Posted on March 1, 2013 by John Rabe
Just before Christmas, we were visited with another painful reminder that we live in a fallen world full of sin and suffering, as a man opened fire at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 26 people20 of them small children.
In the wake of such massive suffering, our hearts cry out with questions that are not easily answered. God does not choose to give us the why of every individual bit of suffering. But He does provide us with the amazing promise that in His infinite love, wisdom, and sovereignty, [a]ll things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 nkjv).
This is no glib or pat answer to the problem of suffering. Perhaps if God were merely watching us, from a distance (in the words of a popular song from the 90s), the promise of Romans 8:28 would be thin comfort. But God is not merely watching us from a distance, nor is He mindlessly orchestrating suffering like a boy burning insects with a magnifying glass. Our God, in the person of Jesus Christ, has entered into our suffering and experienced it alongside us. Indeed, our Heavenly Father knows exactly what its like to see an innocent son murdered. And in Jesus Christ, we have a great high priest who is able to sympathize with us in all our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).
As Joni Eareckson Tada puts it, When I hurt, He feels the sting in His chest; He resonates with my pain; He identifies.1
Joni knows that of which she speaks. Wheelchair-bound since a diving accident left her a quadriplegic more than 40 years ago, and wracked by pain each day, Joni also recently suffered the rigors of chemotherapy after a 2010 breast cancer diagnosis. Yet she is a hero to millions of Christians because of her steadfast perseverance in the face of suffering. Like the rest of us, Joni cant account for every instance of suffering thats come her way, but she presses forward through faith in the promises of God.
I know that everything I do down here on earth and the stewardship I have of this paralysis, gives me the chance to increase my capacity for joy and worship and service in heaven. And I don’t want to lose steam in that fight; I want to keep on, says Joni.
Her striving is not merely a stoic attempt to complete a task. Instead, it’s a profound faith in the promises of God, which have been sealed and validated in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In the final analysis, while suffering is the result of humanity’s fall into sin, God does not always reveal to us the reason for each specific bit of pain we experience, and often there is no obvious cause-effect correspondence. We can become disheartened when we see the unrighteous prosper while God-honoring people suffer greatly. The writer of Hebrews observed that, while a few of the great heroes of the faith saw earthly success, many others were tortured, flogged, and even sawn in two (Hebrews 11:32-38).
So what do we, as Christians, make of our own suffering? The Apostle Paul experienced extraordinary suffering in his own life. As he traveled the world preaching the Gospel, he was persecuted, beaten to within an inch of his life, shipwrecked, and eventually executed. Yet he could say that this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17 esv).
Paul was not playing some mental game or engaging in the power of positive thinking. Rather, he consciously chose to view his very real suffering through the lens of eternity and through faith in the promises of an all-good, all-wise, all-loving Father whose Son shared our afflictions. Paul knew that all his suffering was purposeful that it was achieving something on his behalf. We do not always know why suffering comes, but we do know that Christ redeems all of it, and that each bit of it will affect and enhance every moment of the eternity we will spend with God.
1 Interview with Truth in Action Ministries, Feb. 20, 2012