Tag Archives: Suffering

Editorial: Suffering (May/June, 2016) — Steve Miller, Guest Editor

This issue of the Carolina Messenger presents studies surrounding suffering, from the Christian worldview.

Suffering is an inevitable part of life.  Physical illness, disease, injuries, broken relationships, death, persecution, natural disasters, and wars; from the consequences of our own choices, as well as the choices of others; remind us that many aspects of affliction, pain and sorrow plague our lives here on the earth.  Job said, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1, ESV).

We sometimes ask like Gideon: “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us” (Judg 6:13)?  What should our response as Christians be to pain and suffering?  We question, “Why me?  Why now?  What is God doing or not doing”?

Is there a more beneficial way for me to respond to suffering when it enters my personal life? Is there anything I can learn from it?  Does my response to human suffering demonstrate faith?  Does it demonstrate my love for God and Christ, or for Christ-like character?  What about my commitment? My priorities?  How can God use suffering in my life to help me, assist someone else, or, fulfill His purpose?

Brother Thomas B. Warren received an invitation to speak on a lectureship in 1963 on the subject, “Christ, Our Contemporary in Suffering.”  Previous to this time,  he had prepared a manuscript on suffering.  It was well received and he continued to study and add to the material eventually publishing it into a book, Our Loving God: Our Sun and Shield.  It has served as a meaningful study of suffering as a Christian.

In that volume, Dr. Warren observed the depth of loss Job experienced and how he still maintained his trust in God:

When one loses his possessions, he can usually gain strength and assurance from his children, his wife, his friends.  If he still has his good health and his sense of his place and worth as an individual, he can gain strength and comfort from them and launch out anew.  If one also loses (in addition to his wealth), his health, and his children, he can still grasp the hand of his wife, and the two may give strength to one another.  But when Job lost his wealth, his children, and his health, his wife also failed him.  If, after his wife had failed him, he had retained his good health, he might have gone on alone.  A healthy body gives one a vitality of outlook which is difficult to attain when one is in ill health.  But even after Job had lost everything upon which many human beings depend, he retained his faith in the one true living God (National Christian Press, Inc., Colleyville, 2003; 96).

Trusting God in times of suffering is the only avenue that will support our peace of mind and patient perseverance.  Trust in our Heavenly Father will cause us to:

Accept suffering and not blame God.  We must realize we may never understand “why” (Isa 55:8-9).

Acknowledge the inevitability of death.  As Christians, we view with eternity in focus, not years on earth (Ps 90:10).

Always strive to be obedient to the Will of God.  The perfect example of Christ is our pattern in the realm of suffering and obedience. “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb 5:7-9). We have the choice to make pain and suffering a part of the process of growing our faith.

Jesus Christ trusted God the Father through His pain and suffering. “…When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:21-23). “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.  O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you” (Ps 84:11-12)!

A special thank you to the writers of this issue.  It is our hope that the content is beneficial to you or someone you know.

-Steve Miller

stevemiller67@gmail.com

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Prayer and Suffering — Jeff Lovitt

Years ago, C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book entitled The Problem of Pain.  It is a great discussion of the subject from a theological perspective.  A few years afterward, his wife was diagnosed with cancer.  He started keeping a journal of the time he had left with her, documenting their experiences and the struggles of faith it presented.  This was later put into a book entitled, A Grief Observed.  The notable thing between the two books was that the logic and theology of the first melted under the prolonged and progressive pain chronicled by the second.  Faith was stretched to its breaking point when actual pain dominated their lives.   All the negative emotions, bitter questions, and challenges to faith come out in that journal.  Yet as time passed and he continued chronicling their experience, he finally come to peace with God.

