07 Oct Why Is My Suffering Getting Worse?
Whether it is the stress, hardship or difficulty in life, actual illness, or mental torture, suffering is a reality. When such suffering does not stop, but continues to increase, how then do we understand this? In particular, when our minds involuntarily develop a lot of insinuations, our thoughts continue to run wild to the extent that we are unable to function normally in our life, we know that our mind has lost its peace. It is during these moments where we have to go in depth and ask ourselves why are such things happening to us. Perhaps we will figure who caused this, or whether we have done something wrong. Or we may also feel imbalanced in our hearts questioning why this did not happen to others, but to us.
Indeed, pain and suffering can trigger our heart to reflect on many things, but at the same time, it may also cause us to receive many incorrect thoughts. If we do not have the Word of God as our teaching, it is easy for our hearts to receive the wrong messages and hence be shaped incorrectly. We may also blame people or grumble against God. We may also know that God cannot be mocked and it is good, but our fluctuating emotions will cause us to be unable to rely on the Lord in our suffering time and again.
If we do not have the Word of God as our teaching, it is easy for our hearts to receive the wrong messages and hence be shaped incorrectly.
Here, we have to understand two important truths:
(1) Suffering is a vulnerable part of mankind. Since our ancestors sinned, no one can escape the pain of suffering, and no one is not helpless before suffering. Whether it is accidental suffering, or suffering caused by people or situations, or the ultimate outcome that people must face, we cannot deny the pain and helplessness in our hearts. At that moment, it seems like we can only obediently accept. Therefore, all the world’s religions come about as a result of suffering. Whether it is the belief in destiny, the acceptance of reincarnation, the emphasis on cause and effect, or talk about punishment after death, the source of all these comes from human suffering. If there is no suffering, the religious thoughts and mentality of the people will not be triggered. But those who have the truth of God will clearly know that suffering is a result of man’s sin. We also know that behind the sins of man is the evil one who continues to make people distance themselves farther away from God (salvation) through suffering; but the other important truth also tells us that:
(2) God did not leave this suffering world. He has prepared salvation for this suffering world, and is also close to His suffering children. Sometimes we think of what we have to do in order for God to help us in our suffering. For example: we have to read the Bible more and pray. So what is the purpose of reading the Bible and praying? The Bible promises that the righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all <Ps 34:19>; and none of these suffering will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord <Ro 8:35-39>. Reading the scriptures and prayer are not ways to avoid suffering, but we do so to avoid being deceived by the evil one, and not to be discouraged and mourn due to our temporary suffering. Indeed, God’s guidance of the righteous person is faithful and unique. Who can fathom what He wants to accomplish through the suffering we have gone through? Paul said that God can comfort us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God <2 Co 1:4>; or in our suffering, we may experience that God’s grace is sufficient for us, and we can testify that His power is made perfect in weakness <2 Co 12:9>; or sometimes God, through our suffering, helps us to produce perseverance, character and hope, as well as, experience greatly the love of God that is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit <Ro 5:3-5>; or like Job who could really see the Lord with his eyes after experiencing great suffering <Job 42:5>.
Reading the scriptures and prayer are not ways to avoid suffering, but we do so to avoid being deceived by the evil one, and not to be discouraged and mourn due to our temporary suffering.
After reading these verses, some people may think in their hearts, “Is it merely for all these that I have to suffer so much in my body?” The ultimate value of these people is neither on God nor His glorious will, therefore they seek only temporary relief from their sufferings. But who can fathom the things that God does or what He can do, in His sovereignty and goodness? The religions of this world will never understand the will of the supreme God in the sufferings of men. They all the more do not understand that sufferings are to point us to the true God who can save us. Religion, ethics and morality only provide us with ways to relieve suffering on the human level, such as doing good and engaging in spiritual practice. But they cannot point us to eternal hope in our suffering. Only the Bible helps us clearly understand sufferings and the answers within.
Why is our suffering more and more serious?
People of the world only understand the general principle of “good begets good, evil begets evil”
The book of Job is one book which people of the world certainly cannot understand. Because people of the world can only understand the principle of “good begets good, evil begets evil (general revelation). Their comprehension is just like that of Job’s three friends. What his three friends said seems nothing wrong from the point of human ethics, because basically, their view was that the righteous will not suffer harm, only evildoers will be afflicted. Eliphaz said, “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” <Job 4:7-8>. Therefore, when we see a person’s sufferings getting more severe, we will very easily first conclude that he has done evil, or he has not submitted to the Lord. Or when a person has obvious blessings in his family and material possessions, we very easily think that he is pleasing to God. Of course, this is the general principle by which the righteous God leads this world, but the book of Job gives us another revelation about sufferings. Relatively speaking, Job was more upright, God-fearing, and shunned evil more than most people. But why such a person suffered much more severely than the ordinary person? Sometimes, when our sufferings come one after another, or when they do not end, we must understand the reason which the ordinary person cannot fathom.
