Lessons on Suffering: Introduction

September 8, 2019
Lessons on Suffering: Introduction

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. —John 16:33

(1) Limited Knowledge.

We should begin with an obvious point, as if you didn’t already know it, but I do not have all of the answers to the questions you may have on this subject over the next several weeks. And yet, I do not want you to ever think that the Lord has not provided enough in the Scriptures to guide us. He does give sufficient light to our paths. I also do not want you to ever get the idea that I am not willing to address the most difficult of questions. We are not those Christians who just dismiss difficult questions as if they don’t matter. We owe more than that to ourselves, to one another, and to our youth.

Moreover, while Bridget and I have endured a few hardships in our lives, that we do not talk much about, I confess that I have not suffered like some of you have or are suffering even now. But I do want you to know that I empathize with you and want what’s best for you and will do what I can to ease your burdens. You should know that I love you.

(2) The Reality of Suffering.

Pain and suffering are very real experiences. We do not want to deny that fact or neglect it. Christ promised trials and persecutions; believers have struggled throughout history just as much as anyone else; Luther basically taught that to be a Christian requires three things: prayer, study, and trials (adapted from Horton).

(3) Prosperity Gospel Errors.

Pop-culture Christianity makes the problem that much worse because it promotes the false idea that Christians should not suffer. It follows after New Age ideas like mind over matter, the magic of positive thinking, word of faith concepts like speaking things into existence. Prosperity preachers teach that if you have enough faith, you will not get sick and you will not struggle. They promise health and wealth.

Even for those of us who don’t believe the whole of the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity doctrine, we are still affected by it. We often question ourselves when trials come. We ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” And, “Is God mad at me; is He punishing me?” Or we say, “Maybe I haven’t been a good enough Christian or had enough faith or done enough good deeds.” Let me assure you, Christian, that suffering is notalways due to your sins. God does not operate on a “enough faith” kind of system. Our Lord taught us that if we just have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains.

(4) The Essence of the Problem.

Christians believe that God is omniscient (all knowing), correct?  We believe that God is omnipotent (all powerful), right?  And Christians believe that God is omnibenevolent (all good/loving), true?

If these things are all true of God, then why does He allow evil, suffering, and pain to persist in this world and, especially, in the lives of His children?

Many have claimed that all three of these things cannot be logically true of God. For example, if God is all-loving and He is all-powerful, then why does He not stop the horrific storms in this world and terrible diseases and all the like? There would be nothing to stop Him—at least not from our finite vantage point.

And that is where we must begin as we think about these things. We should not conclude there but begin there as we open our Bibles to see what God has said. The Bible actually provides many answers to these gut-wrenching subjects. I believe that a biblical, Christian worldview is the most coherent perspective offered and provides the most answers to these problems. Everyone on this planet must grapple with these issues, no one is immune from suffering, pain, and death, but biblical Christianity provides the most help by way of worldview. It is the most consistent.

(5) Sample List of Different Types/Terms

Natural Evil: We live in a fallen world
Satanic Evil: The devil and the demons are active
Suffering: A more general term for all kinds of things
Pain: Suffering, or unpleasant feelings, felt in the physical body.
Death: The moments and the culmination of termination of life, which is itself the wages of sin.
Disappointment: When we do not meet up to our own or others’ expectations.
Persecution: Poor treatment by others precisely because you’re a Christian.
Divine Discipline: The Lord uses punishment to teach His children to do right.