Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Though You Have Made Me See Troubles: Thoughts on Suffering

Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter, You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up (Psalm 71:20).

Why me!? It’s the age-old question we ask ourselves when something bad happens to us, or to one whom we love. It’s a more personalized version of, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Well, the TL;DR answer to that question is simple: There are no good people. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No one is righteous, not even one. Whatever bad things happen to us, the one thing we can’t say is that we didn’t deserve them.

That’s pretty bleak, but it isn’t the whole story. A better question to ask would be, “Why is there suffering?”

Is God punishing me? Is the devil persecuting me? Is whatever happened simply the luck of the draw? Yes, but also no.

See, it depends on our perspective, and on God’s ultimate goal. God isn’t focused on giving us a comfortable and happy life here on earth. We are focused on that. God’s goal is to save us from sin, death, and the devil for eternity. He wants all men to be thus saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth. This is why He sent His Son into the world, to die as a ransom for many.

If we try to see things from this angle, we might start to understand and to cope with the world as it is a little better.

We generally see things in a more pagan way. Now is the most important time. Here is all there is. We need to do whatever we can do to make our best life here and now. If I do this, god does that. If I do things to make god happy, god will do things to benefit me. Conversely, if I make god angry, he will punish me. It’s up to me to figure out what pleases god, so I can do those things. When I fail at this, things go badly for me. This all seems natural. That’s why it’s easily understood and accepted by human beings. It is, generally speaking, how we operate in our every day lives.

If this is our perspective, it’s only natural to try and guess what we did wrong whenever we face suffering, and try to correct or make up for it. It’s only natural to try and please god, or the gods, or the Universe, or fate, or whatever we believe has control over our lives. It is not natural, or easy for us to accept troubles from the One True God as well as good, to paraphrase Job.

So, we can either guess or we can accept. If we choose to guess about these hidden things, we can never be certain. God afflicts both to discipline His children and to punish the wicked. Which is it in my case? How would I know for sure if I am His child, or one of the wicked? The devil torments all humanity. Peter tells us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. How do I know whether or not Satan is the cause of my suffering? Maybe I am just the random victim he happened to find to devour. How do I know?

This way of thinking leads to despair, hopelessness, and eventually to a loss of faith, which is spiritual death. It is one-dimensional thinking. It assumes that our current life and world is the most important thing. It assumes you are capable of pleasing God by what you do, and that He is waiting to punish you when you do bad. This is the way pagans look at their gods. It’s the way atheists think Christianity works.

God tells us, however, that this life is not all that there is. This corrupt world, tainted by sin and death, is passing away. Here we have no continuing city. If the pagan way of thinking was really the way things were, there would be no need for Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the world. We would be left with the task of working things out on our own.

Good luck. Here’s hoping we make all the right decisions…

It’s far better to accept. It’s better to try and make sense of things from God’s perspective; to hold onto and believe His promises: God is the author of all good. Satan introduced sin and death into perfection. God cursed the creation and expelled man from the garden as part of a longer game. Rather than destroy it all and start again, God would instead redeem His creation.

But, because creation is cursed and man’s nature is corrupt, bad things happen. People lie, cheat, and steal. They misuse the things God has created in perverse and evil ways. They kill each other. They kill themselves. And, even when we don’t kill each other, we are all subject to physical death. So, rather than to go down the path of despair, hopelessness, and spiritual death, it is far better to believe God’s promise: At just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. He adopts us into His family and sanctifies us by the washing of water by the word, making us clean from our sin. He promises us that, even though we have trouble in this world, He has overcome the world by His death, and the proof of that is His resurrection from the dead. It means that Jesus is God in human flesh. And, when He returns we will be raised from the dead like Him. We will be raised to eternal life in a perfect, sinless body, in a perfect, sinless creation.

And, He promises us that, in the meantime here in this world, in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. Nothing can separate us from this love of God in Christ Jesus.

“All things” includes all the bad things as well. It includes all the suffering we experience from things like war, famine, disease, crime, poverty, mental illness, and any other thing you can think of. It includes all the things the atheists point to, to prove that the idea of God is irrational. Why does God allow suffering? It is so He can use it for our eternal good.

God is omniscient. He sees the whole picture of space and time. We don’t, and neither does the devil, God be praised. But, because we are blind in this way, we have a hard time understanding how us suffering or dying is good for us. God, however, does not. That’s why there are times when He allows us to suffer, and there are times when He allows us to die. You might even say that there could be times when God kills us for our own good.

From His perspective, it is better to suffer physical death and remain a part of the Body of Christ, than it is to continue living on earth if the life path you were going down ends with you rejecting the faith. We can’t know those things, though. Only God can.

The barest level of grasping this concept is this: God the Father sent Jesus to die on the cross to solve the problem of mankind’s eternal survival. He uses our temporal suffering here during this relatively brief slice of eternity to shape who are will be. He refines us like gold in a refiner’s fire. And, He uses our physical death to make our adoption as God’s sons irrevocable; to confirm us into the new creation we became when we were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, and into which we will fully blossom when we are raised from the dead on the Last Day.

Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter, You will restore my life; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up. ###