One of the most common questions of all time is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Why do the righteous suffer? Another question that sits like a book-end on the opposite side is, “Why do the unrighteous prosper?” (Psalm 73).
It is true that suffering can destroy you. It can overthrow your faith, especially during long seasons of delay, but suffering can also build you up in a way you would not have known otherwise. Our prisons are often of our own making because of how we see our pain.
Here are some misconceptions about suffering that plague many people:
All suffering is a result sin.
The disciples once asked Jesus, upon seeing a blind man, “Who sinned - this man or his parents?”. This was the natural assumption held during Jesus’ time. Yet Godly suffering can be a clear sign of divine favor.
It is said that “Job was a perfect and upright man” (Job 2:3).
Suffering means that life is bad. To some, suffering means there is something wrong with me, or I am doing something wrong. Where these possibilities can exist, we often overlook our culture’s response to suffering. We got our culture from the Greeks. The Greeks saw beauty and perfection as going together. If something was perfect, it had to be beautiful and if something was beautiful, it had to be perfect. This however does not work on a “street level”. If a person believes this, it must follow that when they are in an ugly situation, life is no longer perfect or beautiful. Paul counters this philosophy when he says, “In all these things we are more than conquerors”.
That the only thing to do with suffering is avoid it at all cost.
Running from pain is a natural reflex response. Running from our mountains and valleys however can keep us from overcoming them. We become escape artists at avoiding pain, filling our lives with things that make us feel good and alive. There is however a powerful element in facing them in all of their ugliness and holding on to God no matter what.
That suffering means God is displeased with me or doesn’t love me.
Note that in Isaiah 53 10, it says “It pleased God to bruise His son”. This tells us that there is a lot more to suffering than whether or not we please God. We often believe that God views us the way people view us - driven by emotion, moods, and external judgments. After God pronounced that He was well pleased with Jesus, “He (God) drove Him” (Jesus) into the desert to be tested of satan. Suffering can be a mark that God is pleased with you and wants to take you further in your walk.
That we must understand why suffering occurs.
The question isn’t “Why is there suffering”? Suffering is inevitable, but “What does God do with it”?
C.S. Lewis said that “Suffering is a necessary part in the creation of a stable world”. In great times of suffering however, it is a mistake to try to put a reason to what you’re going through, especially when it is out of your control. In fact, God never explains suffering; He recycles it. He did not give Job a treatise on why he went through his ordeal, but rather He recycled Job’s pain and gave him twice what he had previously lost. One thing we can know about suffering is that in God’s hands, it has redemptive purposes. The promise to The Suffering Messiah in Isaiah 53 was that, “And He (Jesus) shall see His seed and rejoice”.
In the end, Job’s three options when he faced with his great trial was, 1. Become bitter, 2. complain (which is the one many of us fall into) 3. Submit himself to God (believing that He would take care of it). In the end, the third option is the better road.