This is Part 2 of the question, “How great is the suffering that God allows?” as part of the larger question, “Why does a loving God allow suffering?” Part 3 will be posted tomorrow.
Paul’s Suffering Example
What about the suffering Paul endured. Did God allow his suffering? Paul understood from hindsight that God was always sovereign in every detail. Paul wrote,
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. (2 Cor. 12:7-8 NKJ)
Paul pleaded three times that his “thorn in the flesh” be removed. He could have made a hundred pleas, but learned by the third time that God had a higher purpose in the suffering. God did not grant his petition. Instead He said,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
Paul responded in humility, because He accepted God’s grace. The suffering was still present, but so was the presence of the Lord. Instead of complaining, Paul took another approach to his suffering. He wrote,
Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7-10 NKJ)
How do you take that approach and seize that perspective? He trusted in the Lord and that gave him strength to face his suffering.
Jesus is the Ultimate Example Before the Cross
How great is the suffering that God allows? Jesus is the remarkable example of One who went through excruciating pain and yet entrusted Himself to God. After the Last Supper, the Lord Jesus led the disciples into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Leaving the disciples, He moved to a spot in the Garden to be alone with the Father, and knelt to pray,
41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” 43 Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground1. (Luke 22:41-44 NKJ)
Medically trained personnel will explain that this condition is called “Hematidrosis,” which is a rare condition in which one’s sweat will contain blood. The sweat glands are surrounded by tiny blood vessels, which can constrict and then dilate to the point of rupturing, causing the blood to effuse into the sweat glands.1 Extreme anxiety is the cause of this condition. I have seen many people in great anguish, but never have I seen anyone sweat blood. That was intense suffering that God allowed!
Jesus asked that the cross be removed, but He wanted to please the Father’s will more than seeking His own. He despised the shame of the cross, but He endured it so that many could be gathered to Him.
Part 3 will be posted tomorrow.