27 Aug Where Is God In My Suffering?
Verses to read: <Mk 10:17-22; Gen 18:20-33; 2 Co 4:16-18>
Ask yourself, what is the God we worship like? If He is worthy to be worshipped, He must be an omnipotent God and also a good God.
This is Pastor’s testimony: In a symposium that I attended when I was young, a preacher asked the congregation, “If we can see God, what is one question that we would ask Him?” Two questions were raised in the congregation which, until today, still remained vividly in my mind. The first was, “are there aliens since our universe is so big?” The other was, “why is there suffering on earth?” The first question relates to the omnipotence and infinity of God. People are so small in the presence of the omnipotent and infinite God that we are filled with awe and wonder. The second question relates to the doubts that we have towards God’s goodness. Why is this so? This is because we are all born in suffering. <Job 14:1> says, “Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble.” In particular, when suffering is so real and close to us, we tend to doubt God in our pain. In our suffering, our heart often asks, “God, where are you?” Sometimes we doubt not because we don’t believe in God, but precisely because we believe in God. What do we then believe? We believe God is omnipotent and hence He can take away all the suffering, His omnipotence is able to heal my illnesses, eliminate my loneliness, free me from bondages, take away my lack, change my loved ones, etc. But when these sufferings continue to remain in us, we cannot help but to question, if God is good, why does He allow me to suffer these pains? Why does a good God allow evil and injustice in this world?
In particular, when suffering is so real and close to us, we tend to doubt God in our pain.
Therefore, people who do not believe in God often deny the existence of God because of the evil and suffering in this world. When they see the world’s turmoil, injustice, evil, or the diseases that people have and death, they come to the conclusion that God does not exist. If He exists, He is not an omnipotent God, because He cannot prevent evil or set people free from suffering. If He is omnipotent, He is not a good God, because how can the good God consciously allow humans who have awareness and emotions to undergo such suffering?
Because unbelievers have such rebuttals to God and even believers who are in suffering also have such doubts of God, new teachings emerge in the church that separate God from all the sufferings of man. These teachings claim that there is no pain, sorrow, poverty, disease, death, etc. in Christ, and emphasize that these negative situations ought to be rejected and should not be accepted by all believers. They all want to speak up for God and help Him to build relationships with people. They are all meant to bring hope and comfort, so they create a theology that separates God from all undesirable situations and feelings. Rather than saying that God is with you in your pain, they say that there is no pain in God. Is this the truth? In fact, the Bible clearly tells us that God is related to all our sufferings. All the sufferings on earth, all the pain of people, as well as, death are all because God is righteous and as a result of this, sinful people of this world all fall into sufferings. But also because of the reality of such suffering, God brought redemption to mankind through His Son. Think about it, haven’t we come before God because of our suffering? Haven’t we turned away from sinful living and turned to the Lord because of suffering? Haven’t we come to know the way of eternal life because of our suffering, and we also continue to pursue this word? If people wish to beautify God and create a theology of “separating God from suffering”, they are in fact taking away the true hope for those who are suffering. Actually, what we most needed to know during suffering is that our suffering is not by chance, and it is not merely caused by people or environment, but God is indeed in our suffering.
If people wish to beautify God and create a theology of “separating God from suffering”, they are in fact taking away the true hope for those who are suffering.
Because He is in our suffering, so that suffering surely has His work and glorious plan. That suffering will also point to an ending and blessing. This is the truth which really comforts suffering people.
Because God is omnipotent and good, He can only do good and not evil <Mk 10:17-22>
Does good really beget good, and evil beget evil?
Our human innate conscience will tell us that this statement is true. No one will deny this, because unless a person has split personality, no one will feel uncomfortable in his conscience when he does something good; instead, our conscience will be tormented whenever we do bad things. Therefore, one great principle universally acknowledged by all human religions is “good begets good, evil begets evil” or Karma.
But the problem is, “who is good?” Perhaps occasionally, we will see some relatively good people; they are kinder than the ordinary people, and more helpful. They do not covet for others’ possessions, and do not look lustfully at women, but are they truly good? In <Mk 10:17-22>: A rich man called Lord Jesus “good teacher”. Lord Jesus replied, “No one is good—except God alone.” From here, we know that the rich man’s “perspective on goodness” came from his standard of keeping the rules of the law. He thought that Jesus kept the law, just as he did not violate any law since he was a boy, thus he also hoped that he could be considered as good in the eyes of God. But we know that even if he kept the law, he was still very far from the goodness of God. Because his heart (the centre of life) was still evil, or it could be said that his heart did not love the good God. He chose materials over God. He loved himself more than the good God. Therefore, even though there are many in this world who seem to be more amicable, pious and zealous, there is no one good, not even one <Ro 3:10-11>. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. Even if they find God, it is for their own benefit; thus what they are seeking is not God, but idols. Since that is so, do good people really get rewarded? Yes! But there is no one good. All people are fallen in sin, so the whole creation has been groaning from the pains of childbirth right up to the present time <Ro 8:22>.
