The events of the past week have really brought my focus to an area where Christians and non-Christians alike seem to have a lacking in understanding. I have even found myself asking some of these questions. And I have had to dig deep into God’s word to find some of the answers. The question that is most asked is-why is there suffering in the world today? If God is the all powerful, all knowing God who loves us so much, then why are people made to suffer? Scripture tells us that there is no searching his understanding. In other words there is no way that we can figure out his infinite wisdom. There is no way that we can even begin to try and understand all the thoughts, and all the reasons behind God’s mighty works. I have begun reading in the book of Job and have found the book full of information, particularly in dealing with human suffering. I read in Job chapter 11 “can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than heaven-what can you do? Deeper than Sheol-what can you know? Their measure is longer than the Earth and broader than the sea.”I think that the most direct and simplest answer to this question is-we just are not equipped with the ability to understand all of God’s will. There are times when we can see some aspects of God’s will. But we do not possess the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God; the understanding of the bigger picture that God sees. In Job 8 it says “for we were born yesterday, and know nothing, because our days on Earth are a shadow.”We are finite creatures trying to understand the infinite God. One lesson that I have learned from Job is that God is not the one causing the suffering. It is the wiles of Satan, the snare of the Fowler, the fiery darts of Satan that beat us down; that caused us so much grief and pain; that bring us to the point of despair. We live in a sin cursed world and no matter how righteous we live, no matter how many good things we do, no matter how close our walk with Jesus Christ is; we are still subject to the pangs of death and destruction. Until that day when Jesus returns and wipes all sin away from the world itself, then the curse on this world will be lifted. Jesus already dealt with the stain of sin in our souls, that is why those who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior can be saved from eternal death, but because Jesus has not yet dealt with the world our physical bodies must still go through the affliction of disease, injury, and even death. The Bible does however illustrate many aspects of God many characteristics of God, which allow us to piece together a picture of who God is in his relationship to us. This is a picture that only pertains to us. This picture shows us what we need to see of God in order to be able to have some understanding of how he relates to us. I believe that for others, let’s say the Angels, God has created a more detailed picture for their understanding of him.
I think that there is a more important question to ask here. I think that in order to understand why God allows suffering that we first need to ask what is suffering? Suffering and affliction are two words that we can use interchangeably. They refer to a condition of physical or mental distress or pain. There are many types of affliction talked about in the Bible. There is national affliction, resulting from the oppression of a political entity. There is social affliction, resulting from a perversion of the law. There is moral affliction, as God’s retribution for sin. And there is also natural and spiritual affliction. I’m mostly going to be talking about natural affliction today. In some respects one could probably say that affliction is the opposite of a blessing. Blessing generally refers to an act of God pouring out his favor upon someone. Where as affliction is an act of Satan pouring out his wrath upon humanity. So now we have established where affliction comes from-it comes from Satan. They can even establish that God is aware of our afflictions. One thing which I have not mentioned is that, and I need to be very careful how I say this, God allows affliction. We read in several places in Job that Satan seeks to humiliate Job and God gives him permission to hurt Job in many ways, but in God still in control, limits what Satan can do. God denies Satan, our accuser the right to kill Job. Even with all the attacks of Satan, God holds the power over Job’s life. Even Satan with all his abilities is limited to do only what God allows. So you might be thinking-doesn’t that mean that God does evil? No. in Luke 18 verse 19 Jesus gives testimony and states “None is good, save one, that is, God.” I don’t think that I have to go into deep explanation here. Jesus meant just what he said. God is the only one that is all good. In taking Jesus’ statement a step further, we can glean an understanding that everything God does is good, even if it may seem evil to us-God meant it for good. In Genesis 50 verse 20 it is written “but as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” So what does this mean? No matter how many lemons are thrown our way God is the greatest lemonade maker in all the universe. God makes a whole lot of lemonade out of the lemons or the afflictions of our life. We will always have affliction in our lives.
