Why Is Suffering Good?
May 27, 2019
When many people come to faith in Jesus Christ, there is an expectation for certain improvements in life. The Bible promises the people of God that we are forgiven of all our offenses and sins against God – past, present, and future. The Bible teaches that we are set free from the bondage of sin so that we are no longer bound to do the things that our flesh craves to do in rebellion against God. We are promised peace, not as the world gives, but as only the Prince of Peace can give. We are promised rest, contentment, and joy. However, life for a Christian doesn’t always seem like these benefits are present in our lives. That’s because, while these promises are assured to the children of God, there are factors in this life that can make these benefits elusive. This doesn’t mean that God’s promises are weak, or that the factors of life are greater than God. It just goes to show that the true essence of God’s promises are to be fulfilled in eternity. This is why Jesus also promised that His people would suffer many troubles and trials. Jesus assured His followers that there would be difficulties, frustrations, and rejections. The philosophies of this world don’t agree with Jesus, and so there is friction between the things we try to do in His name, and the direction the world wants to go. The rebellious nature of our flesh doesn’t agree with the things of the Holy Spirit. There is constantly a war that goes on within the hearts, minds, and consciences of God’s people. We have a habit of thinking that we’re right; we know what’s good, and we can do well on our own. Since we are wrong in this thinking, much of our suffering comes from the correction that God administrates to protect the spiritual integrity of His people, enabling Him to fulfill the full glory of His promises in eternity.
This means that we are largely responsible for the difficulties we face in this life. God is supremely good and has good intentions for His people. It is our naturally defiant habits that cause issues. Thankfully, our Savior knows how to chasten those whom He loves while preserving our souls unto eternal life. God knows how to destroy the flesh while also building up the spirit so that, while we might struggle in one sense, we are being built up in the areas that matter most. This is the point that Elihu tried to explain to Job in Job 36:8-12. Recall that Job felt like he was an enemy of God because of the extent of suffering he experienced. He acknowledged that God was supremely in control of all things. Job didn’t doubt God’s sovereignty. Job knew that he was suffering because God permitted it, and was ultimately the cause of it. However, his understanding of this truth caused him to respond to his trials with an attitude of self-entitlement and bitter grumbling. Elihu tried to help Job get back on track with the right attitude by reminding Job about how God is good, even though He allows and enables the pain that we experience in life.
In Job 36:8-12, Elihu provided some explanation as to why God’s people experience great suffering. Elihu explained that God shows His goodness by sharing the benefits of His glory and power to those who are pitiful and miserable by comparison. God is mighty and highly exalted above all, but He doesn’t despise us even though we can’t match His glory and righteousness. Often God will prove His goodness by exalting and promoting people in life. God will sometimes raise up the humble and meek so as to be instruments of His righteousness and witnesses of His goodness. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it proves that God’s Word is true and He does indeed show favor to those who deserve judgment.
What about when God doesn’t raise up and promote people? What about when God’s people are taken prisoner, bound in chains, cords, persecuted, beat up, and killed? In Hebrews Chapter 11, the scriptures show that there are more people who suffer and die as heroes of faith, than there are those who experience cinematic victories and prosperity. However, God says that the world is not worthy of those people. This shows that, the suffering of God’s people who have faith is not always a sign that God is against them. The suffering of God’s people doesn’t mean that God is angry and despises those people. The challenges that God’s people endure don’t mean that God is rejecting them. The Bible teaches that God is preparing those people for the benefits He promised to give. First, Elihu explained that God allows His people to suffer because it is during out time of suffering that we are able to hear the voice of God’s correction more clearly. Though we have faith and seek to follow Jesus closely, doesn’t mean we do so to perfection. We all still have issues, and those issues still need to be dealt with. God chastens those whom He loves. God uses our time of pain and suffering to expose certain issues in our lives that we wouldn’t recognize otherwise.
Consider the testimony of Job. The full context of his testimony shows that, while he was blames and upright, he had issues with self-righteousness and self-entitlement. If not for the circumstances of his suffering, he would not have complained the way he did, thus, exposing some issues that were deep in his heart and offensive to God. It seemed that God sent Satan to Job to torment him unjustly. However, God exercised His sovereign control over all things to expose Job’s sin. Job was humble in one sense, but was proud in others. It was his suffering that brought this issue to light. Elihu explained that it is in our time of affliction that God’s voice concerning our transgressions becomes clearer. It is during our time of suffering that God exposes things of the heart that wouldn’t be seen otherwise. Since God has supreme control over all factors of life in this world and the spirit world, He exercises perfect control and restraint to cause just enough pain to get our attention, at which point He instructs us about issues that require repentance.
