Why Do We Suffer?

Title: Why Do We Suffer?

Bible Book: Judges 6 : 13

Author: James Merritt

Subject: Suffering



I could hardly believe my eyes. Right in the middle of preparing this message, a young man from South Korea, Cho Seung-hui, forever plants himself in the consciousness of the American people by going on the worst shooting rampage in U.S. history murdering 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech University, before turning the gun on himself. Even a video, pictures, and notes sent to NBC still didn’t answer the very first question that we always ask when something like this happens – why?

May I tell you as a pastor that nobody in the world finds themselves asking that question more than I do? I not only wrestle with it as a pastor; I wrestle with it as a theologian. One of the greatest pastors and preachers in Great Britain in the 20th century is a man named John Stott. He is one of my favorite authors. He put it best when he said, “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.”

It is a question that is rightly asked by good people, by Godly people, and by God’s people.

Right in the middle of preparing this message, as our church family now knows, one of our very own, a precious young man, who was just entering into the very prime of life was suddenly, and unexpectedly taken from his family and from his friends by a disease that was detected too late. The very first question in my mind was “why?”

Many of you are asking that question. This series that we are doing called “Study Hall” is a direct response to a survey we took of our congregation asking you what topics would you want to see most addressed from God’s word? This whole question of suffering and sorrow was at the top of the list.

It is the question that a great man in the bible, named Gideon, himself raised and I guess put it best of all when he said this, “If the Lord is with us why has all of this happened to us?” (Judges 6:13, NASB)

There is one thing I know and that is God takes this question very seriously. Sometimes people ask if there is any verse in the bible that speaks directly to this problem of suffering and pain and evil and sorrow in life. More than just a verse, an entire book in the bible was written to address this question – the Book of Job.

Job was a man who lived over 300 years ago. The bible gives a description of him that tells us immediately that we are dealing with someone special, because verse 3 says, “That man was the greatest of all the men of the east.” (Job 1:3, NASB)

Let me give you this brief biography of this man. He was a righteous man. “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”(Job 1:1, NASB)

You could have put Job under a microscope and you would have been hard-pressed to find even a germ in his life. There were no skeletons in his closet. The IRS and the FBI put together could find no blemish on his character. Even God himself said, “Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job 1:8, NASB)

He was a rich man. Verse 3 tells us that he had over 11,000 animals, not to mention servants, money, land and houses.

He was a religious man. This was a man that not only had a great relationship with God, but he was a great spiritual leader of his own home. He was so burdened about the spiritual state of his family that verse 5 says, “Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, "perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." thus Job did continually.” (Job 1:5, NASB)

Job was a man who prayed for his family and would offer a sacrifice for their sins.

Then God allowed the devil to take everything that Job had and that Job found precious away from him. In one day, he lost all of his animals, many of his servants were killed and all of his ten children died when a tornado struck the house in which they were holding a party. Then to add misery to his calamity his own health was taken away from him. He was covered with boils, painful sores on his skin, his skin began to peel off, he started going blind, his teeth began to rot and fall out and he was hit by a combination of fever, insomnia, and depression.

To put it simply, no man in the bible, outside of Jesus Christ ever suffered more than Job and outside of Jesus Christ no man ever suffered more unjustly and unfairly than Job. Even though he was a man of great faith and great faithfulness he also finally broke and asked that same question that every one of us in this room at one time or another have either asked God or one day will ask God. Just the way he put it will break your heart. Listen to what he says to God, “Why won’t you leave me alone – even for a moment? If I have sinned what have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why have you made me your target?” (Job 7:19-20, NLT)

There is that big huge three letter word question – why?

As we study both this man named Job and some other passages in the scripture here is the one truth we need to take away today and that we need to learn and hold onto if we are ever going to get a handle on the problem of pain and suffering in life. Key take away: God uses suffering always for our good and ultimately for his glory. I am going to tell you three things to do that will not help you avoid suffering, but it will help you to get through suffering and keep your faith in God strong.

I. Detect God’s Goal in Suffering

I want to remind you the question we are addressing today is not a new one. It is one that has been bandied about, debated, discussed and heatedly argued for thousands and thousands of years. There has never been a philosopher or a theologian or any serious thinker who has ever lived who has not pondered this question.