When reading the book of Job, one realizes the disadvantage Job had in not seeing “behind the curtain” with the view we are given.  He could not see the end result while enduring his pain.  Starkly obvious, as he himself noted, he had no mediator between himself and God (Job 9:32-33) through which he could get answers.  He couldn’t understand the reason for his suffering after his thorough and consistent efforts to be righteous.  Having no direct line of communication in order to redress his grievances with God, he became frustrated:  “Behold, I cry, ‘Violence!’ but I get no answer; I shout for help, but there is no justice. “He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass; And He has put darkness on my paths” (Job 19:7-8).

Job illustrates the predicament of all who believe in God but have no direct knowledge of His will or purposes, or that there now IS a mediator between ourselves and God (1 Tim. 2:5).

Job also speaks to that associated pain of loneliness, when even friends fail the sufferer:  “He has removed my brothers far from me, And my acquaintances are completely estranged from me. My relatives have failed, And my intimate friends have forgotten me” (Job 19:13-14).

Job had friends all right.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to sympathize with him (Job 2:11), and for seven days did not speak a word because “they saw that his pain was very great” (Job 2:13).  Their blunder came in not leaving it at that and perhaps offering to help him take care of those things he wasn’t able to do.  They eventually felt that they had to open their mouths and offer their opinions as the reason for Job’s suffering.

Though the church should visit more, and especially those who are suffering, some (like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) are not especially suited for this ministry.  Great sensitivity must be exercised in visiting the suffering.  You can’t just say, “My uncle had that, and he died!”  Or, “You know, if you’d have paid more attention to your health, you wouldn’t be in this situation.”  The suffering one does not need to be visited by modern-day friends such as that!  The best visit to the suffering does not require much to be said at all.  Just a gentle touch, an understanding smile, a direct look into the eyes, and a heartfelt “I love you and am praying for you” does wonders.  The suffering one is already impressed that you took time to come see them, and understands that they are important to you.

Most importantly, know and remember that we DO have a mediator between ourselves and God—the ONLY one so qualified, Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5-6)!  He has opened up for us “a new and living way” into the presence of God Almighty, that we may have confidence to be heard in prayer (Heb 10:19-22)!  Consider what lessons that suffering teaches us:

1) Suffering Teaches Us To Lean on God, Not Ourselves.  The apostle Paul shared the circumstances under which he learned this lesson.  Because of the great revelations he was given, to keep him from exalting himself, God gave him “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).  He prayed three times that God would remove it.  Any one of us who has suffered can understand repeatedly asking God for help for our suffering in prayer.  During Paul’s third prayer God answered him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  (2 Cor 12:9).  Accepting this, he proclaimed: “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong”  (2 Cor 12:10).  When have you ever heard of anyone praying, thanking God for their suffering?  Quite the opposite!  We, like Paul, pray that God will remove the pain, when we need to learn what Paul learned, and thank God for showing us we need to trust in Him more!

2. Suffering enables us to show not just sympathy, but true empathy toward others who are suffering.  The subtle difference is important.  We should be sympathetic and show compassion for the troubles in which people find themselves.  But empathy means actually being able to feel their pain because we’ve gone through their experience ourselves.  But you can’t be empathetic if you’ve never suffered.  You can’t KNOW their pain unless you know their pain!  The Scripture testifies, “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 affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor 1:3-5).  The person who has not endured suffering cannot fathom what someone else is going through.  I was reawakened forcefully to this truth not long ago.  A friend of mine lost his mother some years ago.  I was there for him and visited her in her final days.  I showed sympathy, love, and was very genuine in my desire to bring them comfort.  Then, in the summer of 2014, I lost MY mother.  The reality of this hit me hard.  But it opened my eyes even wider.  I shared with my friend (who himself recently passed away) that while I wanted to share his grief in losing his mother, I didn’t fully understand it till my own mother died.

He just smiled and said, “I understand.”  The empathy that filled that conversation (on both sides) was much richer than any well meaning words of sympathy I had offered earlier. He wanted to share his grief in losing his mother, I didn’t fully understand it till my own mother died.  He just smiled and said, “I understand.”  The empathy that filled that conversation (on both sides) was much richer than any well meaning words of sympathy I had offered earlier.  We must first learn through suffering, and trusting God in prayer through that suffering, to truly be able to help others in their suffering.   It adds a richness—because of the pain—that can exist in no other way.  Therefore, even pain becomes a blessing when used to serve others.

