Suffering in the Christian Life-
Does God cause suffering or merely allow it?
March 23-28, 2008
KLMX Ministerial Alliance
1st Baptist Church, Des Moines, NM
Hello KLMX listeners! We’ve been talking this week about suffering in the Christian life. I’ve covered quite a bit of territory this week, from establishing the presence of suffering in the Bible, then to asking the question “Who suffers?”, and then moving on to “Why do we suffer?” I’ve used Scripture verses to answer these questions and only used 1/3 of the verses that are applicable. Today, I’d like to look at the question “Does God cause suffering or does He only allow it?” This is a controversial question! I’ve talked to so many people who say “God is a God of love! He never causes suffering! That’s what Satan does!” Well, let’s see what the Bible says.
As I’ve said all this week, I stand on 3 foundations. Those foundations are, again, as follows.
1) The Bible is inerrant, infallible, and 100% sufficient for our needs. Sola Scriptura.
2) God is truly Almighty. He is sovereign over all things.
3) All things work to the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria.
I’ve discussed all 3 of these in previous messages, which you can find on our church website at www.fbcdesmoines.org. I will ask God to bless this message, to open your hearts and eyes to the truth of Scripture, to His glory, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.
The question is “Does God cause suffering or does He only allow it?” Never mind what I say, let’s see what Scripture says. Yesterday, I used a passage from Deuteronomy 8. Here it is again:
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. (3) So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
In this passage, “He humbled you” and “allowed you to hunger”. We could stop right there and say “See! God only allows suffering!” But let me ask this question- “Who is ultimately responsible from the Hebrew’s hunger?” Are the Hebrews responsible? Did their lack of foraging skills cause their hunger? The passage says that “the LORD your God led you.” So, God is the one leading them around in the wilderness. As their guide, he leads them to water, and to food. Also note what happens after God allows them to hunger “…he fed you with manna.” If God allowed them to hunger, he certainly actively stopped that hunger. We know that all good gifts are from above (James 1:17). If God stops His blessings will have no good gift, only bad ones. By stopping His blessings, God allows suffering to happen. But there’s more to the story. We have to take the full counsel of Scripture and not just one or two verses out of context. That was the trick Satan tried in Matthew 4.
Let’s move on to Job. You knew I was going there, didn’t you? In Job Chapter 1 we see Satan coming before the throne of God and petitioning Him for the right to harass Job. First, note that Satan cannot lay a finger on Job until God gives him permission. Again, this would seem to indicate that God does not actually cause suffering, but only permits it. To me this seems like the kind of logic used by Don Corleone in the movie “The Godfather”. The Don never actually killed anyone himself- his hit men did the dirty work. But, again I ask, who was ultimately responsible? The hit man or Don Corleone? I assure that they’re both going to jail.
However, do not get me wrong- I’m not accusing God of doing evil here. Remember from our study yesterday and from the Deuteronomy passage I just used that suffering is used to test our hearts and to expose dross that needs to be skimmed off so that we can move closer to God. God uses suffering for his purpose, when necessary. Let’s go back to Job. After he’s lost his family, all of his belongings, and is afflicted with boils, Job’s response is this:
Job 1:20-22 Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. (21) And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD." (22) In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.
To whom does Job attribute his losses? Do you see a single word about Satan in his response? I do not. I see him saying “”The Lord gave, and he Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” And that this is a correct response is shown by the statement “In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” Job is not angry with God at all. That would be a sin. Instead, Job accepts his suffering as being from the hand of God. Here’s another passage:
Job 2:9-10 Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!" (10) But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
What faith Job has in the Lord! He replies to his wife’s near-blashemous urgings with “Shall we indeed accept good from God and shall we not accept adversity?” Again, Job credits God directly for his suffering and again Job “did not sin with his lips.” So, did God cause Job’s suffering or did He merely allow it? Well, “yes” in both senses. Satan caused the actual suffering, but by removing his hand God certainly made the suffering a surety, especially knowing that Satan’s attention was on Job. But again, don’t take my word for it. Turn to the last chapter in Job and read this passage:
Job 42:10-11 And the LORD restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. (11) Then all his brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him and ate food with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the LORD had brought upon him.
Who does the author credit for Job’s suffering in this last chapter? The brothers and sisters gathered together and “and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the LORD had brought upon him.” Is there any question that God is credited for this adversity? Yet we see the end result of this in the statement “Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” And think of Job’s relationship with God now! Has it increased? I dare say it’s probably quadrupled.
So, was Job’s suffering worth it? Was a better relationship with God worth suffering? Paul, Peter, and James seemed to think so. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says:
2 Corinthians 12:9 … Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, (7) that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
And James says:
James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, (3) knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (4) But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Job, Peter, Paul, James certainly seemed to think that suffering was worth the cost, if it brings us closer to God. So, does God actively cause suffering or passively allow it? How about if we say that He actively allows it? That is, when God removes His hand, suffering is certain to happen. It’s also certain that when God ordains suffering, that He has a purpose in mind. Therefore, when suffering happens, it’s not because God is a mean ol’ bully up in Heaven or it’s not because He can’t control evil powers, but it’s because He desires to remove some dross in our lives to further purify us and conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:28). Do you know the hymn “How Firm A Foundation”? It expresses this great truth.
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
Proverbs 16:4 gives us a hint of the relationship between God and evil:
Proverbs 16:4 The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.
And if we think that God is just a kind grandfatherly type figure in Heaven, then we must deal with this passage:
Deuteronomy 32:39 'Now see that I, even I, am He, And there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.
Let us not forget this verse:
Deuteronomy 4:24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
And yet God loves His children. He only designs thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine. So when calamities and suffering strike us, do we say as Job’s wife “Curse God and die!” or do we say as Job said “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" I’m going to jump all the way to 1 Peter to get this passage:
1 Peter 5:6-7 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, (7) casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
The word “under” in this verse- “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…”- is a submissive “under”. The centurion used it when speaking to Jesus when he said “I have men under me.” It means, basically, that we proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and we mean it. If Jesus deems that some suffering will clean dross from us, then so be it. If we truly desire a closer walk with God, the result is worth it. Paul says- and Paul knew a thing or two about suffering- in Romans:
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not making light of suffering and I’m in no way saying that it’s easy. Suffering is painful, agonizing, and seems never-ending. When Job was scraping boils off his skin, he hurt. But, what I am saying is that God-induced suffering is for the Christian’s eventual good. We have imperfections and impurities that must be removed by fire. One of these impurities is simple good ol’ self-reliance. We think we can do it all; we don’t need God today. In fact, God, if you just want to take the day off, I’ll give you a call when I need you! Brother, if you think that, watch your step! Here’s Paul again:
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. (9) Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
Paul says that his suffering was for the explicit purpose “that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” Jeremiah says this:
Jeremiah 17:5-7 Thus says the LORD: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD. (6) For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. (7) "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD.
Once again, we’re running out of time all too soon. Let’s quickly review- if God is sovereign, then nothing happens outside of His will or control. Yes, Satan may be the actual tool that brings our suffering, but he can do nothing except what God allows or even commands. And since Jesus is Lord and we are to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, we should adopt Job’s attitude and the attitude of Paul, Peter, and James and accept suffering as something that is good for us. We cannot even do this on our own- God must grant us the ability and give us the strength. May He do so, to His glory. Amen!
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