Sometimes the reason for our suffering is to test our faith. It is under that testing that we prove what it is that we truly believe. Aren’t our beliefs and convictions made stronger when they are required of us? Your true beliefs and convictions come out when you are put to the test on them. Jesus warns Peter about a testing of his faith. In Luke 22:31-32: And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.
Jesus is telling Peter that Satan is going to test him, to see whether Peter would remain faithful to Jesus or not. And Jesus has even prayed that Peter’s faith would be strong and not fail. Peter was faced with the test of whether he would admit to being a follower of Jesus and risk being arrested too, or whether he would deny knowing Jesus for his own safety. We know that Peter failed this test – three times that night. But he realized immediately what he had done. And it says that he “wept bitterly” over it. It was that testing that humbled Peter and ultimately strengthened his faith to endure much more difficult trials and tests later in his life. As Jesus had said, Peter returned to Him and strengthened his brethren. This testing allowed Peter to grow stronger to never falter again. His faith was tested later through imprisonment and execution, but he had learned by then how to remain strong by relying on the strength from God instead of himself.
The definitive example of having our faith tested through suffering is found with Jesus. At first glance, it appears that the testing of His faith was in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4, Mark 1). Those accounts actually tell us that the Spirit is what took Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. God Himself did not tempt Jesus, nor does God Himself tempt us. But God uses Satan's temptations to serve His sovereign purposes. And Jesus was tempted in all points – the “lust of the flesh,” the “lust of the eyes,” and the “pride of life.” The flesh lust was for food. Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights and Satan tempted Him to turn the rocks into bread. The lust of the eyes was the promise of all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship Satan. The pride of life was to test the angels to save Him if he jumped off the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus had to be tempted in order to show His faithfulness and sinlessness. As with Adam and Eve in the garden, obedience cannot be proven unless there is the opportunity for disobedience. Faithfulness cannot be proven if there is never the moment for lack of faith.
In reality though, the true test of faith for Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew the path that was before Him; He knew the suffering of the betrayal, the abandonment, the trial, and the cross that awaited Him. And He wanted more than anything for there to be some other way for man to be reconciled to God. How do we know that? Because of His prayer. It says that He was “sorrowful and deeply distressed.” He cried out for “this cup” of suffering to pass from Him. He prayed that there would be another way. The true testing here was whether Jesus would submit to God’s will or whether He would succumb to the temptation of NOT sacrificing His life on the cross. Jesus could have called down a whole host of angels to fight the Romans and overthrow the Pharisees. But that was not God’s will. The suffering that Jesus would endure was testing His faith and testing His obedience. But His faith proved true and His actions showed obedience as He submitted Himself to God’s will. “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39
James speaks on suffering used for testing our faith. In James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James says we should find joy in our trials. That is not our natural response to hardship, but as Christians we are to consider our trials as joy and make a conscience effort to face them with joy. Why? Because we know that it tests our faith. God brings these tests to prove and increase the strength and quality of our faith. It even serves to validate our faith when we rely on Him during our trials. During our suffering, we can either respond in faith in God, which will strengthen our faith, or we can respond in human weakness, which will grow into temptation. But the result of testing is perseverance, endurance, and patience. It brings us to a spiritual maturity – a deeper trust in Christ, which is where we are complete.
In 1 Samuel 16, God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel. David was the youngest of eight sons of Jesse; so young at the time that he wasn’t even initially brought in for Samuel to consider anointing. But when God turned down the older seven brothers, Samuel asked Jesse if there were any other children. He said his youngest was out with the sheep. But this was the one God would anoint to be the next king of Israel. At that time the “Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.” And in the very next verse we see that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, who was the current king of Israel. It appeared that things were going smoothly for David after this. David fought and defeated Goliath, winning the hearts of the people. He single-handedly killed two thousand Philistines. He served in Saul’s court as the one harpist who could calm the king’s madness. He grew to love Saul’s family and became especially close friends with Saul’s son, Jonathon. He even married Saul’s daughter, Michal. But Saul begins to resent David. David would spend nearly a decade of life on the run from Saul and battling those loyal to Saul before he could rule over all of Israel.