3) Suffering enables us not only to empathize with others who have suffered the same pain, but as 2 Cor 1:3-5 also teaches, it qualifies us to empathize with and offer comfort to “those who are in ANY affliction.”  It is true that personal pain is unique pain.  No one can know with exact certainty how someone feels when going through pain.  Having said that, your own pain—and more importantly how you deal with it, if you lean on God and remain constant in faith and in prayer—does enable you to offer true comfort to others in their pain, even if you haven’t gone through exactly what they are going through.  It keeps you interested in their struggle.  It prevents you from sounding dismissive and uninterested when they open up to you.  And . . .

4) Suffering forces you to look inward, upward, then outward.  Inwardly—You have to assess the strength of your faith.  Will you believe when faith ceases being just a theory and has to face hard, difficult facts?  Can you trust God when you don’t know or can’t see the outcome, and when the real possibility for the future is not what you would want? When you realize that you are not in control?  Upwardly—Will you get angry at God?  Will you face the Scripture, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” (Phil 1:21) and believe it, or will you fight tooth and claw for life HERE, demonstrating that you walk after the flesh, and not by the Spirit?  (Rom 8:2-11).  Outwardly—Having decided to trust God through the pain and commit your prayers to Him for strength, you will become useful to Him and to others who have not yet surrendered their life fully to Him.

“For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.” –Matt 16:25)

  jefflovitt@charter.net

 

 

 

God’s Will and Human Suffering — David Lipe

 

Some Introductory Remarks

The fact of human suffering has been discussed it seems “forever.” It is discussed in the book of Job as well as in ancient and medieval literature. The Enlightenment saw it as a weapon against theism. Set in the age of Reason, the argument regarding the problem of evil and suffering became and remains a major stumbling-block for faith in the God of the Bible. Suffering is a common and universal experience which must be addressed in Christian thought. All around us there is sickness, disease, poverty, injustice, oppression, war, and senseless violence. Thus, for most people there seems to exist a great amount of suffering in the world. Some of this suffering is extremely intense and prevails over a long period of time.

Suffering results from: (1) inanimate nature, (2) animate nature, (3) the human condition, and (4) from sin (others as well as one’s own). Concerning (1) suffering from inanimate nature refers to “evils” not perpetuated by human beings. This is called by some “physical” evil or “natural” evil, though not evil in the truest sense. Sin (that which frustrates one’s relationship with God or his fellow man) is really the only intrinsic evil. Thousands have been hurt or killed and untold millions of dollars of property has been destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, blizzards, etc. One has only to watch the news to see evidence of this. Regarding  (2) men, women, and children have been maimed or killed by wild animals. Other have been hurt or killed by bites from insects and reptiles. (3) Much suffering has resulted from the human condition. Various diseases torment man. Diseases such as leprosy and cancer would not be thought to be the work of a benevolent creator. Suffering is to blame for various physical deformities and defects with which so many are born such as blindness, deafness, dumbness, mental deficiency and insanity. These contribute towards increasing human pain and suffering. (4) Some suffering is because of sin. (a) Men have suffered due to the sin of other men– evils such as slander, backbiting, selfishness, envy, greed, deceit, and cruelty of all kinds. (b) Others suffer from neglect by their fellowman. The news accounts of child abuse are almost unfathomable. (c) There is much suffering because nations wage war on other nations. The Holocaust coupled together with all the other cruelties and devastations of the twentieth century have forced us to confess the existence of unimaginable evil. This says nothing about the millions of wounded, of the untold suffering of the living, of the poverty, starvation, dehumanization, immorality, and disruption of normal lives that war brings about. (5) Men also suffer because of their own weaknesses and failures. A sense of moral oughtness exists in all men but men fail to live up to this sense of moral obligation thus bringing suffering and anguish upon themselves.  Another problem is the seeming chaotic nature of the distribution of suffering: the unjust and the just (Mt. 5:45); adults and children; and, humans and animals. There is the meaningless nature of suffering in the world.  Some would hold that even if some suffering could be justified on some grounds, there is a surplus of suffering such as to make the possibility of the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God simply unbelievable.

