of redemption hanging on a tree for you and for me. He is not distant from the reality of suffering. He did not stay on the cross or even buried in the tomb, He rose victorious over death and the grave, and we will too.
Praise His Name!