Do Christians (the righteous) also need to suffer together with people of this world?
In this sinful world, illnesses, misery, sorrows, death are a reality. Then, shall we Christians only endure all these helplessly? Do we who know God and who purified our hearts and washed our hands also have to suffer setbacks, illnesses and hardships together with people of the world? Think about it, if a sick brother asks us, “Why do I still have terminal illness when I love the Lord zealously?” Or our child asks us, “Why do I not get good grades despite obeying God and studying hard?” How should we answer? Should we say, “It is not terminal illness, not failure, so keep believing, the situation will turn better”, or should we say, “Because all men have sinned, we are the same as everyone else, so we all need to suffer illness, hardships and failures”? In fact, all these sayings are not the truth God talks about! Furthermore, what makes our hearts often imbalanced is when we see that some evildoers are so successful, prosperous and blissful, we sometimes really feel that we have loved the Lord in vain. This is just as the psalmist said, “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human illnesses. “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.” <Ps 73:3-5,13> In 2002, a Jewish rabbi ever wrote a best-selling book at that time, the title of that book directed at a perplexed issue in the hearts of many people. That book was titled, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or if we reverse the book title, it will be “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Indeed, all these sayings overturn the “truth that God is good”.
The ending for the righteous and the wicked is totally different <Gen 18:20-33>
The good God not only knows human wickedness, but He also ascertains and judges their sins
The righteous God saw that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was grievous, and the outcry against them was very great. This is not saying God only just knew, but it refers to their sin reaching its full measure. Many people think that God is unjust when they see certain wicked person not immediately punished after committing some sins. In fact, if God destroys some people immediately after they do evil, then many of us also should receive the same punishment. Furthermore, God not only heard about the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, He still personally visited the scene to observe what they did. Here, we see that Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked to such a point that because of their own evil desire, they wanted to hurt completely good angels without being rebuked by their conscience. Thus, God’s goodness not only will judge the evil deeds of the wicked, He also ascertains what the wicked does. This is because in God’s goodness, there is His love and mercy. He remembers that we are dust <Ps 103:14>. Thus, although man does evil, God always gives man the time and opportunity to repent. However, here, we will know that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was already very grave, and the time for judgment had come, so God would no longer delay His judgment. This is like what the psalmist said in <Ps 73:17-19>, “till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their (the wicked’s) final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! ”
God wants us to firmly believe that He would certainly not let the wicked and the righteous be swept away together
When Abraham knew that God wanted to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he was very anxious. Because he knew that Lot was inside, and Lot was a righteous man. Indeed, although initially Lot chose to live in the wicked Sodom for the sake of his livelihood, later on he was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless in that city <2 Pe 2:7>. Because of anxiety, Abraham started to wrestle with God, as if he was doubting God’s goodness. But as he continued to ask God to an extent, he firmly believed that God is a good God. The Judge of all the earth is not only the almighty God, but also the God who does what is just <Gen 18:25>. He certainly would not sweep away the righteous together with the wicked, unlike limited humans. Even though sometimes we are in misery, our hearts are troubled and conflicted, even doubtful, these are what God can understand. However, like Abraham, we should bring our doubts and misery before God. We should open the Bible and wrestle with God, till our hearts can firmly believe God’s goodness and faithfulness. We must not believe the false word that is without foundation, but which only let our hearts feel comfortable. Indeed, the truth which we have to hold tightly onto in our suffering is: God punishes the wicked but protects the righteous.
We should bring our doubts and misery before God. We should open the Bible and wrestle with God, till our hearts can firmly believe God’s goodness and faithfulness.
Thus, when Paul was being judged, he declared, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength… the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” <2 Ti 4:17-18>
Therefore, bad things certainly will not happen to the righteous
Think about it, if today Lord Jesus appears before us and says to us, “From today onwards, no matter what tribulations this world suffers, whatever happen to you are all good, there is no evil, no misfortune, nothing that ruins you, but only whatever is good, kind and blissful”, is this good or not? In fact, hadn’t God already said? Had God not proven it when He paid the price for us through His Son? Hadn’t God promised us through the entire Bible? <Ro 8:28> promises, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Someone counted that this is one of the 50 most popular and commonly used verses in the Bible. Indeed, in our setbacks, hardships, weaknesses, crises, even illnesses and death, God promises only benefits, but not judgment and misfortune. In our misery, God has His greatest good intention, which is to benefit us. In all His goodness, God promises that all misery in our lives will direct to our benefits, so every misery we suffer is no exception, there is also no coincidence. In fact, we do not need man to put in a good word for God, or create some theology to temporarily make man happy. When we know the truth, then we can truly be comforted. If God has nothing to do with our suffering, and our agony is merely random misfortune or brought upon us by people and environment, then our hearts will surely sink into despair. Conversely, if the good God is related to our suffering, He certainly can, and will, turn whatever in our lives which we see as disasters into blessings.