The above considerations raise a number of perplexing questions: Why is there any suffering?  Why didn’t God make a pleasure paradise in which man could dwell? Why is there so much suffering? Why do the righteous suffer? (cf. Judges 6:13; Gen. 18:23-25; Hab. 1:12, 13). Why do little children suffer? Why can’t God do something about suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why? Why? Why?

Problems Advanced Because of Suffering

Unbelievers point to what seems to them to be a logical contradiction between God’s attributes and the existence of evil and suffering. The amount of suffering, the distribution of suffering, and the meaningless nature of suffering have caused many to conclude that such must be incompatible with the existence of God.  Warren calls attention to Lactantius, a so-called Christian apologist of the fourth century, who quotes Epicurus as follows:

“God either wishes to take away evils and is unable; or he is able and unwilling; or he is neither willing nor able, or he is both willing and able.  If he is willing and unable, he is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if he is able and unwilling, he is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if he is neither willing nor able, he is both envious and feeble, and therefore, not God; if he is both willing and able, which is alone suitable to God, from what source then are evils?  Or why does he not remove them?”

In sum the charge is this: (1) Either God is all-good (and wishes to get rid of suffering) but is too weak to do anything about it; or (2) Or, God, is all-powerful (and can get rid of suffering) but is not good and does not wish to do anything about suffering.

Believers are concerned about how to reconcile the existence of the God of the Bible with the evil and suffering in the world. This is faith seeking understanding. “Lord, I believe.  Help thou mine unbelief” (Mk. 9:24). We believe but we want to understand; thus, we seek to “justify the ways of God man.” Yet, in a very real sense we cannot fully justify God’s ways. Neither I, nor anyone can put God in a box, as it were, for inspection purposes. It would be the height of presumption for any human to claim to be able to “justify” the infinite being, God. Theists only seek to offer some remarks in an effort to demonstrate that the biblical revelation is plausible even in the midst of human suffering. To demonstrate the self-consistency of biblical theism is a sufficient intellectual response to charges made by skeptics. God does not need our justification but a rational response which might be helpful for some. Such a response can and should be given.

While the problem of suffering is a cognitive problem for both unbelievers and believers, it is a practical problem for those who are suffering themselves. They need to know how to cope and endure the suffering they are experiencing on a daily basis. We should hasten to say that a logical explanation of human suffering is of little value to those who find themselves in the very midst of suffering. Such individuals do not need a logical explanation while they are suffering; on the contrary, they need to know of the love and care of God. The sufferer needs from his or her fellow man care and compassion–not philosophical argument. This is the case because of the emotional trauma of suffering which is not overcome in intellectual discussion but in trusting in the love and care of God. One’s emotional needs are different than one’s intellectual needs. Each of these needs must be met, but they are not met in the same way. This essay is designed to address the intellectual needs of the individual.

God’s Will–The Key to the Problem

Much confusion prevails concerning “God’s will.” God only does what is in harmony with His nature.  So was the earthquake God’s will?  Was it God’s will that a child burns to death?  I am sure that we have all heard people tell others that when loved ones die or lose a job or contract a terminal illness that it is just God’s will. We should be careful how we use the phrase “God’s will,” lest we accuse God of something He did not do (as Job’s friends did).

What do we mean when we say that something is “God’s Will”?  If everything is God’s will, then can a person defeat God’s will?  If everything that happens is God’s will, why punish the thief or rapist?  Why try to cure disease?  Some think we should leave it alone and let “God’s will” run its course.  After all, one would not want to attempt to oppose God’s will.

