We live in a sinful world, a sin-cursed earth, which makes suffering and struggle a universal experience. The whole earth groans for an anticipated redemption. And sometimes it’s hard to understand how a good God could allow all this suffering. Maybe at times we question that or question Him. “Why?” is the constant refrain of those in despair: “Why is this happening?” or “Why is this happening to me?”
In the Book of Job, Satan went before God with a laundry list of all these terrible things he wanted to do to righteous Job that affected every aspect of his life. And God said, “I’ll allow it.”
Joseph was the favorite son of Israel, the dreamer of dreams. But his brothers turned on him and left him in a pit. Potiphar’s wife turned on him, and he ended up in prison. The butler forgot him, and he remained in prison. And God said, “I’ll allow it.”
David was anointed king of Israel as a young man, but he fled from Saul for years before he ever sat on the throne. And God said, “I’ll allow it.”
Paul pleaded with God three times about that thorn that hurt and hindered. And God said, “I’ll allow it.”
Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life. But He was betrayed by a friend, rejected by His people, condemned to die and was actually crucified, the most painful death imaginable. And God said, “I’ll allow it.”
I think one of the stories that exemplifies this the most is that familiar story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. The sisters send a message to Jesus that their brother is sick, probably hoping, expecting, believing He will heal him. But Lazarus was going to die, and God said, “I’ll allow it.”
What heartbreak is in their statements when Jesus finally does come: “If You had been here, he wouldn’t have died.” And what is behind that is, perhaps, “You could have but did not.” That is certainly something we can relate to when we don’t get the response from God that we wanted, the miracle that we were hoping for. Again we ask why. “You could have spared me this, so why didn’t You?”
But the end of this struggle was life, as it is so often when God is involved. And it wasn’t just about Lazarus’ physical life, though that is what we cling to and desperately want, but also spiritual life. Many people believed on Jesus because of this tragic and painful experience and therefore gained eternal life.
For Job, he may have never understood why all those things happened to him, but in the end came a new understanding of God and a new life blessed by God, that double portion of flocks and herds and children.
Joseph had this to say regarding his life of pain and tragedy: “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” He rose to the top and spared a nation from famine, including his family.
David eventually ended up on the throne and became the originator of a kingly line that led to Christ, that Son of David, Israel’s King of kings.
Paul found the life-giving power of God’s grace for every trial and moment of weakness.
And Jesus, obviously, secured our salvation, our redemption, and offers the gift of eternal life to all who believe.
Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, though, He acknowledged the sorrow of Mary and Martha. He joined them in that. He is not a heartless Savior, but He always has compassion on us in our weak, needy, and hurting condition. The testimony of many who experienced the worst kinds of suffering in Scripture was to acknowledge that God was with them and that they trusted Him in the midst of what were often confusing and seemingly hopeless situations.
In our own lives, we face struggles of various kinds and varying degrees, major and minor, from the extremely painful to the merely inconvenient. And the sovereign God of the universe who knows all things and controls all things says, “I’ll allow it.” Sometimes we struggle with things that fill us with shame, and we bear them in silence. Other things we share with others and join together in petitioning God to take it all away. Sometimes He does, and sometimes He doesn’t, but ultimately He has a purpose in both responses.
Sometimes I struggle with knowing how to pray for people. I don’t want people to suffer. Often our solution is to want to remove pain, hardship, and trouble, and often we pray that way. I don’t think that is wrong to do, but sometimes I wonder, “Lord, will that cancer lead them to You? Lord, will that trial be what it takes, like my own experience, for them to understand how real You are, how good You are, and how much they need You?”
What got me thinking about this was Matthew chapter 13, the chapter of parables. The most well-known is probably the parable of the sower. But there is another parable that Jesus tells in verses 24-30 for which He also gives an explanation.
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
In the beginning, God created a perfect world, with no intention that it would contain the pain, suffering, and death that have become the common elements of our earthly life. There are things that don’t belong, but God allows them for a time, and then those things have an expected end. The wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest. The enemy tries to ruin the good thing that God has made. But the “good seed,” which represents, according to Jesus, the children of the kingdom, also has an expected end: Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. One day we’re going home, where all those things that hurt will be no more.
I certainly don’t pretend to understand it all. I don’t have any answers for the “whys” of life. After all, God is beyond our full understanding, and only He knows all things. I’m not saying we have to embrace suffering, but maybe just have a different perspective on it. So often in Scripture God is talking about spiritual things, heavenly things, while people are focusing on the earthly, physical, and tangible things of this world. Maybe God allows those things we bristle against to help us learn to trust, to depend, to lean on God in the way that He wants us to. Perhaps He intends those experiences to build us up instead of tear us down. To give new life. To keep us humble. To work out something good beyond what we can see right now. And those kinds of things always glorify God. They make Him known and magnified in some way that would be impossible without them. So no matter what may come, though it is certainly not easy, may we learn to trust God with whatever He allows in our lives.