Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword cannot. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth can disconnect us from our Lord. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (Roman 8:35-39 my paraphrase)
Suffering can bend and break us. In the Holy Spirit’s hands, hardship can also break us open to become more Christ-like people. What will we do with our pain? Will we become bitter? Or will we ask the Lord to make us better followers of Jesus? When difficulties drive us back to God, He can and does great things in and through us. The Spirit grows new life in us.1 Christ said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….Every branch that bears fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”2
Our Suffering Feels Worse When We Feel We Are Innocent
Romans 3:23 and the whole Bible teaches: “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” So no man, woman, girl, or boy is “innocent,” if by that we mean sinless. We are all born with a sinful nature inherited from Adam and Eve. And every human being has difficulties in this earthly life because we live in a fallen world. We are born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.3
But not all suffering is connected to our specific sins. The disciples asked Christ, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that God’s works might be displayed in him.”4 The blindness was not punishment for the man’s personal sin. The Lord ordained the suffering as part of His own mysterious plan and purpose for the salvation of the world.5
Psalm 44 says:
V. 17: We have not forgotten you, Lord. We’ve not been false to your covenant.
V. 18: We have not turned our hearts from you or strayed from your path.
V. 20: We have not worshiped foreign gods.
V. 21: You know our hearts, Lord. We have no secrets from you.
God’s people really didn’t know fully why they were suffering when Psalm 44 was written. They felt that they were trusting and obeying the Lord, but everything still went wrong. Have you ever felt like that?
We Are Not in Eden Anymore
Mark Lanier writes that we wish God ran the world like an ideal kindergarten class. Good things would be immediately praised and rewarded. And bad things immediately scolded and punished.6 But the Lord doesn’t work that way. That’s good, because otherwise we would all be consumed by God’s fire for our sins. Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise….Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”7
Psalm 44 and the rest of Scripture remind us that we’re not in Eden anymore. We got locked out of that garden long ago, so we shouldn’t expect perfectly happy circumstances now. We’re not in Eden, so we shouldn’t be too puzzled when things go wrong.8 Old Testament believers were living in the wilderness, awaiting Christ’s first coming. New Testament Christians still live as foreigners and exiles in enemy territory. We are happy that Christ has overcome the world, but eager for Jesus’ return. Only when Christ comes back will He wipe every tear from our eyes and take away all death, mourning, crying, and pain. Only then will Jesus’ followers re-enter paradise.9
God Can Get Glory Through Our Suffering
I have already mentioned the man born blind. Jesus said similar things when His friend Lazarus died. His sisters called for Christ, but the Lord delayed His visit until Lazarus was already dead and had been buried four days. Back when Lazarus’ health declined, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” When Jesus arrived, He went to the tomb and called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man was resuscitated. Because of this miracle, many Jews were convinced that Jesus was really the Son of God, and many believed on Him. Christ used the death of Lazarus to display His power and love and to save many other people at that time.10 For the past 2,000 years, Christ has saved millions of other people through the Bible’s account in John 11 and the Holy Spirit opening people’s hearts to believe God’s Scriptures.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33,36)
To be continued
Notes (various translations): 1 Adapted from a statement by author John Green. 2 John 15:1-2. 3 Job 5:7. 4 John 9:1-5. 5 1 John 4:14. 6 Psalms, April 10. 7 2 Peter 3:9. 8 Andrée Seu Peterson, World Magazine, August 4, 2011. 9 Rev 21:4. 10 See John chapter 11.