Weatherhead, in his The Will of God, has suggested at least three aspects of the will of God: (1) God’s intentional will; (2) God’s circumstantial will; and, (3) God’s ideal will. First, God’s intentional will involves God’s ideal plan for man.  God’s ideal will is what God would intend or prefer to happen to us. He wanted a being to choose freely to be a son of His and brother to his fellow man. This is what parents want for their children. Parents want their children to be faithful, happy, marry well, etc.  But, they may freely decide to leave what they have been taught or marry a hoodlum.

God had a definite purpose before the creation of man and the world.ii Why did he create human beings? Creation was not out of some inner necessity but was an act of love (Rev. 4:11). To understand why he created, we must understand what he created. God created a community. He always intended a people for himself. He created a people with whom he could share communion and love (cf. Rev. 21:3). Creation involved all the members of the Godhead. The Godhead is a community of loving fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (cf. John 17). Just as a couple, in an ideal sense, decides to have children in order to share the love that they have for one another, so when the Godhead decided to create, they decided to share with another something they already enjoyed. Creation magnifies the glory of God who shares his fellowship with those whom he creates.

The definite purpose God had in creating the world is captured well by Warren when he says:

 “Prior to his creation of man and the world, God, because he is omniscient, had a plan.  This plan involved the creation of a being (who would have descendants like himself) who would be capable of becoming a son of God, who (thus) would have to be capable of deciding freely to believe him, to love him with all his heart, to submit to him in obedience, and whom God could love and eventually glorify.  In the light of Bible teaching, we conclude that this is basically the one purpose which God had in creating the world.” (Have Atheists Proved There Is No God ? p. 44.)

God’s creation was perfect for his purposes. It was the ideal environment, a garden furnished with all that is necessary to life (Gen. 2:8-10; a task, cf. 2:15). His creation included companionship with the creating of male and female (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18). It included the fellowship of God himself. At this point, humanity endured no pain, no sorrow, no disease, no tears, no worry, and no death. This is what God wanted ideally for man.

The one purpose God had in his creation was a people for himself—a people who would love and obey him with all their heart. To have this they would have to have an environment suitable for his purpose. They would have to have a “vale of soul-making.” To accomplish his purpose he gave humanity a choice (Gen. 2:17). Humanity would have to choose communion with God over “knowledge of good and evil.” Can man interfere with this aspect of God’s will?  Yes, he can freely decide not to respond to God’s love; he can decide to be disobedient and thus sin.  God’s original plan for man’s well-being was spoiled by man’s folly and sin. God wants the very best for man but he will not force him into obedience. He does not treat man as a puppet.

The second aspect of God’s will is his circumstantial will. This involves God’s plan within certain circumstances; what God does due to the circumstances arising that He did not ideally desire to happen. God gave a choice as to whether humanity would choose communion with God or a life independent of God. Adam and Eve chose arrogantly to guide their own path. Because Adam and Eve chose autonomy and asserted their own path, they were excluded from the Garden and thus from God’s communion (Gen. 3:22). In making this decision the holiness of the community was at stake; God cannot commune with evil (Psa. 5:4). Because of the choice, man deserved eternal separation; strict justice would cast him off forever. Because of God’s love, He devised a plan for man’s redemption. This plan was fulfilled in Jesus, the perfect atonement for humanity’s disobedient choice (Heb. 2:17; 5:2; 4:15; Rom. 5:6-11). After his resurrection he commissioned the preaching of the Gospel (Mk. 16:15). All the obedient shall be saved by his blood (Heb. 9:22; 10:4; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19).

Thus, God’s circumstantial will is God’s response to man’s free choices even when man does not choose as God ideally would have him choose.  God’s ideal will is that man would not sin; but, man did.  God’s circumstantial will, therefore, is that man will still enter into a relationship with him. God made this possible through Jesus Christ because of his love and mercy.

