Finding Meaning in Suffering

As a participant in my church’s intercessory prayer ministry I am reminded regularly of the sufferings of fellow Christians. The church has a prayer room with cards that record the needs of the congregation. Members of the prayer team come to the room during the week to pray for the sick, for the church and its leaders, and for our community and nation.

There seem to be many people who battle cancer and its effects. Words like chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and remission show up quite often on those prayer cards. For some, it seems to be a life and death struggle. They depend on the church for emotional support and for prayers for their physical healing.

Several years ago I was counseling a woman who was angry at God because her husband had died of cancer. She refused to let go of her bitterness. She would not trust in any God who would allow suffering to continue.

Like some who argue for atheism, the problem of human suffering was, for her, an obstacle to belief in a God who is kind and good. This was an intensely personal issue. The suffering and death of her husband seemed pointless and without justification.

I’m not sure how my words may have influenced her thinking. It takes faith to believe that human suffering may accomplish a God-given purpose. Romans 8:28 is not a panacea, but a promise that for those who love the Lord, even bad things, like cancer, can, in God’s providence “work together for good.”

Earlier this year I read a book entitled God Meant it for Good, by R.T. Kendall. It is a retelling and interpretation of the story of Joseph the son of Jacob (Genesis 37-50). In his youth he was hated by his brothers. They sold him into slavery and he was transported to Egypt where he was subject to years of unjust treatment and imprisonment. Kendall makes the point again and again that God had a purpose for the trials Joseph had to endure.

Joseph’s character was refined and developed by his sufferings. The Lord was with him in his in his difficulties. In God’s time he was released from prison. In God’s plan he found himself in the presence of the Pharaoh who promoted him to second in command in Egypt! In that position he was able to save many lives, including those of his own family. He forgave his brothers saying, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

This is not to imply that suffering is good. Of course not. But it is a recognition that God is able to turn suffering inside out and use it to accomplish a good purpose. As a pastor I have heard people say things like, “I would never have wished this upon myself, but I wouldn’t trade anything for the spiritual growth I have experienced through these circumstances.”

In his book The Reason for God, Tim Keller wrote, “If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know. Indeed, you can’t have it both ways.”

The God of the Bible entered our world of suffering in the person of Jesus Christ. He experienced the worst depths of cruelty and pain. He identifies with us in our sufferings. He promised, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He knows how we feel.

Keller added, “Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, and imprisonment. On the cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection in pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceed ours. In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and god-forsaken. Why did he do it? The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.”

Is it enough to know that God has an unseen purpose in our sufferings? Is it enough to know that he understands our present sorrows and pain? Perhaps not as we see things now. Christianity does not provide an easy explanation for our sufferings. But faith in Jesus promises resurrection unto eternal life. It promises a new creation and the restoration of all things. Then there will be no more death when he makes all things new. Surely that will be enough.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

 

 

A Prayer for America

In a famous letter to his wife Abigail,  dated July 3, 1776, John Adams encouraged the celebration of Independence Day “by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”

Let Adams’s words (he was a devout Christian), remind us to pray for America on this national holiday. How should we pray for our nation? I can think of several important prayer requests: for our governmental leaders, for the healing of divisions, for the 2024 elections, for freedom to express our faith, for protection from all enemies, foreign and domestic, for forgiveness of our nation’s sins against a holy God.

The Book of Common Prayer provides us with a beautiful prayer for the nation. If you are inclined to join me in this, I humbly recommend that you use it as a guide to your praying for America today.

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with a spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Now, having prayed, go enjoy your barbecue and fireworks, which President Adams also recommended for the celebration!

May God bless America.

Pastor Randy Faulkner