Long ago, the Greek philosopher Epicurus put it this way. “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to; or he cannot, and does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot he is impotent; if he can and does not want to, he is wicked; but, if God both can and wants to abolish evil then how come evil is in the world?"

In other words, the traditional way of stating the problem is that one of three points of this triangle must be invalid. You cannot say that God is all good and that God is all powerful and have evil in the world at the same time. Listen carefully. Behind that reasoning in this assumption is that there can be no possible divine purpose for suffering. The problem with that assumption is this - just because you cannot see a purpose in something does not mean that something does not have a purpose. There are people today who see how bad things happen to good people, how innocent people get killed, how Godly people get sick, how little children are murdered and they come to the conclusion that either there is no God or if there is he is not much of one.

When Job refused to blame God for his problems or lose his faith in God, even his wife turned on him and said, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?” Job gave one of the greatest responses in the bible. “But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10, NASB)

Let me tell you, in essence, what Job was saying and he was exactly right. If there is a God and if that God is the God of the bible then we must believe there is a purpose in pain. There is a reason for suffering.

Job himself even acknowledged about God two things that the bible makes very plain. God is in complete of this universe and nothing can frustrate his eternal purposes. Listen to his words to God in Job 42:2, "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted." (Job 42:2, NASB)

Everything in life has a divine purpose. There is not one renegade molecule running around in this universe that God does not have a plan for.

God understands that we won’t always understand. Job even said in verse 3, “I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me.” (Job 1:3, NLT)

What Job’s story really tells us is this – when you are going through adversity and pain and suffering that you don’t understand, it is less important to know all the answers than to know and trust the one who does.1

Like it or not God not only comforts the afflicted he afflicts the comforted. He not only gives us the good he also allows us to suffer the bad, because God is not primarily interested in our happiness. He is primarily interested in our holiness and his glory.

One of the reasons why the Book of Job was written was to help us understand that we don’t always have to understand. I can tell you now there are going to be many things that happen in your life you will never understand this side of heaven. I also say you never have to understand what God is doing if you can trust God to always do what is right.

Why do bad things happen? Why do disasters, hurricanes, cancer, campus massacres, suicide bombers, and crib deaths exist in our world? It all depends on the disaster. Sometimes the reason may be so God’s deliverance can be miraculously demonstrated. Sometimes it serves the purposes of God’s judgment and wrath on a society that rebel against him. Sometimes it is to motivate repentance and to bring revival. Sometimes it is to develop the patience and the faith of believers. Sometimes it is for the world to take its focus off of time and put its focus on eternity. Sometimes it is all the above, but the point is there is always a purpose. When you are suffering and you are hurting and life is unfair try to move from asking the “why?” Question to the “what?” Question as in – what is your purpose in all of this and whatever your purpose is may it be accomplished for my good and for your glory.

II. Expect God’s Grace in Suffering

No less than the greatest man in the New Testament (excluding Jesus of course) the Apostle Paul faced a similar “why” time in his life. He had what he referred to as a “thorn” in the flesh. Nobody knows exactly what that thorn was, but it was most probably a physical ailment that he had to live with all the days of his life. Paul was a great man of faith and a great man of prayer. Repeatedly he asked God to take this thorn in the flesh away from him. This is how God responded, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9, NASB)

There is more to that verse than meets the eye, because it gives us a clue of why God designed this world in such a way that we would have the freedom to choose to obey or disobey him, but also the responsibility of living in a world that has to suffer the consequences of disobedience.

Think about it this way. The bible says that God is a God of mercy. God is a God of grace and God is a God of love. How would you and I ever know that if there was not sin in the world, suffering in the world and sorrow in the world?

In eternity past, before this world was ever created, before evil was ever allowed to exist, God was certainly known by his angels as being omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, all powerful, and all knowing, but they knew nothing of the love of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God, and the compassion of God. Neither did we.

When God created this world, he not only created a world where we have the freedom to choose and the freedom to decide whether we will love this God and obey this God or not, but he also created a world that became a back-drop and a background against which his grace and his mercy and his love could be seen. If you go to a jewelry store to buy a diamond ring, that jeweler will always take a piece of black velvet and lay that diamond down on that velvet. Why doesn’t he lay it down on a white sheet of paper? Because, he wants to do everything he can to draw your attention to the beauty of that diamond.