Third, God’s ultimate will is his final realization of His purpose, the goal God reaches in spite of man’s evil and even using those evil choices to further rather than defeat His ultimate plan.  Job said, “I know that you can do everything. And that no purpose of yours can be withheld from you” (Job 42:2). As children might divert a stream, they do not succeed in preventing it from reaching the river, so humanity may divert and hinder God’s purposes but humanity will never defeat them. God ideally wanted man to freely love and serve Him.  God circumstantially wanted Jesus to accept death for man’s sins and wanted man to accept salvation.  God ultimately will see justice done, namely, the punishment of the wicked and the rewarding of the righteous (2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 9:27; Matt. 25:31-46).  God will ultimately bless the righteous and curse the unrighteous (Matt. 25:46). Some may reject God’s gracious offer of Jesus, but they will not prevent God’s intentional will. Can man interfere with this.  NO!  God is omnipotent and WILL definitely accomplish His ultimate will.

Some Concluding Remarks

We often use the “will of God” to cover all three aspects of God’s will.  We should at least understand that we do this. The preceding facts show, among other things, that: (1) it is the ideal or intentional will of God for man to be happy and free from sorrow and pain; (2) God loves man and wishes for man to be blessed to the extent that He gave His Son to die for man; (3) each man who sins and refuses to repent of his sin thereby cuts himself off from the blessings which God wishes to give him; (4) pain, sorrow, suffering, tears, and death in the world is here because of man’s sins; and, (5) God is infinitely powerful and infinitely wise.  That there is suffering in the world means neither that God is weak nor that God is not benevolent.  It means that God has given man freedom to make choices and that man has made and continues to make many evil choices.

dlipe@fhu.edu

Benefits of Suffering – Brett Pharr

From a human vantage point, it is almost illogical to think of the benefits of suffering. There are certain things that require effort or even pain that have a positive end result. But it does not take much imagination or experience to recognize some elements of our lives are void of benefit, at least from an earthly perspective. A Bible based view however, can give us better insights into every element of suffering. It will not alleviate the very real negativity that is often a part of the human experience. But it may give us a better framework for the context of difficulties.

Suffering can come from various sources. Sometimes we suffer because of our own poor decisions. For example, stress is created by shortsighted decisions; or illness occurs due to poor substance or food choices; or injury happens as a result of unwise risk taking. Sometimes suffering is the result of another person’s actions. A drunk driver hits the innocent; a building collapses because of poor engineering; relationships are destroyed because of another’s unfaithfulness. But finally, there is the category of suffering that emboldens the atheist and at times troubles the Christian. Bad things happen for no apparent cause. Weather events or “natural” disasters, such as a tsunami that kills thousands, or unexplained accidents, or terminal illnesses that strike a child, often have such devastating impact they crumble the faith of some. Can one rationally speak of a benefit in these kinds of circumstances?

From a biblical view we can gain several perspectives on the benefits of suffering. One is the concept of chastening or discipline. In Hebrews chapter 12 we are encouraged to put suffering in context, both as to its relationship to the suffering of Christ, but specifically, that it may do us some good. In verse 6 we read a quotation from Proverbs 3, “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”

That is, just like with children, there is some suffering that occurs in our lives that are for the purpose of making us better people. We know from experience that some people turn or return to God when they have had a “wake up call” enter into their lives. These are often not pleasant, but may well cause someone to reconsider his or her spiritual path. God may well be directing suffering into our life for our long-term benefit. (It is important to acknowledge that we know this happens by faith, not by a specific experience, as we do not know in individual cases the intention of God; we only know that He works in our lives for our ultimate good.)

Another benefit of suffering is it allows us to model Christ to others and position us for better service. Paul in Colossians 1 was describing his prayer for the saints and among other things, he asks that they may have “patience and longsuffering with joy” (Col 1:11). Patience means to stand up under a difficult load. Longsuffering has the additional elements of time without retaliation. Both of these are characteristics that are exercised when we are under duress; that is suffering. When we can show the world and our fellow Christians that we can face suffering with the steadfastness of Christ, and not break down under the load, we not only strengthen ourselves but also everyone who sees. In James, reference is made to the patient enduring of the prophets and of Job, and these serve as an example.

