We simplify suffering. We want to explain it (probably in hopes that we might predict it or even avoid it altogether). But in so doing, we probably misrepresent God and mislead people.
The Bible reads, “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually” (Job 1:1-5, ESV).
There are times that people suffer for the Cause of Christ. It can be the most righteous believers who are persecuted and even killed for the sake and furtherance of the gospel. One of the most unexplainable aspects of faith is this – why is it often those who have the least are also those called to give the most? They do everything right – and everything wrong happens as a result.
Then there those who suffer because of their own doing. They literally bring it upon themselves. Sin produces destruction, division, and death. The reward for rebellion is too high a price to pay. And yet, those who are caught in such dysfunction, are the very ones who wish to blame anyone but themselves. They refuse to take responsibility let alone a posture of repentance. They are so wrapped up in the crisis and chaos that they have no idea that they are to blame.
To make matters even more complicated, sometimes bad things happen for no reason at all. We simply live in a broken and bruised world.
So how do we tell the difference? When do we know when we are suffering due to God’s purposes? From our own actions? Or just in the midst of a larger tragedy?
And if this is how complicated suffering is – then could the same be said of blessings? We can’t just name it or claim it. We can’t just do all of the right things and expect all the right things in return. We are not in control. We do not deserve certain things because of who we are. Remember – grace and mercy. God is God and we are not.
But here is what we can do…we can comfort those who are suffering. We can pray and defend the persecuted church. And not resist persecution ourselves. We can ask that God search our heart and cleanse us of any destructive attitudes and behaviors. We can be there in times of trial and turmoil and do what no one else is willing to do. That much, I am certain of in the midst of suffering.