Although we may at times be bombarded with a barrage of afflictions there is still a purpose, there is still a reason for those tough times we go through. The purpose of affliction is to show the power of Christ. We read in Second Corinthians 12 verses 8-9 “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Jesus shows us just how mighty he can be. With all the power of the Holy Spirit, with all the wisdom of God; Jesus demonstrates to us just how great he is. I am reminded of a favorite hymn “How Great Thou Art”: O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made. I see the light, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul my savior God to thee. How great thou art, How great thou art.” It is also important to understand just how great God is. In Job chapter 12 we read beginning in verse 13 ”with him are wisdom and strength, he has counsel and understanding. If he breaks a thing down, it cannot be rebuilt; if he imprisons a man, there can be no release. If he withholds the waters, they dry up; if he sends them out, they overwhelm the Earth. With him are strength and prudence. The deceived and the deceiver are his.”That is just part of how great God is. Everything that he allows to happen happens as part of his design. He created everything and is the master of it all. Everything that he allows to happen results in the designed outcome of his creation. If he stops the rain, then the land dries up, crops fail and people go thirsty. Notice the end of this verse. The deceived and the deceiver are his. Although the original reference to the deceived and the deceiver does not literally point to a specific individual; we can through application gain an understanding that Satan, who is also known as the great deceiver or the father of lies, is under God’s control and part of his creation. As well as those that are deceived by him. Who would that be? Every person who has ever sinned. That means every human being.
Affliction produces results. And what are these results? What are the results of affliction? Discipline. The discipline of affliction produces strong faith. In Job chapter 5 we read “behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. For he bruises, but he binds up; he wounds, but his hands make whole. He shall deliver you in six troubles, yes, in seven no evil shall touch you. In famine he shall read to you from death, and in war from the power of the sword. You shall be hidden from the scorge of the tongue, and you shall not be afraid of destruction when it comes. You shall laugh at destruction and famine, and you shall not be afraid of the beasts of the earth. For you shall have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with you.”You see the things that we endure teach us and grow us. It is like steel in a forge. It is heated to the point of weakness. Then it is hammered into shape. And then it is quickly submerged and rapidly cooled. This makes the steel stronger. It makes the steel more refined, more pure. The fires of life burn away the impurities of a worldly sinful life. The hammer shapes us into God’s design. The water gives us the life of a perfected creation. The water completes us. We read in several places throughout the Gospel of John that Jesus Christ is the water of life. Christian are we not to be conformed to his image?
So when affliction comes our way what should we do? How do we respond to affliction? As a response to affliction, the believer should pray. In Psalm 25 beginning in verse 16 we read “turn your self to me and have mercy on me, for I am desolate and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have enlarged; bring me out of my distresses! Look upon my affliction and my pain, and forgive all my sins.”What a simple yet very direct, right to the point prayer. Calling out to God to take notice of our situation. And calling on God to have mercy on us, to not give us what we deserve. In James chapter 5 we read “is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”Prayer is the first and greatest thing you can do when dealing with those times when affliction hits you hard, or when affliction hits your brothers and sisters in Christ. If we look back at Job we see how affliction hits him, and hits him hard. We read in the first chapter of Job that the Sabeans raided Job’s lands and took all 500 donkeys and all 1000 oxen that he had plus killed all the servants that were with them. And as Job was hearing this news another servant came in telling how all of his 7000 sheep were burned up along with the servants that were with them. And as Job was hearing this news another messenger came in to tell him that the Chaldeans attacked and took away all of his 3000 camels and killed all the servants that were with them. And if things couldn’t get any worse, which they did. Another servant comes in and tells Job that while his seven sons and three daughters were feasting a great wind came up and knocked down the house they were in thus killing all of Job’s children. Have you ever had a day like that? I don’t think that many of us could say that we have been afflicted as Job was that day. Perhaps we’ve come close. It would be like losing your car, your house, your job, your family, your life savings and being left with a nagging wife and some friends that wanted to give you bad advice and knew exactly why you were being made to suffer so much. But I want you to notice what Job did. In Chapter 1 verse 20 we read “then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said… the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”Job got down on the ground and he worshiped God and prayed.