Then why is there still suffering in our lives?
Perhaps the most spiritual lesson we can learn in our lifetime is to see God’s love and goodness in suffering. Indeed, we saw Christians left the world due to sickness, we also saw Christians got hurt and died because of accidents, we also heard about Christians being martyred while evangelizing. These are what man considers as sufferings, not just the person facing that circumstance suffers, but people beside him also suffer. Some sufferings have been with us for many years already. We have prolonged hurts, grievances, loneliness, poverty, etc. We certainly cannot deny the work of the evil within and the real agony brought to us by the environment. The Bible does not ask us to live in an illusion, nor does it tell us to deny these realities. But the Bible tells us that in our suffering, there is something which is light and momentary and something which outweighs all. The sufferings of humans consist of the impending and the ultimate. Sometimes, we hear a bad health report from the doctor, or we experience the departing of a loved one, or we face marital issues. At that time, suffering is near us, we feel deep agony, we cannot see hope for tomorrow, but God is also concurrently supporting us in the midst of it. Not only so, but God also leads us by seeing our tomorrow, and preparing the ultimate blessings for us.
The Bible tells us that in our suffering, there is something which is light and momentary and something which outweighs all.
Most importantly is one day, God will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away <Rev 21:4>. Indeed, there are many moments in our present life when we cried because of sufferings. Even if people around us wipe away those tears for us, the tears will come again. However, the tears God wipes from us will never come back forever. If God has not determined our ultimate comfort and bliss, He will not permit our current sufferings.
So how do we deal with our current suffering? <2 Co 4:16-18>
Return to God’s word for the right priorities
The most important thing is not to hear the wrong teachings and live in a delusion. Bible tells us the truth, especially in restoring our priorities. This not to say our family, career and health are not important. However, no matter how important, they are only light and momentary things. Sometimes, when our priorities are not right, we worry excessively about our family, over-focus on our career, and be anxious about our health, so when these are not in ideal state, we are immediately in anguish. However, the word of God tells us these troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. Therefore, in our imminent troubles, there is great glory, and there are the blessings and rewards God wants to give to the saints. Actually, we have more and more sufferings because we hold on too tightly to what is light and momentary. Some parents are too controlling, causing children to turn away from them. Some people value their job prospect so much that they lost the joy of working. Therefore, the good that God wants to give us is eternal and lasting, so that we can be blessed on earth, and enjoy the glorious crowns in eternity.
In our troubles, seek the daily inward renewal
Therefore, in our light and momentary troubles, the Lord who loves us will use that opportunity to renew us inwardly, and in that moment, our blurry vision will be clearer, and we will not put our hopes on the present life. Thus, in troubles, we must strive for the inwardly renewal day by day. Sometimes, we hope to walk out from our troubles quickly, and enjoy the feeling of happiness and freedom without our troubles. But in fact, such a joy and freedom do not exist. That is only a delusion and illusion created by man. Indeed, when our hearts are being refined by sufferings, we will gradually see God’s love. We will see the value of eternity, the preciousness of the soul and the importance of relationship. Our heart will slowly understand that a moment of joy from the reliance on the Lord outweighs an extended period of comfort in the flesh. We will also understand one second of prayer and committing to the Lord, is greater than controlling every little detail perfectly. We will see that using our time to serve the Lord is better than using for the things on earth.
When our hearts are being refined by sufferings, we will gradually see God’s love.
Therefore, we will cheerfully give everything we have for the Lord’s use, and in all things testify His goodness and virtues. Actually, this is us drawing close to the Lord’s goodness, unlike the goodness of the young man, which came by keeping the laws.
Whether suffering is near us or far from us, let us receive God’s heart from His word
Sometimes, the questions we humans ask, stem from two attitudes. Just like when we ask, “Where is God in human sufferings?”, one asks due to curiosity; another asks due to misery. Likewise, sometimes we receive understanding from God’s word, some understanding comes from afar, some understanding comes in proximity. If we are currently standing far away from suffering and do not feel very real trials, let us learn to walk into the circumstances of those who are suffering, and have compassion on their difficulties. But if one day, when suffering comes near us, let us not despair, but learn to look far ahead. This light and momentary trouble only lasts for one such moment in eternity, and it will bring us glory that outweighs all.