Behind it, there is the work of the slanderer, the devil Satan
Besides the accuser, another name of Satan is the devil – slanderer. The work of the slanderer is to malign us for a wrong which we do not commit, just as the devil slandered Job in front of God now. Of course, sometimes when we look at the example of David, he sinned, such that the enemies of the Lord had the chance to show utter contempt for God <2 Sam 12:14>. Satan cited God’s righteousness to accuse David before God, such that sword would never depart from his house. But in the case of Job, the work of Satan was specially to slander, suggesting that the reason for Job to fear God and shun evil was because he received all kinds of blessings from God. Against such background, God permitted the sufferings which would soon befall Job. The people of the world will not understand such reason, because they cannot comprehend spiritual matters. The Bible indeed reveals that this slanderer’s slander before God is related to our sufferings getting more severe. Another person who experienced such sufferings is Paul. In <2 Co 12:7>, he mentioned that the thorn in his flesh was a messenger of Satan, and this was permitted by God, in order to keep him from becoming conceited. We can imagine, when Satan was slandering Paul before God, he surely said to God, “Didn’t this Paul obey your commandments so much because you have given him great revelation?”
But the more important reason is because God in His perfect will permits suffering to come upon those whom He loves
Concerning the reasons for Job’s sufferings, perhaps what we could not understand is why would God highlight Job such that he became the object of Satan’s slander. Had Job become a pawn in the competition between God and Satan? Consider how absurd Satan’s slander was! If someone comes to tell me, “Mr Choo, the reason why your child obeys you so much is because you have given him such a warm family, and provided him with the allowances, clothing, food and lodging that he needs.” Then how can I reply, “Fine! Then I will drive the child out, and not give him any pocket money, let him wander in the streets and see if he will still obey me”? Isn’t this even more absurd? But this seems to be what God did. Thus, many people do not understand why God allowed Satan to inflict such sufferings on such an upright and God-fearing righteous person. Therefore, unless this God: (1) absolutely will bring about even better outcome for His suffering children, and can bring about the necessary renewal in their lives; (2) has sufficient power to restrain the afflicter – Satan, as well as, all the harms he brings; (3) absolutely can keep His temporarily suffering children from losing their faith. Actually, each of our tolerance level towards sufferings is different, but we must know that God’s sustaining power is infinite. He can preserve, sustain and strengthen. Sometimes, human love and the reasons we humans offer cannot give a suffering person sufficient help, but only God’s supernatural work can comfort and sustain us in all our sufferings. Thus, Satan’s slander and the harm he inflicts are only a tool by which God turns evil into blessing. Perhaps some people may ask, “Why must God do it this way? Doesn’t God have other alternatives? Why must He let me go through the torment of the spirit and physical suffering? The reason is He is God, He chooses to do so. In His goodness and wisdom, God chooses to do so in my eternal and unique life, so that I can participate in His glory. Because if we share in His sufferings, we may also share in His glory <Ro 8:17>.
Through our suffering, God wants us to see Him personally
In the process of our suffering, God keeps refining and humbling us
When we look at the book of Job, some people only look at the beginning <chapters 1-2> and end <chapter 42>, when Job received more blessings than he first had. However, <chapters 3-41> are a long account. This is because God most values that process. When God wants us to see Him personally, that is not overnight, and it is also not through seemingly unfortunate things that happen to us. That cannot be fathomed by merely going through a major sickness, or some setbacks or failures. Because the external things happen to refine our inner man. However, a very hardened self is indeed hidden within our inner man. Thus, from the start of <chapter 3>, Job cursed the day of his birth. He thought that if he came to earth being predestined to go through these sufferings, then it would be better for him not to be born to this world. Therefore, his sinful nature started to be revealed. Although he did not directly curse God, he was actually indirectly grumbling against the God who brought him to this world. Then, his three friends who most loved him heard about his troubles and came from afar to see him. When they saw his disfigured appearance from a distance, they wept aloud. They sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. They originally came to comfort him, but eventually they became his accusers. In this, Job faced troubles within and without, he faced external misery and the accusations hurled at him. His conscience was stirred up, sometimes accusing, at other times defending, revealing his own self-righteousness in the midst of this. Then just as his three friends were speechless, a young man full of wisdom, Elihu spoke, rebuking Job’s self-righteousness. At this moment, then God appeared to speak to Job. What had God been doing all this while? Sometimes, in our sufferings, especially when sufferings become more serious, many weak thoughts and complex feelings seem to torment us. People around us may not understand us but accuse us instead. Perhaps we ourselves also fall into the attitude of self-righteousness, to defend ourselves. Perhaps God also awakens us through some unexpected people. Within these, there are many battles in the heart, but in fact, all these are God’s ways of humbling us and preparing us to hear His voice.