This proves God’s goodness. The hidden issues of our heart show that we deserve worse suffering than God inflicts. However, God expresses mercy to use the pain of our suffering to produce a fruitful effect that eventually leads to our receipt of His eternal benefits. How can that be bad? Seeing the true nature of our hearts that we are oblivious to, God would have the right to inflict enough pain to utterly destroy us and eternal separate us from Him. Yet, God doesn’t do that for those who are called to be His. Instead, He applies pressure so as to humble us, seek Him in desperation, and notice the areas of our lives where we are offending Him, having the privilege and opportunity to seek His forgiveness in repentance.
Elihu explained that it is our time of suffering that our ears are more opened to receive God’s instruction. When we are in physical pain, mental anguish, or emotional distress, we are usually less consumed with the busy pace of life. Things slow down because we become more focused on the pain of our life. Our vision becomes narrower. Our hearing becomes more sensitive. God leverages this human response to instruct us about His righteousness and goodness. Notice that Job spent a long time talking about how good he was compared to the hypocrite he was accused of being. After wearing himself out, God sent Elihu to speak to Job and inform him of the true issues at stake. When Notice that when Elihu spoke, Job didn’t argue. God communicated clear truth and Job’s ears were perked up to listen. He was physically unable to flee. He was too emotionally drained to refute. Job was a captive audience to the instruction God was providing about Himself. Eventually, that was sufficient to encourage Job to confess his sin and repent, thereby enabling him to receive the restoration God intended all along.
Elihu reminded Job that God inflicts suffering because it is in the time of suffering that we recognize the true goodness of God. Job’s suffering exposed the hidden issue of his self-righteousness. Once exposed, Job knew that there was an issue that needed to be addressed, and God’s instruction consists of repentance. Thus, it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance. God instructs His people to repent in suffering because He exposes our weaknesses and flaws during that time; and it is during that time of our suffering that we learn how God does not despise us even though we fail to match His glory and righteousness. Seeing that God deals with us mercifully, it should provoke God’s people to confess our weaknesses and flaws, seek God’s forgiveness, and turn to Him for restoration from our corruption. This is all that God wants to do with our suffering.
If we hear God’s voice regarding our sin, and observe His instruction concerning His goodness, and respond appropriately in repentance, then God restores. He brings about the good things that He intends – especially in eternity. This doesn’t mean that life will be without problems. Remember, since we are sinful by nature, there is always going to be an issue God addresses in our lives, which means that pain and suffering will likely be constant as a result. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that we can’t receive comfort and peace as we see God working sin out of our lives over time. Elihu suggested that Job’s suffering didn’t have to last as long as it did. Had Job heard the voice of God earlier about his self-righteousness and self-entitlement, and repented sooner, he might have been restored quicker. Thus, when we see that we are stuck in a rut and the pain of our suffering won’t relent despite our cries to God, we must not complain about God or doubt His goodness. We need to look within ourselves to see if we’re hearing the voice of God pointing out the flaw of our hearts that requires correction, and see if we’re submitting to His instruction through repentance. We’re the problem, not God!
Lastly, Elihu reminded Job that there are severe consequences for ignoring God’s voice and convictions. The suffering will intensify for those who reject God’s instruction and refuse to repent. That suffering might not always worsen in this life, but the unrepentant who refuse to humble themselves before God will be eternally separated from Him! Violent oppression will come to those who ignore and deny the Lord. This violence doesn’t just refer to physical altercations, but also violent oppression in the mind and the heart, from which depression and other dark internal issues stem. Elihu reminded Job that these people die without knowledge, specifically not knowing the goodness of God. To die in ignorance of God’s goodness isn’t God’s fault, it is the fault of those who deny the revelation of God’s goodness. Thus, their eternal suffering is based on the unwillingness to receive God’s good correction, trust in the power and wisdom of the spiritual tools He provides to purify, and deny the One that forgives, restores, and judges.