So is prayer all that we need to do? Is it enough to just pray to God? No. We have a responsibility and we should have a desire to do more. We need to comfort others. In second Corinthians chapter 1 we read “blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”God gives us comfort in our affliction that we may comfort others in their affliction. In James Chapter 1 verse 27 we read “pure and undefiled religion before God and the father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”We also read beginning in first John chapter 3 verse 16 “by this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But who ever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”Church we need to get involved in other peoples afflictions. We cannot sit by and watch them suffer and do nothing. These verses which I have read charge the Christian to go out and be a physical source of comfort. These verses challenge us to not sit idly by. These verses challenge us to not try and throw money at a problem to make it go away. These verses challenge us to go out and be with our brothers and sisters in Christ in order that we may comfort them. This is not just the job of the pastor or the Deacons. This is a charge, the responsibility of every Christian to every brother and sister in Christ. In first Thessalonians 5:11 it is written “therefore comfort each other and edify one another.”There is little comfort in asking someone who is going through a period of affliction, if they need you. That is not being there for them. That is saying I thought about you, and I just couldn’t take the time to be there by your side for you. There is no comfort when you’re not doing anything. You need to be actively involved in comforting your brothers and your sisters in Christ because they need your strength. When your brother or sister is suffering from affliction then part of the church is hurt. If you do not tend to them faithfully and in person you can not restore the complete fellowship of the church. You may in fact cause part of your church to fall away feeling discouraged and unwanted.
So you’re praying up a storm, and you’re comforting others is that all there is to do? No. You need to remain faithful. And how do you remain faithful? You remain faithful through patient endurance. In 2 Corinthians chapter 6 verse four we read “but in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses.”This verse needs a little translation from the original Greek. Roughly translated it states that in everything we must stand as servants of God. And we stand in much patience, troubles, needs, distresses. We are charged to do, to serve with these qualities. In Romans five we read “we glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces patience; and patience, character; and character, hope.”We also read in Romans 15 “for whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus.”Here we learn that the forging of affliction in our lives will cause us to do things that otherwise we might not do. Those things include praying, and comforting others. While we do this we develop patience. We develop the ability to endure. In James 5:11 we read “indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the patience of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord-that the Lord is a very compassionate and merciful.”Our patience in enduring our affliction can give us hope that otherwise we would not have.
With all that we have done to deal with affliction we now get results. In James Chapter 1 beginning in verse two we read “my brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing… Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.” in Job 8 it is also written “behold, God will not cast away the blameless, nor will he uphold the evildoers. He will yet fill your mouth with laughing, and your lips with rejoicing. Those who hate you will be closed with shame, and the dwelling place of the wicked will come to nothing.” The trials that we face help to shape us into the Christians that God desires us to be. These afflictions can be used to turn us away from sin and turn us back to God-we call that repentance. These afflictions can be used to show others just how great God is. These afflictions can be used to bring his church together in love and comfort. And from that love and comfort we can become faithful to his calling in our lives to serve one another and in doing so we develop patience. And with that patience we can develop joy because we have become conformed to his image. And that joy will bring us reward in heaven, because when we receive that crown we will also hear Jesus say well done thou good and faithful servant… Enter thou into the joy of the Lord.
Affliction has been around since Adam and Eve first sinned. Affliction will one day end and be no more. But not for a while, we know of the great tribulation that is coming. Jesus said in John 16 verse 33 “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.”We can also take joy in knowing that all our affliction will one day end. What a great day that will be. In Revelation 21 it is written “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”Christian live as the Bible teaches you to live. Don’t sit on the sidelines expecting other people to do the work that God himself has called you to do. Stand up and be the ministers that he desires of you, that he designed you to be. Take care of his church. Take care of his children who are your brothers and sisters. Lift up those who are afflicted in prayer. Go to them and be a source of comfort. Endure patiently that you may remain faithful and produce hope when it seems like all there is is despair. And cultivate an attitude of joy because you are shaped in his image. And take joy in the fact that one day all suffering will end and God will reign supreme.