The Bible talks a lot about suffering and most of the people it talks about experience suffering in one way or another. For example, Jacob’s favorite son is kidnapped. And Job experiences the loss of everyone and everything in his life. And Jeremiah is not only rejected for his message, he’s also imprisoned for his message. And Joseph loses the opportunity to marry his virgin bride. And Jesus is betrayed and abandoned and crucified. And Mary is left a widow and sees her son tortured and killed publicly. And John the apostle is exiled to die on the island of Patmos. He doesn’t but he’s exiled there. So the servants of God, even the son of God were no strangers to suffering but they all suffered successfully. That’s the point here: they all suffered successfully for the following reasons.
First of all, they knew that suffering was in God’s plan. It’s part of God’s plan. It’s not as if God says “Boy, everything’s going great, oops this person over here suffered. Oh I’m sorry I didn’t mean it. I had the plan going and it backfired.” No, suffering is in God’s plan. Unbelievers think that suffering is part of bad luck or fate or somebody else’s fault. That’s why Bill Day was asked the question he was asked. Basically the guy was saying to him “So what do you think about your God now?” as if something went terribly wrong with his faith. Believers with a shaky faith think that suffering happens because God loses control of a situation or that he doesn’t care or that he’s not paying attention.
When you hear somebody say “Why did God do that? That wasn’t supposed to happen.” What you’re listening to is a faith that’s kind of shaky there. That’s what you’re hearing. You’re hearing somebody whose faith is trembling. Jesus said that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to him as the Son of God. This means that nothing happens unless God permits it to happen. Sometimes God actively does good things to bless people and we need to pray for this. And then sometimes he allows us to choose to do good things for ourselves and that’s marvelous. And then sometimes God punishes his people with plagues and destruction. You know the Pharaoh or Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the apostles were struck dead. That’s God’s hand there working. And then sometimes God simply allows bad things to happen – tornadoes, the bombing, a shooting spree.
The point is that whether he himself causes it to happen – good or bad – or he simply allows it to happen – good or bad – God is always in charge. Nothing ever happens unless he permits it. Listen, just because we don’t understand it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand it; it just means we don’t understand it. And there’s nothing in the Bible that says we have to understand everything that God does and everything that God permits. He’s not promised us that. It’s easy to understand why he causes or permits good things to happen. But we have problems with understanding why he permits evil to happen. Now don’t get me wrong. He doesn’t cause the evil. He permits some to exist but he limits it, he mitigates it.
But why let any bad happen? Why let any suffering take place? A couple of reasons. First of all suffering produces patience. We know the passage James 1:3-4 simply says “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance and let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Let’s face it. Some things can only be produced one way, and patience and endurance is only produced in the fires of trial and suffering. You do not create patience, you do not cultivate the virtue of patience when everything goes exactly your way. No, it’s like going for a stress test. They want to test your heart – a stress test. You don’t go on the level treadmill; you’ll be there all day. What do they do? They make that treadmill go up a little up and now you’re really working hard to take some steps. What are they trying to do? Well they’re trying to give some resistance so to get your heart pumping so that they can measure. Try to see the things that happen in your life, try to understand, it’s the same kind of thing. It’s like God is kind of raising up the treadmill of your life, put a little pressure on you, test your faith, build some muscle, develop some virtues.