Questions about life and death, pain and suffering strike every person alive, usually more than once in their lives. We all have wondered “Why?” We have asked friends, family, parents, even pastors to help us understand why bad stuff happens. There are a lot of people who experience some tragedy and then break down emotionally, seemingly without an end in sight. Others bottle up their grief. Still others, maybe most, look up to heaven and ask God to give them an answer to this heartbroken question.
God, will you please help me understand why this happened? Why did my brother, sister, mom, dad, or friend have to get hurt? Why did they get cancer? Why, God, did you let this happen?
There is a large group of people who have experienced pain and their response is to shake their fist at heaven and blame God. They are hurt, broken and grief-stricken, and they cannot reconcile their pain or loss, so they lash out at the One who everyone says is supposed to be this loving Santa figure in heaven waiting to give us our “Best life Now,” to quote Joel Osteen.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
How we deal with death, suffering, pain, and hardship is directly tied to our understanding of God. Everything is theological! And if you believe that God is good and loving and that He cares for His creation, then you seek to understand what is happening or what is God doing and why. And yet you trust God to do that which is in keeping with His holy, good, and loving character, even when you do not know the reason why this bad thing is happening. You will seek out answers with faith, believing and trusting the promises of Scripture which comfort us by promising to us that God is indeed using everything, even the bad stuff, for our good. For the Christian, we know that God’s purpose is always for good. Unfortunately, so many false teachers speak with such ear-tickling persuasiveness that they will deceive all of Christianity if they can. They'll actually tell their victims that God never intends you to be ill or sick. He would never allow you to be unhealthy, and if you had enough faith you wouldn’t have that cancer.
Please be assured that as Paul the Apostle was penning Romans, he was in prison. Joseph was thrown into a pit, sold as a slave, put in prison for years because he was accused falsely of attempted rape. He was mistreated in every way, and God's purpose was to save all of Israel through his suffering. You need to have a proper theology of suffering if you are going to go through pain and hardship, even death, and still cling to the steadfast hope of Jesus Christ.
A Theology of Suffering
What is a theology of suffering? Well, let me tell you that those who have taught that you will not suffer are flat out lying! Jesus promised every born-again believer, tribulation, temptation, and persecution would come, and it has been the norm throughout history. You would be hated because of the name of Jesus Christ. See, Jesus is our greatest example of one who suffered, in fact, He was the only innocent man (God in the flesh) whoever suffered. While there is not one man, woman, or child who has ever deserved anything good from God, not even a moment of pleasure, God richly lavishes upon all mankind His lovingkindness. Because God lavishes such good upon undeserving sinners, when we suffer, we feel that it is wrong or somehow unfair. Scripture can give us some clarity on the issue.
“For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:21-25
Jesus didn’t do anything to defend Himself so that He could suffer as the innocent Lamb for guilty sinners. A proper theology of suffering will give you the perspective to see from the very Word of God that you are not promised peace and safety, but you are promised hardship and suffering. Oh, and you are promised eternal life, which Jesus paid for and secured on behalf of all of God’s elect.
A word of warning as you consider this theology of suffering -. as we read in Romans 8, God works all things together for good to those who are called for His purposes. It is God who is working out all things both for our good and His glory. It is God who is sovereign, and it is God who is in control of every atom in the universe. He sent His only Son Jesus to pay the full debt, and He suffered upon the cross and under the wrath of God, to drink every drop of the wrath of God on our behalf. So, don’t let anyone lie to you and tell you that you must suffer to merit God's grace, forgiveness, and eternal life. That would be a system of works for salvation, not God's sovereign grace in salvation.
If you have a proper and biblical theology of suffering, you can be comforted in knowing that God predestined the salvation of His elect saints. You can see that He worked out every moment in time and every move that every person would ever make so that all of His elect would be exactly where He wanted them to be at the moment that He would save them. But there is more. A proper theology of suffering will also cause you to see that when God predestined to save you, He sealed and secured you as His own precious creation so that you will spend eternity with Him.
Salvation Supersedes Suffering
This is so important, and you cannot miss this! God's love for His elect is so great that He predestined to send His Son Jesus to be the Savior before He created anything. He then wrote the names of all of God's predestined, elect, called, and chosen saints down in the Lamb's Book. Those names will never be blotted out.
Scripture reveals these truths, but you need to know this and trust it. God moved every single person in your family line and put them exactly where they needed to be so that you would be born and then He brought you specifically to salvation. Plus, by His providence, He also moved every other person, whether saved or unbeliever, where they needed to be to accomplish His salvation of you. If you don’t believe me, ask how God predestined that Jesus would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver by one that was with Him? How did Jesus know the moment the finest details of His final, and ultimate, submission unto death, were to happen? Have you forgotten that God said that the soldiers would pierce Him, not break His bones, cast lots for His clothes, give him vinegar, and declare Jesus to be a righteous man when they witnessed His death? These were not general but specific incidents where God used these specific men to do and say specific things that they were predestined to do so that Jesus would suffer and die for His elect.
