One of the most difficult issues to address in the Christian life is the issue of suffering. Countless words have been devoted to the topic, but no matter how much is said, it never seems that the right words are found. There are too many kinds of pain, too many types of suffering, and too much sorrow in the world that is unable to be explained or comforted by any one book, sermon, or blog post.
What you tell the terminally ill cancer patient whose been given six months to live is different than what you tell the single mother with children who is struggling to make ends meet. The way you comfort a child who is being picked on at school doesn’t look the same as the way you comfort a young married couple that has just lost their third child in a miscarriage. The way you counsel a Syrian refugee who has lost everything at the hands of ISIS is not the same counsel you give a young man who has just been paralyzed from the waist down in an automobile accident.
Although there isn’t a book, sermon, or blog post that can single-handedly address each of these issues, I believe there is a certain sentence that applies to any kind of pain and suffering. There are seven words that, when viewed correctly through the lens of Scripture, can bring hope, peace, and purpose to any situation, no matter how severe. For the terminally ill cancer patient, for the lonely single mother, for the bullied child and the heartbroken couple, for the Syrian refugee and the paraplegic, you should know: God is in control of your pain.
There are several passages of Scripture that reveal this to us:
- “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3: 37-38)
- “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” (Philippians 1:29)
- “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39)
- “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts” (1 Samuel 2:6-7)
Many others could be cited, especially from Job, but the clear consensus of Scripture is that God is in fact sovereign over our pain. This truth is offensive to many, but it is a truth that you should want to embrace when faced with the alternatives.
If God is not in control of your pain:
- You must hope that Satan will relent. This is probably the majority view amongst those who deny that God ordains our suffering—that Satan alone is the one who brings about our trials. It is true that Satan has the power to cause us pain as the oft-cited story of Job shows us. However, it is very clear that Satan only acts within the bounds of the sovereignty of God. I won’t argue this point here, but see this article by John Piper that provides a wealth of scriptural support for this.
But, for the sake of the argument, let’s say Satan is the sole arbiter of our suffering. If God is not in control, is there much use in hoping that Satan will stop his attacks against us? Or that we can muster up enough willpower to overcome him? Not even the archangel Michael attempted this (Jude 1:9). Satan was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44) and no amount of our pleading with him will make that change. It’s easy to see how this option provides us no hope at all.
- You must hope you can put an end to all your pain. If God is not in control of it, perhaps you can bring an end to all of your pain yourself. Maybe there’s a prescription you can take, perhaps there’s a bottle you can turn to, or maybe you can disconnect your mind from the harsh reality that you’re living and find the Zen that you’re seeking.
Either way, what we know is true is that there isn't much you can do to alleviate your own suffering that doesn’t bring more suffering with it. No substance, no act of willpower, nothing that we can do on our own can prevent our suffering when it comes.
- Your suffering has no purpose. Romans 8:28 is true only if it includes the pain that you experience. If God only ordains the good things in our lives, then what is the purpose of all the bad things? There isn’t one. Our pain and suffering are reduced to a mere by-product of God’s passiveness and lack of control. But we know that’s not the case.
God, whose goal and desire is to magnify the glory of His name through the joy of His people, is not going to create a world in which any measure of glory of His will be lost. For the purposes of His glory and our joy, the world we live in is the best of all possible worlds. That means that your pain is not meaningless. Your suffering is not arbitrary. It is calculated, specific, and particularly chosen in God’s plan to bring you joy and to bring Him glory.
I once had to take my daughter Lyla to get shots. I took her to the doctor against her will, held her down even though she tried to fight, and allowed a stranger to inflict pain on my child. Lyla screamed and looked at me with a very confused look wondering why I was subjecting her to this. She screamed and begged for me to make it stop, but I didn't. I held her there until it was over. I did this because I knew that the pain she was experiencing was for her own good. I knew the benefits of her receiving the vaccines would far outweigh the problems she might face later on if she were to forgo them. I did it because I loved my child. There was something good right on the other side of those shots that I was aware of, but she wasn't.
Paul understood this when he said that he "consider[ed] the sufferings of this present time not even worth being compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). There is something greater than your pain that is waiting for you on the other side of it. We don’t understand all of the specifics of how this works now, but we will one day. For now, we trust and we believe that God is who He says that He is: a loving Father who works to do good for His children (Matthew 7:11; Romans 8:28).