This is Part 5/5 in answering the question, “What are man’s ways of overcoming the suffering that God allows?” in the larger question, “How can a loving God allow suffering?”
Expressions of How Man’s Desires to Overcome Suffering
Considering these categories of how men seek to overcome suffering, let’s note several specific ways man attempts to overcome his suffering apart from God.
Without God in his thinking, man develops all kinds of erroneous views and actions of how to overcome suffering. A person often overcomes suffering in the same way he seeks to overcome his own sin. For example, first, he develops his own self-importance and says, “I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re good, so we shouldn’t suffer.” 3 He seeks to diminish his own responsibility of suffering in the world by puffing himself up, and blaming others. He believes then he can find acceptance with others rather than accept that he cannot trust himself, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” (Pro. 3:5 NKJ). This self-importance, he thinks, gives him mental relief.
Secondly, he seeks to resolve his own suffering first rather than seek to understand God’s kingdom and provide comfort to others. Natural man thinks, “If I don’t take care of myself, no one else will.” Although, this is in contrast with God’s way of seeking His kingdom first (Matt. 6:33; Pro. 3:6). This self-centeredness prevents him from understanding God’s perspective on suffering. By placing himself first, he actually makes a “suffering-free life” his idol and misses out on fulfilling God’s will.
Thirdly, he guards his own freedoms to speak and to act rather than submit to God’s authority and those He has placed over man (Rom. 13:1; Heb. 13:17). We saw this under rebellious self-assertiveness, “I have to look out for number 1 – me!” That is a never-ending pursuit that will never be satisfied, like Scripture teaches that fire and the grave are never satisfied (Pro. 30:16). God directs those who assemble in church, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Heb. 13:17 NKJ) God’s emphasis is on humility in submission so that those who lead might have joy. But by guarding his own “rights,” he misses out on the blessings God wants him to experience through suffering.
Fourthly, he looks at his suffering as unique to him, which no one else can fully understand, rather than accept that suffering are common to mankind and others can help us through troubles and trials. Paul explains that no temptation, problem or suffering is unique to man, “No temptation [suffering] has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10:13 NKJ) The fact that suffering is common to men does not mean that it is not personal. However, a self-centered approach will prevent the peace and joy of God from being experienced (Phil. 4:6-7; Rom. 15:13). That self-centered approach does not allow him to experience God’s grace while abiding under the pressure and suffering and learning how God’s mercies and presence are totally sufficient.
Fifthly, he compares his suffering to others. While he cannot physically or emotionally feel the suffering of others, he focuses his attention on rectifying his own suffering rather than serving and blessing others. Hence, he is going to suffer in greater ways, because he compares suffering in the world, to the suffering he endures. Rather he should compare his suffering to the suffering Jesus went through on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). Comparisons always bring self into the picture, “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12 NKJ) Scripture teaches us to deny self (Luke 9:23).
Sixthly, he pursues riches to establish conditions which overcome suffering. Instead of understanding riches as opportunities to bless God and others, he pursues them in order to avoid and evade suffering (1 Tim. 6:17). Often, money is seen as the solution, rather than the Lord. In fact money is only a fragile tool in God’s timing,
18 “So he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 `And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘ 20 “But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ (Luke 12:18-20 NKJ)
Seventhly, he avoids all problems and potential sources of conflict. Through that philosophy, he dodges people with whom he has conflict. He restricts his opportunities to start businesses. He passes up opportunities to share the gospel, because he is afraid of rejection. He does not realize that troubles and tribulations are part of the process of developing perseverance, character and ultimately seeing God as a God of hope and deliverance (Rom. 5:3-5; 15:13).
Paul is not directing us to pursue suffering, but to accept that God sovereignly allows suffering so we can grow spiritually in hope.
These are man’s way of overcoming the suffering that God allows. Man is a helpless and vulnerable creature in most sufferings of life, however, where man has a choice, many of these “futile ways” can be identified as the foolishness of man trying overcome suffering in life. When man deals with suffering man’s way and then seeks to overcome suffering in man’s way, there are certain results that he eventually will face. We’ll look at those in the next chapter.
1) How do you see people seeking to overcome suffering?
2) What do you suppose happens inside of the souls of people who seek to overcome suffering apart from dependence on God?
3) Which of the ways described above are most commonly pursued by man?
4) How would you counsel/disciple a person who is bent on pursuing man’s way of overcoming suffering in life?
5) As you disciple a person who is seeking to overcome suffering by man’s way, how well do you need to understand what the person is experiencing? What are the benefits if you do? What are the consequences of not listening to understand the person in his suffering?
This concludes 5 Parts for this question.
1Thomson, Daniel, “A Biblical Disability-Ministry Perspective,” in Why, O God, p. 31.
2Broger, John, Self-Confrontation: A Manual for In-Depth Discipleship, (Palm Desert: Capstone Enterprises, 1991), p. 70-72. The ways man seeks to overcome were adapted from this material drawing from how man seeks to overcome life rather than being a conqueror of life in Christ by dying to self.
3Ibid., p. 75. Several of these comparisons are based on the information explained in this discipleship manual.