Think about this. How could a merciful God ever show mercy in a world where there was no sin? How could a comforting God ever comfort a world that never hurts? How could a gracious God ever show his grace to a world that didn’t need his forgiveness and his love?

When you think about the purpose of this world as being a backdrop for the attributes of God that we would never know in a perfect world, then evil and suffering does indeed make sense. If God wants to make himself known in all of his fullness to us, if he wants us to love him freely and voluntarily and if he wants us to see him as a God who is full of grace, love, forgiveness, mercy and compassion then the only kind of world you could expect to live in would be a world where evil is present.

We know that all suffering is temporary. All pain is temporary. All hurt is temporary, but on the other side of eternity every one of us will be able to look back at all this heartache and suffering we went through and say, “so that is what God’s grace looks like. That is what redemption looks like. That is what it means to be healed. So that is what our God is really like. Apart from suffering, sorrow and sin I would have had no idea.”

God wants you to experience his grace, his love, his compassion, his mercy, and his forgiveness so much that he allowed you to be born into a world full of sin and sorrow and suffering so that he could show himself strong in behalf of those who would love him and obey him. There is still one last thing we must do if we are going to truly get a handle on this problem.

III. Reflect God’s Glory in Suffering

I have saved this for last because this is perhaps the most important and most neglected part of this whole problem. You’ve got to add one thing to the equation that Epicurus devised in order to put suffering and pain and sorrow in its proper perspective and that is the glory of God. Think about these facts.

Fact #1- everything that was made exists for the glory of God. In fact, everything we do, eat, drink or say is all to be done for the glory of God.

Fact #2 - God who is all knowing and all powerful, created a world that he knew would rebel against him and be filled with evil. Couple that fact, with the first fact, and you can only conclude the third fact.

Fact #3 - there must be something about evil and suffering that can glorify God.

Listen to this verse in psalm 50 “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor me." (Psalm 50:15, NASB)

I would agree that if the most important value in life is our comfort, our well-being, our welfare, our health, our prosperity, then suffering and evil make absolutely no sense whatsoever. But, I submit to you that the supreme value in the entire universe is the glory of God and that is why the apostle Paul could put everything in perspective when he said in Romans 8:18, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18, NASB) Nothing in this world is more important than the glory of God - nothing.

If you believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, all powerful, all knowing God who never makes a mistake and who cannot do evil, then you have to believe that all suffering, every tragedy, every disaster somehow can be used by that God for his glory.

I am going to put it very simply to you. If you focus on the problem of suffering you will never come to a satisfactory answer. God does not call us to focus on the problem of suffering; he calls us to focus on the promise of suffering. The promise of suffering is it is temporary, it can be used to strengthen our faith, there is a purpose behind it and ultimately God if we will let him will use both it and us for his glory. That is why when bad things happen to us instead of asking “why is it happening to us,” we need to be asking, “Lord what do you want to do with it?”

How do we apply this to our daily life? We do it in two ways. First of all, we remember whenever suffering, heartache, tragedy and disaster strikes us, that behind that disaster is a loving God who will walk with us through it, give us victory in it, use it for his glory and one day will permanently take both us away from it and it away from us. Remember this: the existence of evil does not eliminate the possibility of God. It is the existence of God that guarantees the elimination of evil.2

Second, we don’t allow suffering to weaken our faith, but to strengthen it. God has promised that the blessing and the reward that awaits us in heaven that is permanent and unending is far greater than any suffering and sorrow we will experience on earth that is only temporary. Our all wise and all loving and all knowing God sees the current trial, but he also sees the end result. If he decides that on our behalf the current trial is worth it, then we accept it, believing he will use it for our good and ultimately for his glory. Then we will be able to say what another man in the bible, named Joseph, said about his own questionable suffering, “God will turn into good whatever is meant for evil.” (Genesis 50:20, lb)


1 John Blanchard, Is God Past His Sell-By Date?, p. 179

2 Cited by John Blanchard, Is God Past His Sell-By Date?, p. 180


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