This is the fourth part in answering the question, “What kind of suffering from God’s perspective does He allow?” in the larger question asked, “Why does a loving God allow suffering?” Parts 1,2, and 3 were posted in the three previous days.
Divine suffering is the result of God’s Divine action either to punish unbelievers or to discipline believers. When He punishes unbelievers, He uses suffering to get their attention before they enter a Christ-less or hopeless eternity We see examples of this discipline in Sodom and Gomorrah, Pharaoh and Egypt or the idolatry of the Canaanites at the hand of Joshua. But it is also a warning for others to turn from their wicked ways to the arms of a holy, loving God who deserves worship and thanksgiving for His abundant mercy and grace. God is a just God, who will not allow His holiness to be rejected forever and stops the spread of wickedness and sin.
God not only allows suffering, but may impose suffering for our good. God imposes Divine discipline on the lives of those who follow Him, because He loves us. There is a higher purpose to the suffering than what we can often see! The writer to the Hebrews calls out to believers in Jesus like a loving father seeking his children to return to the protection and provision of home. He wrote,
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” (Heb. 12:5-6 NKJ)
This suffering is always designed to turn the believer’s attention back to the Lord. For example, God called out to Israel through Amos the fig-picking prophet,
5 Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, Proclaim and announce the freewill offerings; For this you love, You children of Israel!” Says the Lord GOD. 6 “Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, And lack of bread in all your places; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 7 “I also withheld rain from you, when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, And where it did not rain the part withered. 8 So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, But they were not satisfied; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 9 “I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, Your vineyards, Your fig trees, And your olive trees, The locust devoured them; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 10 “I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; Your young men I killed with a sword, Along with your captive horses; I made the stench of your camps come up into your nostrils; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 11 “I overthrew some of you, As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, And you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. (Amos 4:5-11 NKJ)
This passage reveals God does more than allow suffering. God loves Israel so much, that He does not want her to continue in her sin, or in her rejection of God, or in her disobedience. In this case, Israel did not understand her troubles were consequences of her sin. In fact, her troubles were part of God’s mercy to help her see her need of depending on the Lord.
God loved Israel far more than they could have ever imagined. Even His Divine discipline was often not enough to get their attention and they eventually were sent into exile, because they resisted God’s authority.2
The servants of God, whether saints, prophets, apostles, or ordinary servants, suffer from Divine chastisement. We are not isolated individuals, but because we live in community with others, we will often suffer because we live with those who cause suffering or are part of God’s correction on a people. We live in nations, cultures and families that God loves and will discipline for our good. Children will often suffer because godly parents are going through divine discipline and suffering for greater growth, cleansing and purity.
Those who serve the Lord will suffer from physical and verbal assaults as a part of living for Jesus. Unbelievers and believers will be used by the enemy to malign, mock, harass, lie against and falsely accuse those pursuing the upward call of Jesus Christ. Peter explained this concept,
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you1. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Pet. 4:12-17 NKJ)
From the human perspective it does not make sense, but from the Divine perspective, it makes perfect sense. God wants to reveal His majesty as His people depend on him through the cleansing and purifying process of spiritual growth.
God may punish those who stray from Him, but He always acts from His love and for our best interest. Restoration to God’s fellowship is always the divine purpose in God’s discipline. It is something that the believer should fall in humble thanksgiving for God’s work.
Divine suffering can be a call to repent and return to the Lord. God hears the cry of the needy, “For He hears the cry of the afflicted.” (Job 34:28 NKJ) It often causes a people to pursue and become totally dependent on the Lord, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13 NKJ) Jesus promised those who did not repent would be left in the dark,
4 “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place– unless you repent. (Rev. 2:4-5 NKJ)
Larry Waters makes an excellent summary of how suffering magnifies God,
First, suffering reveals the nonarbitrary nature of God’s action (Job 34:10-15). Elihu declared that God acts in accord with his perfect nature. Second, Elihu declared the preeminence of God’s justice (vv. 16-17)… Third, Elihu emphasized the purity of God’s character and the greatness of his person (v. 10; 36:26; 37:23). God will do nothing that is not good; nor is he even capable of doing anything that is unjust. Fourth, Elihu pointed out the nonmanipulative nature of God (35:4-8). Elihu maintained (a) that God’s ways are higher than human ways (vv. 5-8); (b) that God’s silence is justified and does not imply that he is uninvolved with humanity’s suffering (vv. 9-11); and (c) that God’s silence does not mean that he does not hear his own (vv. 12-14). Fifth, Elihu praised the greatness of God’s person and his omniscience (36:26-33). He said that God is unquestionable “great” and “we know him not” (v. 26). The way in which God uses his power to bless or afflict, to save or destroy, is beyond human understanding (vv. 26, 29; 37:5; cf. Ps. 139:6; Eccles. 8:17; Isa. 55:9; 1 Cor. 13:12)…The lesson for Job was that God is worthy of praise and is not subject to scrutiny or legal claim against him.3
None are able to do right, unless they are empowered by God under the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Some things are past our finding out, but what can we know? We’ll answer that in the following chapters.
1Waters, Larry. “Suffering in the Book of Job” in Why, O God. (p. 121).
2God allowed the Northern Kingdom of Israel to be scattered and sent into exile in B.C. 722 by the Assyrians. The Southern Kingdom held on of an additional 100 years, but were also sent into exile by B.C. 586 by the Babylonians.
3Waters, Larry, Why, O God, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 121. See also John Harley, The Book of Job, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 479 as quoted in Waters, Why, O God.
Questions for Discussion:
1) Which of the above four categories cause the most questions for you, regarding why?
2) From which category do you think people suffer the most? Why?
3) Which category is the most easily recognized? The least easily recognized?
4) What are the positive aspects of each of the categories above?
5) How do the above four categories reveal that God has sovereign control? Or is this a question of whether He does?
This concludes this question.