In our struggles, God makes us see our own ignorance and powerlessness
God asked Job one hundred questions, mainly comprising two types: First, do you know? Do you know anything about the universe, the seas and oceans, weather, astronomy, life and death? This reveals Job’s ignorance and God’s wisdom. Second, are you able? Do you have the arms of God? Can you make all strong and powerful beasts obey you? This shows Job’s powerlessness and God’s all-powerful might. When we are in sufferings, the more we study and get absorbed into the problems, or want to clearly know why, or want to rely on own strength to walk out, the more we will be devoured by the sufferings. To a world which does not know God, sufferings point people to religions and humanism. But the Bible tells us that when sufferings get more serious, we all the more should look to the omniscient and omnipotent God, because all sufferings point us to God and His redemption.
Through suffering, make us see the Lord with our eyes <Job 42:1-6>
(1) He acknowledged God’s absolute sovereignty – Perhaps one reason that keeps us from walking out of sufferings is because we never treat God as God. We treat God’s sovereignty, and what he can do in His own sovereignty, with contempt. We may base on our own perception, think that we should be blessed in many areas, or we should not go through such sufferings. Often, when we are following God, it is very easy for us to place our own will and timing ahead. In fact, God can turn troubles into blessings, and can also turn blessings into troubles the next moment. Therefore, those who see the Lord personally are those who know God’s goodness and acknowledge His sovereignty.
(2) He discovered his own ignorance – Sometimes, we will realise our ignorance through one suffering after another. Usually, those who are successful in career will overestimate their own experiences. Those who can do two things simultaneously will overestimate their cleverness and methods. In fact, suffering time and again will make us realise our own ignorance, such that we will pray in all things and rely on the Lord. This is seeing the Lord personally.
(3) He clearly recognized his own sin – Actually, in <the book of Job>, we hardly see any of Job’s moral sins, but we can see the fear in his heart. <Job 1:5>: When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom. <Job 3:25>: What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. <1 Jn 4:18> tells us: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. In fact, when we cannot love God, that itself is the root of sin. It appears as if some people have not made any big mistake, but there is always fear in their hearts, they fear certain accidents or unfortunate things happening to them. We must know that it is not simply an issue of sensitive personality, but the problem of us not loving the Lord. We not committing mistakes does not mean we love the Lord and delight in following Him. Personally seeing the Lord does not mean following Him out of fear of any particular encounter, but following Him out of love for Him and because we are drawn by His love.
Therefore, how should we face worsening situations in suffering?
Do not grumble or be troubled, but confirm God’s promise
<Ro 8:28>: 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. <Jer 29:11> For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Beside God’s promises, there is no other way. If what we truly believe is God’s promises, we are on the right track. We must absolutely not believe unorthodox principles, like confessing the sins of our ancestors, praying in tongues or receiving positive psychology. All these will prevent us from having single-minded belief in the promise.
Do not allow yourself to become self-righteous or self-conceited, but humble down and rely on God
Suffering will crush our self-centred heart and point us to God. No matter how intelligent and quick-witted we are, when suffering worsens, it reveals the limitations of man’s intelligence and wits. It could be medical knowledge is no longer working for us, psychological counselling no longer effective for us; or even our money is not able to solve the problem. Therefore, God’s will is for us to humbly rely on Him and abide in Him. Instead of focusing on “what to do”, why not we think of “what the Lord wants me to do?” Once we put ourselves down, and rely on the Lord with a single mind, the Lord will enable us to meet the right information and people.
Turn our fears into love
The Bible says, “There is no fear in love, fear has to do with punishment”. When we become increasingly humble and reliant on God, we will discover that other than the peace that comes from loving God, there is no other peace. Perhaps in the troubles we have been through, we will realise that for many things, we are motivated by fear. For example, fear of not being recognised, so we work hard; fear of poor health, so we take care of our body; fear of children being led astray, so we enforce strict discipline; fear of being looked down, so we strive to improve. Actually, sin keeps asking us to act out of fear. When troubles come, we must reflect if the motivations behind all that we do is God’s love. Let us not be motivated by fear, but be driven by the love of God, then we will enjoy the peace given by God in all things. Finally, we see that the book of Job ended with “love”. In <Job 42:10>, we see God instructing Job to pray for his three friends who accused him (note that at this point, his suffering had not ended), after that, God restored Job’s fortunes. Here, we see that God had placed in the heart of Job the love to have compassion on enemies, so he received the heart of “God loves sinners”.