In my previous article, I closed by stating some truths that I believe to be evident about God using supporting texts in the scriptures. My essential point was the presence of suffering does not negate the goodness and love of God. What it shows is a God who works all things according to His plan and His intent is always good. I shared with you that the aim of this article is to explain what that ‘good’ is and how God uses or allows suffering in our lives to bring this ‘good’ about.
I believe all things in this life work according to God’s will and purposes. As the passage in Ephesians quoted in the last article states, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (Ephesians chapter 1, verse 11, English Standard Version). The ‘good’ is anything that aligns with His purposes.
I also believe that this ‘good’ is meant to be eternal meaning, it doesn’t aim at being transitory or fleeting. I do believe that we can have things that are good, that pass from us and are thus temporary but its core is permanent. For example, marriage is a good thing but it is temporary. Jesus in speaking with both the Pharisees and Sadducees about who will a woman belong to at the resurrection, pointed out that at the resurrection, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (Matthew chapter 22, verse 30). Marriage is therefore temporary in nature but it serves an eternal good: it shapes believers to become more like Christ.
I think we can view suffering in a similar way. There is an eternal good that God is bringing about and He uses or allows suffering to bring this good about. Just as Paul the Apostle stated in 2 Corinthians 4, verse 17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (English Standard Version)
Consider this example. I recall in high school my time of doing Karate, starting at white belt like all the others. The training was brutal and in some cases painful, both as a result of exhaustion and also because of the blows inflicted on me. It then came to the point of my grading. I was being tested for my blue belt and the Sensei, my teacher, seemed so rough and harsh toward me. He would inflict blows on my body, to condition the body, and he never held back. At the end I was awarded my senior blue belt with an understanding, that the hard training was necessary to prepare and train me not just for my grading but for life, since my teacher wanted me to do well. Some of the hard and brutal tasks that he took me through did not negate his goodness, it showed him to be good.
C.S. Lewis in his book, ‘A Grief Observed’ reinforces the point. He says, “The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed - might grow tired of his vile sport - might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting.’
As we journey through this season of the Covid-19 pandemic and even other hardships, can we view these present sufferings through different lens? I would suggest three ways in which we can.
Firstly, God through these circumstances is fixing our gaze on what truly matters, the eternal. With all that life has to offer, its pleasures just as much as the pain, we can easily settle and assume that this is all that there is and will ever be. We tend to be creatures of sight, in that we see only what is before our physical eyes. We don’t tend to think very much about other things, like what happens after I die, and if God exists what does He have to say about my life and how it should be lived? These are important questions and they never seem to be asked when we are in a state of contentment, and so God has to fix our eyes on what matters, often through painful means.
I believe this experience varies for Christians. Jerry Bridges in his book ‘Who Am I’, gives a helpful perspective. He says, “...suffering in one form or another is the inevitable lot of most believers. And one of the many benefits of suffering is that it tends to draw us away from the allurements of this life, even the legitimate ones, and turns our attention to our eternal inheritance” for both Christians and non-Christians. C.S. Lewis in, ‘The Problem Of Pain’, shares rather astutely, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Though the experiences that Christians and non-Christians face may vary, the aim is the same: to fix our eyes on what eternally matters.
Secondly, God can and does use suffering to discipline us. This is not to say that the present crisis is Him doing so. We tend to see God “disciplining” us as Christians as punitive. I’d suggest looking on God’s discipline as pruning us like flowers to bloom. As Hebrews chapter 12, verses 10-11 tells us, “... He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant.” As painful as this can be, it is necessary for the good of Holiness to spring up in our lives.
Lastly, there is the good that comes to us through the pain of waiting or having things withheld for a greater good. We all at times have felt the pain of disappointment, the pain of waiting as well. After all, the Psalms are replete with statements of ‘how long, O Lord’. However, the bigger picture here is of God knowing what is best for us, and the timing that is best for us. He is not a God who withholds but freely gives and when He seemingly withholds, it is still for our good. As one person puts it, my ultimate security and good, is found in Him.
Don’t waste it
I want to close by highlighting the fact that suffering and pain are not God’s ultimate plan for us. We are told in Romans that death ultimately has come in because of sin. When we are tempted to look at all this brokenness without an explicit why, let us remind ourselves of what we know it not to be. It’s not because of an absence of love. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross demonstrates the fact that God loves us.
So as we journey through this life and we see the pain, as the late Jim Chew said to me once during my trip to Indonesia, “All leaders will face pain, doesn’t mean you go looking for it, but when it does come, don’t waste it.” My hope for you reader is that every good that God intended for you to have will be realised both now and in the life to come.
Paul Lewis is a Staff Worker for Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in Kingston Jamaica, where he also resides. He has aspirations of becoming a Christian Apologist and he loves reading especially topics like: History, Philosophy and Theology. You can follow him on twitter @VeritasDeiVinci