“My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate” (Jas 5:10-11).

The suffering Christian today can well serve as an example to all that see. The obstacles are often overwhelming, but the opportunity is real.

For those that have passed through suffering there is another benefit. We become uniquely able to serve with empathy. The widow can better comfort the new widow. The cancer survivor can comfort the one who is enduring cancer. The parent of a deceased child can better comfort the parent of a dying child. These are talents; perhaps talents we would have preferred to avoid, and yet gifts nonetheless.

But finally, there is suffering so great or so unconscionable that it seems completely void of value. How do we deal with tragic birth defects, freak fatal accidents, the horrors of war crimes, the violence of tornadoes, and such like? The Christian cries out “Why Lord?” The atheist proclaims the “Epicurean” problem of evil: Does your God not know, is He not able, or does He not love? (The simple answer to this is love defined by whom?) Is there any real benefit in such things?

The chief benefit of all suffering is to remind us of the effects of sin on a fallen world. In Genesis we read about the perfection of the creation. “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

There was no suffering, no tragedy, and no “natural” disasters. When God calls something very good, there are no imperfections. But in the epistle to the Romans Paul says: “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Rom. 8:22). What caused this change from “very good” to “the whole creation groans”? Of course the answer is the ravages of sin from the Fall in the Garden of Eden, the corruption and change of this natural world from the flood, as well as the deterioration of mankind as demonstrated in Romans 1 and 2. Much could be written about this change, but this is sufficient to illustrate that the world is not what it could have been for us. Still, where is the benefit in this? First, it reminds us this is not our home. The scriptures are filled with enjoiners to not get too comfortable here. John said, “Do not love the world” (1 John 2:15). Paul helps us get to the right perspective in 2 Corinthians, when he says:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, … For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven… So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. …. pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:1, 2, 6, 7) .

Notice the principles that are to be in the mind of Christians. We groan in this body. We earnestly desire Heaven. In the body we are absent from the Lord. If we have this mindset, we can better serve. Suffering, whether our own, or that which we see in others, helps us get to the spiritual maturity of Paul when he said, “having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil 1:23).

But there is yet another benefit of unexplainable suffering; suffering helps us put a face to sin. When we recognize that all suffering is the result of sin in this world, whether direct or indirect, it helps us break through the appealing nature of temptations. Every Christian struggles with sin. One of the ways to submit ourselves to God, so that Satan will flee from us (Jas 4:7), is to see suffering when we are confronted with sin.

Do you struggle with a pet sin, or even an addiction? The next time you feel tempted, think of the worst tragedy you know, whether personal or well known. Acknowledge to yourself, that this is what sin, my sin does. It may well help us to be shocked with the reality of the horrors of sin. If a by-product of suffering is living more Holy lives, it will indeed have had a benefit.

Suffering in this world cannot be minimized. We will all endure it to some extent. But it is not evenly distributed, which may seem, as it did to Job, grossly unfair. In the end however, speaking eternally, “…we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom. 8:28).

Building our faith and trust throughout our lives, will make us better equipped to endure any suffering that comes our way with patience and longsuffering. We must be able to declare the trust of Habakkuk: “Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls—Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills” (Hab 3:17-19). May God help us to that end.

brettpharr@yahoo.com

What Eve Has Taught Me – Debbie Kea

Eve. Mother of all living. First woman. First wife. First sinner. I’ve heard women speak negatively about Eve for most of my Christian life. But as I have studied her, I have developed a great sympathy. Let me show you why.

