The great test of life is to see whether we will hearken to and obey God’s commands in the midst of the storms of life. It is not just to endure storms, but to choose the right ways while they rage.” – Henry B. Eyring
Rabbi Harold Kushner tells of a personal tragedy that changed the course of his life. He began to question everything he had been taught about God. Rabbi Kushner’s son, Aaron, died at age 14 of progeria. If you are unfamiliar with this disease, it is best described as the accelerated aging disease. At his death, Aaron was a short, bald and wrinkled old man in appearance even though he was only 14. In his book, Rabbi Kushner asked: “If God existed, if He was minimally fair, let alone loving and forgiving, how could He do this to me?”
Rabbi Kushner is not alone in his queries. Millions of people ask similar questions every day. Like stormy seas with billowing waves driven by fierce winds, life can toss us to and fro. This world is full of pain, suffering, sadness, madness and sorrow. It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? Let’s talk about it.
Why do the innocent suffer? Why should anyone suffer for that matter? If God exists, if He is really made of love and full of mercy, how could He allow all of the atrocities and suffering to go on in this world? That’s a question that has haunted mankind since the beginning of our exile on this planet. Rabbi Kushner asked the question this way, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Can we make sense of our world, and our sufferings in this world? Sometimes we can. But often we cannot.
Decades of pondering biblical texts has opened my eyes to this truth: humanity is by nature desperately wicked and was left stranded on this planet, long ago, banished to a life of exile. The Creator has kept an eye on his creation down through the ages. There are many lessons to be learned by we foolish mortals. He has watched over us, raised up a few prophets now and then and occasionally intervened. Then one day, he did something extraordinary. God took on human form and visited this planet to reveal a plan for both our redemption and for our survival. He came to us as the Liberator Jesus, declaring, I am the way, the truth and the (genuine) life (John 14:6). His story is recorded in the Scriptures.
Believers refer to the Bible as the Word of God – and with good reason. The combined older and newer testaments are a compilation of divinely inspired truth written down in 66 volumes by more than 40 different supernaturally influenced authors over a period of 1500 years. These writers came from all walks of life and yet the Bible came together as an extremely cohesive manuscript. In its pages we find answers to life’s greatest challenges – including how to handle the stormy seas of everyday existence.
We all have life storms, and when we get the rough times and we recover from them, we should celebrate that we got through it. No matter how bad it may seem, there’s always something beautiful that you can find.” – Mattie Stepanek
Questions about suffering affect all of us in some way. Even if we are fortunate enough to escape tragic accident or severe illness, we all have our problems. For some it may be fear or loneliness. Others battle depression due to rejection, divorce, relationship issues, etc., etc. Hunger, wars and different brutalities plague humanity. For sure, none of us will escape the final tragedy known as death.
Some may ask, “If Jesus came to set the captives free, then why is there so much pain and suffering here on earth? Is there a purpose for all this distress?” Let me offer you five statements followed by quotations from the Bible that may help you to understand how a Christian resolves that irony.
Suffering helps keep in perspective our true condition in a lost and declining world.
18-21 “In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited””yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God! ” (Rom. 8:18-21 – J.B. Phillips)
Suffering teaches us that life is an endurance race and the course is laid out for us by God.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. 4 After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. (Heb. 12:1-4 – New Living Translation)
Suffering teaches us that temporary unhappiness will one day end in timeless joy.
12-15 “And now dear friends of mine, I beg you not to be unduly alarmed at the fiery ordeals which come to test your faith, as though this were some abnormal experience. You should be glad, because it means that you are called to share Christ’s sufferings. One day, when he shows himself in full splendor to men, you will be filled with the most tremendous joy. If you are reproached for being Christ’s followers, that is a great privilege, for you can be sure that God’s Spirit of glory is resting upon you.” (1 Pet. 4:12-15 – Phillips)
Suffering can sometimes be a part of a sovereign work of God in our lives.
1 “As he (Jesus) was walking along, he observed a man who had been blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that caused him to be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This happened so that God’s work might be revealed in him. 4 I must do the work of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is approaching, when no one can work. 5 As long as I’m in the world, I’m the light of the world.” 6 After saying this, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he spread the mud on the man’s eyes 7 and told him, “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated “Sent One”). So he went off, washed, and came back seeing.” (John 9:1-7 – Phillips)
Suffering (hardship & trials) can enable others to observe God at work within us.
7-11 “This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar””to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us. We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! Every day we experience something of the death of the Lord Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours. Yes, we who are living are always being exposed to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be plainly seen in our mortal lives.” (2 Cor. 4:7-11 Phillips).
There isn’t always a cut and dry solution to the problem of why we suffer. And maybe, that is really the wrong question to put forward. Perhaps we should make these enquirers instead:
- What is the purpose for my life here on this earth?
- What future does God have for me beyond this temporary ride on spaceship earth?
Our lives do have a definite purpose – even when living doesn’t make sense, negative circumstances abound and everything seems so unfair. All of the answers you seek are stored within you. The creator has written them upon the tablets of your human spirit. Think of them as being encoded in your DNA. The more you get to know the God who put them there, the more he can show you his plan for your life.
There is only one secure foundation: a genuine, deep relationship with Jesus Christ, which will carry you through any and all turmoil. No matter what storms are raging all around, you’ll stand firm if you stand on His love.” – Charles Stanley
As God in human form, Jesus suffered and died at the hands of his own creation. But that was his purpose in life – the reason he came to the earth. It was written in his spotless DNA. The death of Jesus bridged the gap between the Creator and the created. It also opened the door to a different dimension (we call it the spirit world) where he put things back in order. He didn’t stay dead very long. Three days after he was buried, he walked out of the grave in the full glory of a resurrected body to become the liberator of all those who would believe in Him.
Like Jesus, our mortal bodies will all eventually die. But we won’t cease to exist. We too (the righteous dead who have followed the Jesus plan) will live again in bodies of endless existence. Our death will also open for us the door to a different dimension (the spirit world). In that place of everlasting life after death, the tormented souls, the cancer stricken, the accident and murder victims, the unloved, the lost and lonely, along with all of the aborted children – everyone who has or ever will suffer – will hurt no more.
I know, all of this can sound a bit farfetched – even crazy. But not when you dig in and really learn about the mission and the message of the Liberator Jesus. That however, will take you some time and an open heart. If you have never done so, I would encourage you to get busy. After all, only a fool rejects that of which he has no real knowledge and understanding. And I know that you are not a fool, right?
Those of us who have found our way within the Son, we’ll keep praying for you as we watch and wait for his return.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie ®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656