I recently heard a clinical psychologist talk about the God who allows suffering in life. He wasn’t a Christian, but what he said triggered a change in my perception of the world. He said that we struggle with a God who allows great suffering because we value safety and comfort, and that’s at odds with what God values. When I heard that, I almost stopped breathing. I won’t speak for anyone else but that’s the explanation for a big chunk of my resistance to God’s choices for my life. I am constantly viewing life through the lens of what I value, and not what God values!
Suffering and Destiny
I’m ashamed to say that much of my relationship with God has involved me asking Him why. “Why did You allow this?” “Why didn’t You stop this?” “Why didn’t You keep me safe here?” “Why didn’t You comfort me then?” The questions reveal my values: comfort and safety. But what does God value? Nothing He does is without purpose, so what is the purpose of my suffering?
I expect there are more than a few true answers to these questions, but I’d like to look specifically at the connection between destiny and suffering. The men and women highlighted by God in the Old Testament had great destinies and they suffered mightily for them. But suffering alone didn’t prepare them for these destinies; it was how they responded to God in their suffering that honed them into the person chosen to carry the will of God into the world.
How many Esthers and Josephs and Davids and Daniels lost their destiny because they responded to pain by turning their backs on God? I think about that often. One of the scariest passages of scripture is when God says to Elijah, “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18; Rom. 11:4). What a potent reminder that neither I nor any human being can impede the purpose of God; He is sovereign and His plans cannot and will not be thwarted. I can only reject and destroy my own destiny.
Trusting God in Suffering
Suffering affects our relationship with God. In suffering we tend to turn to God with fear, with desperation, with rage, or with acceptance. And maybe some or even all of those, one after another. Romans 1 says that every human being KNOWS that God is God, so somewhere inside, even if its buried deep down, we know that the buck stops with Him when it comes to suffering. And that means that every relationship with God must address the elephant in the room sooner or later.
There is a leap of faith we have to make when we suffer. Even with all evidence to the contrary, God is good and He is sovereign. We have faith that He is who He says He is, and we trust that He loves us. Depending on the circumstances, holding to that can be as fraught and painful as pulling your own tooth with a pair of pliers. But this is where relationship with God really matters.
How to Get Along With God in Suffering
Day by day I have the chance to invest in my relationship with the Lord. I can talk to Him, spend time with Him, listen for His voice in His word, choose to love Him with all that I am and have, and worship Him as the magnificent God He is. This is how I come to know God, and how I come to know how completely He knows and loves me. This is the foundation that girds us when the storms hit and suffering blooms.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
Psalm 34:19 NASB