We’ve looked at many examples as to why suffering exists. We choose sin and must face both the natural consequences of our actions and the actions of others. Sometimes we even have to face the judgment from God for our actions. Sometimes bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. Nature is fallen, and evil exists. But God is still all powerful and could stop our suffering if He wanted to, right? Maybe God allows us to suffer to serve a greater purpose. So why might God allow us to suffer?
We have been looking at different reasons that we may suffer and several of them have to do with our choices or the choices of someone else. Sometimes we suffer the natural consequences of our choices. Sometimes our choices bring about punishment and judgment on our lives or someone else’s. Sometimes the evil choices of someone else results in the suffering of someone innocent. But sometimes we face tragedies that have nothing to do with our own actions or the choices made by others. Natural disasters in the world, like tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, or volcanic eruptions can wreak havoc on people’s lives and take loved ones from us all too soon. And natural disasters in our bodies can cause disease, sickness, and disability causing much suffering to our lives and our loved ones. Those situations typically have nothing to do with someone’s choices. They seem to be almost random yet give our lives so much grief and pain and suffering. How do we explain the existence of those things if there is a loving God?
What we have to understand is that while God is perfect and loving, the world we live in now is not. And it all goes back to the fact that we have free will in this world. When God created the earth and everything in it, it was created good. In fact, at the end of creating God declared it “very good.” God also created a natural order for that good creation with humanity at the head of it. Humanity was given authority for the well-being of the earth and its creatures. So when Adam and Eve made their free will choice to disobey God, it wasn’t just those two that were affected by that choice. Their sin broke humanity’s relationship with God, and the earth fell with it. Genesis 3:17 says that God told Adam, “Cursed is the ground for your sake.” And all other creatures were cursed – the serpent just more than the rest of them.
Adam’s sin caused the earth to be cursed and it fell from wholeness and perfection just like mankind. We see the connection between humanity and the earth with the story of Noah. "The Lord said, "I will blot out man whom I have made from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things, and the birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Because of man’s sin, nature would be destroyed as well. However, we also see that "Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." And God developed a plan to save not only Noah and his family, but all the animals and creatures on the earth. From this we see three great truths about our earth.
Romans 8:19-22 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.
He tells us that the good earth was subjected to corruption because of humanity’s sin. The only way to keep the earth pure after the introduction of sin would be to remove people from the earth. In other words, you can’t have kids and white carpets in the same house. You cannot have sinful people on a perfect earth and expect to keep the planet spotless. Paul tells us that nature is not only fallen, but it knows that it is fallen – and doesn’t like it. It is “groaning” and “laboring” with birth pangs “together,” meaning nature with humanity. Nature does not want to be as it is, but it is powerless to do anything about it.
And just like we, as mankind, can do nothing in our own power to redeem ourselves, there is nothing that mankind can do in our own power to redeem nature. We are both condemned together through the presence of sin and Adam’s choice. And we will both be redeemed together by the second coming of Jesus. We are to be good stewards of the earth, but man alone cannot redeem the earth, just like man alone cannot redeem humanity. All of creation needs to be delivered by God.
So no matter what man does or doesn’t do right now, there will still be hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, ice storms, drought, and floods because the earth is fallen and cursed. We would do well then to remember that as Jesus says in Matthew 5:45 “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and send rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Think about what all is really included when we we say nature is fallen. Is it just trees and the oceans or would it also include our genetic code and mutations? We see birth defects, cancer, disease, and disabilities in our own bodies because that part of nature is fallen too. Is that God’s will? Is that God’s judgment on the sinful? Jesus was asked this exact question by his disciples.
John 9:1 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
The disciples, like most Jews at that time, thought sin was always the cause of affliction. They assumed that if this man was born blind, then someone had sinned – either the man or his parents. But look at how Jesus responds.
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
Jesus says that a man’s affliction is not necessarily a direct result of someone’s particular sin. But He did say that God’s sovereignty and purposes play a part in such matters. Think about the miracles Jesus worked that proved to others His deity and His power. Jesus revealed His power as God through healing the sick, making the lame to walk, causing the blind to see, cleansing the lepers of leprosy, raising the dead to life. In order to do that, those people had to be sick, lame, blind, lepers, and dead. But God allowed them to experience that tragedy here so that the works of God could be revealed in them. No, that doesn’t mean that the works will always result in healing, but it means God will still reveal Himself through them.