Now here is a shock that you probably were never told. God is perfectly content to use your pain and suffering to bring another predestined saint to Himself and to save their soul. Paul believed it. Jesus believed it. The Old Testament bears this out, and all of history proves it out. Your pain and sorrows do not have to be for naught and should never be thought of as worthless tragedy.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faithful, godly men enslaved by King Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel. These three Hebrew men were thrown into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar, and they were expected to die. They were ready to be martyred and didn't question their plight for a second. But, God used their suffering and the witness of Daniel the Prophet of God, to bring about the salvation testimony of that same king one chapter later. God does not waste the lives of His saints. The Psalmist writes:
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” Psalm 116:15
Personal Suffering – My Lesson
Please allow me to share how I came to understand this personally. Three years ago, on October 21st, 2016, my appendix ruptured. I almost died. I was hurting for several days and thought I had food poisoning, but on that morning I went to my doctor. He sent me to be admitted at the hospital, as he thought I might have appendicitis. This was about 9 am. He wanted a CT “stat!” Well, stat turned out to be almost 9 hours later because the hospital staff dropped the ball. As the day progressed my pain went from really bad to the worst thing I have ever experienced, up to that point. I screamed uncontrollably, begging for someone to help me. I prayed that God would let me pass out, but that never happened. I cannot describe the pain, and I didn’t think it would end. At about 5 pm they rushed me down to CT and found that my appendix was about to rupture, so they took me straight to the operating room. I prayed with my oldest son on the way, and I said “goodbye.” I just knew I was about to die and I was ready for the pain to end. The doctor told me that my appendix was starting to rupture. They put me under and did their work.
They finished and put me in a recovery room. When I woke up, I was in pain, but after a few days, that pain had gotten seriously bad again. My surgeon visited me, and I told him something was wrong, he examined me and found that my abdomen was red and swollen. He could see that there was a lot of infection, so they did another emergency surgery. They cleaned me up and had to put a wound vacuum on me to cover and seal up the seriously big wound. I will say that the pain was so intense for several weeks. I prayed and begged God to let me just come home to be with Him. I wanted this to end! Well, it didn’t end. For three weeks I was in the hospital, and during that time, they were forcing me to walk every day (What an evil practice, but I know it has to be done).
After much praying, I decided that God put me there for a reason, and so I went to every room on that floor and shared the gospel with everyone I could. Several patients were near death and gladly heard the gospel. There were even friends and relatives who would listen and talk about their fears and sorrows. Others told me to leave and kicked me out. But I didn’t care. I was not going to suffer here for no reason.
After about two weeks, I think, God moved in a way I couldn’t have imagined. My wife’s old boss, “Roger”(let's call him “Roger” out of respect and privacy), was brought to the floor and placed two rooms down from me. I saw him being wheeled in. I prayed and asked God to help me get up and go to him. I went to his room and walked in. His wife was sitting there stunned, crying, and a wreck because Roger was losing his battle against cancer. They had already taken his legs due to diabetes. These were his last few days and she couldn’t take care of him at home. Hospice called and had him admitted.
Roger was such a sweet, wonderful man, and I can still see his face. I asked if I could pray with them and Roger said, “Justin, I used to be a Christian, but I want to know how to be ready to meet Him.” I stopped and prayed and then I shared the gospel with him and his wife, and they both broke down (so did I). It was that broken crying that you just never see. Scripture says “godly sorrow brings repentance” (2 Cor. 7:10). Roger placed his faith in Christ alone and he told me that if he had not had cancer, he never would have been there and might not have heard the gospel. I did not get to see him after that night. He died two days later, but I will see him again.
God does not waste anything. He uses everything for His purpose and He is so good and trustworthy, we just need to faithfully seek to be used as His instruments. I know this for a fact. God allowed me to suffer through the worst pain I have ever felt in my life, and He allowed me to see Him save a lot of people those three weeks. I spent 4 months recovering at home with home healthcare nurses, and God let me witness to them as well. These are people I would have never seen if my “catastrophe” had not struck.
I have been in severe pain now for 3 years. In June, after having several doctors ignoring me, one finally listened to me and he found that I have a 13-centimeter hernia where they had performed the emergency surgery. So, on Christmas Eve December 24th, I am having the biggest surgery I have ever had to fix the problem, and I am forced again to consider the big question: “Are you ready?”
This is not an abstract issue for me, but rather this has been an ongoing question that I have had to ask myself over and over for years. Have I prepared my family, my church, and myself? Do I trust that God is indeed working out all things for my good and His glory?
I know that this surgery is dangerous, and I admit that I am nervous, but not really for me. I get to witness to all the doctors, and I will be going door to door again. But, if I die during the surgery, I know where I am going. I just don’t want my kids to be hurt. I don’t want my wife to be without her husband. I am a pastor and I love my church; I love the flock that God has given me. And I don’t want to hurt them either. I will admit it, I really have a lot of people that I dearly love, and if I leave them, I will miss them for a little while. But we all are promised that we will die, I just want to make sure that I live well! I want to live well and for everyone to know that I trust God to use me and then to bring me home. Because there is no suffering that is not designed ultimately to bring me safely into the loving arms of my God! For me, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. God promises that our suffering does not compare to the eternity that is waiting for us in glory. We get to be with Christ and what a blessing that will be.
” For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 818-23
Oh, and if all goes well and this surgery is a success, I will be in recovery and rehab for about 4 months and then I will be getting back out and open-air witnessing, preaching at church and sharing the gospel with everyone I can. So, I pray that God will be glorified by the life He has given me to live.
Please, take some time and study the biblical accounts of all those who suffered well, whom God used in mighty and wonderful ways. Ask yourself if you are committed to serve God and trust Him no matter what trial, tribulation or suffering you face? Do you have a Biblical Theology of suffering?
“It is appointed for man once to die and after that comes the judgment” Hebrews 9:27.
So, are you ready to meet God? Will He be your Savior or your Judge? If you do not know the answer to that question, please contact us or let me recommend LivingWaters.com and ask “what must I do to be saved?” Check out www.NeedGod.com
Grace and Peace
Pastor Justin Pierce
Grace Reformed Baptist Church.