Recently I was part of a team of people from two churches helping a godly woman as her cancer battle came to an end. She was well cared for, but dying is tough. It’s painful and uncomfortable for the person dying and those they love. Any reasonable person has asked, “Why does a supposedly good God allow suffering?” Also, “Isn’t he strong enough to end suffering today?”
I’ve thought about this for a long time and I’ve come up with 11 ways a good God could allow suffering to continue. I’d love to hear more if you have some. I’m deeply indebted to Dr. Clay Jones of Biola University and Dr. John Feinberg’s book The Many Faces of Evil for help in processing this subject and creating this list.
1. Suffering reminds us that this world is fallen. When we endure suffering or witness the suffering of others it should serve as a reminder that this world is not as it was intended to be. Sin is rampant and its effects are seen everywhere.
2. Suffering should point us toward heaven. Christians have been promised a time when suffering will end (Rev. 21:4). When enduring or witnessing suffering, we should be drawn to the fact that the eternal destiny for the Christian is a place where there will be no more suffering. This will not totally eliminate the pain of suffering here on earth, but it provides us confident hope.
3. Suffering may provide God a platform to manifest his power. In John 9:1-3, people assume a man blind from birth is handicapped because of the sin of his parents. But Jesus lets us know that there are times these cases of suffering are only happening so God can be glorified by displaying his power. In our day, God may provide a miraculous healing that leads non-Christians to acknowledge him. Without the suffering preceding healing that wouldn’t be possible.
4. God may use suffering to remove a cause for boasting. When things are going well in our lives we tend to become self-sufficient and arrogant. Suffering can remind us of our need for God.
5. Sometimes God uses suffering to display the Body of Christ. When someone is hurting, other believers can step up to help him or her. They can run errands, provide meals, help them financially, or encourage them with prayer.
6. Suffering can promote sanctification. Suffering can lead us to turn away from sinful things that may be leading to our suffering. It can refine your faith. Suffering can educate the believer by forcing him or her to focus on God so he can teach them. God can also use suffering to cause the believer to understand his majesty and sovereignty in ways they otherwise would not be able. Suffering gives the believers intimacy with God as it drives him or her straight to their Creator. And it sanctifies as we realize we are imitating Christ in our suffering.
7. Those experiencing suffering can minister to others. This can impact believers and non-believers alike. Believers who suffer can encourage other brothers and sisters in Christ who are also suffering. This is especially true with people who are experiencing the same kinds of suffering. Those who suffer well can show the strength of their faith to non-believers who may be attracted to Christ because of this.
8. Suffering can prepare us for future trials. Withstanding one trial is in no way a guarantee that we will never experience suffering again. Sometimes lessons learned during one round of suffering help us during another round.
9. Suffering prepares believers for judgment day and the rewards it brings. As Christians are made more Christ-like, their deeds are more reflective of God’s will. Thus when Christ returns and the believer’s deeds are judged, there will be greater reward because there will be more righteous deeds evident in their life.
10. Suffering can humble the believer so he or she can someday be exalted. If we are to be great in God’s eyes we must first be brought low. Suffering can give us the humility we need to ultimately be thought of highly by the Lord.
11. Suffering may ultimately be how God brings us home. This was the case of the woman I wrote about at the beginning of this post. The suffering of cancer that leads to death is ultimately a good thing for the Christian because once death has happened we are at home with the Lord.
I’d love to hear more from you to add to the list!