Sickness, disease, tragedy, and death are not always a result of judgment for a particular sin. Those are things that will always plague mankind because we live in a fallen, sinful world in general. We may ask why God allows those sicknesses because it seems unfair to us. However, we know that God is sovereign and can reveal His works in the midst of our sickness.
Because of the choice made by Lucifer to rebel against God, there is evil. A lot of our suffering is simply because evil exists. And when evil action is taken, the consequences are usually felt by innocent people. Lives lost from school shootings, terrorist bombings, the Holocaust, genocide in Somalia, and chemical warfare in Syria are all because there is evil in this world. The consequences of the actions made by those evil people were at the expense of millions of innocent lives. Does that mean that God caused those people to die or suffer?
In Genesis 1, we learn that in the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth. And all his creation was declared “good.” But only two chapters later we see the fall of Adam and Eve. They chose sin over obedience to God and suddenly creation isn’t so good. The ground was cursed; the animals were cursed; and man and woman were cursed. At first you think that all they did was eat of the forbidden fruit. They did something that God told them not to. Doesn’t that seem like such a small “mistake”? Yet through that one action death and sin entered the world. In that moment, evil entered the world. And only one generation later we see that grow into murder.
Genesis 4 tells the account of Cain and Abel. At some point prior to his incident, God had established the rules for the sacrifice. It didn’t involve just bringing whatever was easiest for you to obtain. It involved sacrificing with innocent blood. The sacrifice wasn’t about whatever we wanted to bring. The sacrifice was about what God commanded us to bring. But Cain decided to just bring what was easiest for him, and that was fruit since he was a farmer. Instead of learning his lesson and doing better next time, he grew angry and sin was in his heart. God even warned him that his sin would grow if he couldn’t control it.
What was God’s will in this situation? Did God desire for Cain to be angry about the rejection of his sacrifice? God’s desire was for Cain to bring an appropriate sacrifice. God even said that if he had been obedient to the rules of sacrifice, then it would have been accepted. Cain chose not to do that and then chose to become angry when God didn’t accept it. He grew hostile toward God, whom he could not kill, and jealous of his brother, whom he could kill.
“Now Cain talked with Abel his brother, and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”
Did Abel do anything wrong? Was Abel being judged for some sin in his life? Abel’s death was because Cain let his jealousy and anger overtake him. Cain murdered because there is sin in this world. Yet because Cain had free will, he could act out that anger and hatred towards Abel by taking his life. In that moment, Abel, Adam, and Eve all suffered the consequences of the presence of evil. Think about the grief that Adam and Eve faced. They had lost their son Abel at the hands of their son Cain. They had to grieve both the death of Abel and the fact that they had a child who committed murder. God’s punishment for Cain was to banish him to be a wanderer and a fugitive. So now Adam and Eve have lost the presence of Cain as well.
Another victim at the hands of evil was Joseph. Joseph may have been an annoying little brother, tattling on his brothers out working in the fields and telling them of these dreams he had about being worshiped as a king. And he may have been a little brat because he was favored by his father, demonstrated by his special coat of colors. But Joseph did not “deserve” the fate that laid before him. His brothers were jealous; they let hatred and bitterness grow in their hearts towards Joseph. And they plotted to kill him. And these eleven brothers were the other heads of the tribes of Israel! Yet they are so consumed by the evil in their hearts that they conspired to murder their brother. Instead, they decide to sell him into slavery to the Ishmaelites. Joseph wasn’t being judged for sin. But because of the evil within his brothers’ hearts, he sold into slavery.
Of course we know how that story ends. Because of Joseph’s time as a slave, he has the God-given opportunity to rise to power under Pharaoh in Egypt, which is how his entire family is saved from the famine. As Joseph says in Genesis 45:4: “But now do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
Joseph even explains to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” What those brothers meant for evil, God meant for good. Therefore, sometimes we suffer simply because evil exists in this sinful world. We may bemoan what can be done about “so much evil.” But where we really need to start is assessing the evil within our own hearts.
Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”