Sin.  We are all well aware that Eve was deceived by Satan (Gen. 3:4-7). She learned that just because something looks good doesn’t mean it is good. She learned that the Devil lies. She learned to listen to God.   We are critical of her; yet who of us has not sinned? The apostle Paul declares that all have sinned (Rom. 3:23). As I review my own sins, I feel pity for the first woman. There is no record of any other sins of Eve, but this one teaches us serious lessons.

Obedience.  God’s first law was a law of obedience to Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:17). They were clearly instructed by God not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Obedience to God’s laws remains for all of us today if we are to be pleasing to our Maker. We must not only obey God’s commands but we are also to teach obedience to our children and our grandchildren. A lack of respect for authority has become one of the worst problems of our society. Lawlessness reigns in our world. Most importantly, this disobedience separates us from God.

Blame.  We have played the blame game since the beginning and we continue it still! When accused, it’s usually the first thing we humans do—point to someone else. It’s a rare individual that takes personal responsibility for his actions. Adam started this habit by blaming “the woman thou gavest to be with me” and Eve continued by pointing at “the serpent” who beguiled her (Gen.3:12-13). They both knew the truth; that’s why they knew they were naked—their guilt. Our task now as humans is to build our character so that we will be strong enough to admit our sins, repent of them and grow! We must be responsible for our own actions—to God and others. We must be willing to say, “Yes, it was me and I’m sorry.”

Power and Influence.  Eve teaches me that women have great power and influence. Adam was created first and had the responsibility to be the spiritual leader of his home; therefore, Adam should have stopped Eve from disobeying God but he didn’t.   We, as women, must recognize our role in the home as God’s plan. Paul tells us man was not created for the woman but the woman for the man (I Cor. 11:9). Submission and subjection are not inferiority. They are the role that God has given us as women. However, our influence and power can only be for good when we allow our husbands to lead our homes. We must use our influence for good there as well as everywhere we go.

Suffering.  Women have endured suffering since Eve sinned. She was banished from the garden. She suffered in childbirth. Most of us who are mothers understand this well. She suffered over her children. One of her sons was a murderer, and one of her sons was killed. She suffered great loss with both of them. We learn that children who grow up in the same household may very well take different paths in life.   Eve suffered watching her husband work by the sweat of his brow for over 900 years! Sin brings suffering.   Eve learned this.

Desire.  God told Eve that she would have desire only for her husband. This seems an odd thing to say at a time when Adam was the only man there! But as I think about this, I am reminded of many women whose desire is not for their husband but for other things, such as money, career, popularity or a variety of other cares of the world. Unfortunately, today we Christian women are considered peculiar if we care about what our husband wants instead of what we want. This is one of the contributing factors to the destruction of the home in our world now. The world sees nothing wrong with a woman satisfying a man in her career or job; yet Christian women are ridiculed for wanting to satisfy or help their husbands to be happy in their marriage!

Wisdom.  Satan tried to convince Eve that she could be as wise as God. We must not let Satan fool us in this. Instead of trying to be as wise as God, we need to recognize His power and greatness and our dependence upon Him! “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). If we would truly be wise and happy, we would come to the One Who gives wisdom, knowledge and understanding (Prov. 2:6; 3:13).

Salvation.  Like me, Eve needed salvation. God, through His lovingkindness, provided from the beginning a way for Eve to be saved, to be brought back into a right relationship with Him. Jesus would come and bruise the head of the serpent, Satan (Gen. 3:15). And my obedience through faith would find access to the Lord’s saving blood (Rom. 5:1-2; 6:1-4). God did not leave Eve without hope. Jesus’ blood reaches back to her (Heb. 9:15). Neither does He leave us hopeless, for Christ is the Savior of the world if we would hear His voice (John 10:27; 3:17; Heb. 2:9).

Eve, mother of all living, continues to teach us lessons today. Though I am empathetic, it is still clear that Eve sinned and was punished for it. She remains, not a myth, but a real woman, made to be a helpmeet for man, a position that no other creature could fill. God help us to learn by studying Eve to be obedient children so that we can fulfill our role as women in His kingdom.

keadebbie1955@gmail.com