The Purpose of Suffering

The great Puritan writer, John Owen, explains the very reason for suffering:

The procuring cause of the death of Christ was sin. He died for sin; he died for our sin; our iniquities were upon him, and were the cause of all the punishment that befell him.

Wherein can we be conformable unto the death of Christ with respect unto sin? We cannot die for sin. Our hope and faith is, in and through him, that we shall never die for sin. No mortal man can be made like unto Christ in suffering for sin. Those that undergo what he underwent, because they were unlike him, must go to hell and be made more unlike him to eternity. Therefore, the apostle tells us that our conformity unto the death of Christ with respect unto sin lies in this—that as he died for sin, so we should die unto sin—that that sin which he died for should die in us. He tells us so, “We are planted together in the likeness of his death” ()—“We are made conformable unto the death of Christ, planted into him, so as to have a likeness to him in his death.” Wherein? “Knowing that our old man is crucified with him,” says he (). It is the crucifixion of the old man, the crucifying of the body of sin, the mortifying of sin, that makes us conformable unto the death of Christ; as to the internal moral cause of it, that procures it. See another apostle tells us, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God” (–2). Here is our conformity to Christ, as he suffered in the flesh—that we should no longer live to our lusts, nor unto the will of man, but unto the will of God.

 


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For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (ESV)


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We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (ESV)


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4:1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, (ESV)

If God is Good: Developing a Theology of Suffering

Sadly, suffering is a fact of life. At one point or another, to one degree or another, you will face suffering. Suffering will consume your being.

It is never too late to develop a theology of suffering. We all need a proper foundation because it is not a question of if but when we will suffer (; ; ).

How do we develop a theology of suffering?

Read and study. Here are resources to help you in your pursuit of a good foundation in the theology of suffering.

  1. If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn (Kindle edition)
  2. When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)
  3. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Kindle edition)
  4. Kindle edition)
  5. O Love That Will Not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence in God by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Richard Baxter, Nancy Guthrie and John Piper
  6. A Lifetime of Wisdom: Embracing the Way God Heals You by Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)
  7. Why, O God?: Suffering and Disability in the Bible and the Church by Larry J. Waters, Roy B. Zuck, Randy Alcorn and Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)
  8. Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace by Michael S. Beates and Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)
  9. The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking with Jesus by Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)
  10. Glorious Intruder: God’s Presence in Life’s Chaos by Joni Eareckson Tada (Kindle edition)

Do you have other books and resources? Please share!

Update: 1/15/2013
Don’t You Dare Be Caught Rejoicing with Those Who Weep, an interview with Joni Eareckson Tada and Marvin Olasky.


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Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (ESV)


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In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, (ESV)


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then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, (ESV)

Struggle of Life

Have you struggled with the way life is and the way it should be?

People fall into one of three philosophies of thought when struggling through this tension: Theist (We can know God), Agnostic (I’m not sure God exists or that we can know), and Atheist (We cannot know).

For the theist, the presence of evil is proof God exists; for the agnostic, evil creates a huge question in the mind; Atheists see evil as proof God does not exist.

At best, I am a theist. At worst, I am agnostic of the variety. Doubting Dawkins and Atheism’s Strength demonstrate the achilles heal of Atheism. Atheism is not a tenable option for me.

One honest atheist explains (please pardon some of the wording),

In a godless universe shit happens without rhyme nor reason. Life is predatory from the ground up. Creatures eat one another by trapping unsuspecting victims in unusual ways, launching surprise attacks out of the blue, and hunting in packs by overpowering prey with brute force and numbers. Sometimes a creature just goes wacko for no reason at all. Humans are not exempt. Sometimes the wiring in our brains goes haywire and we snap. We too are violent and we inherited this trait from our animal predecessors. We also show care and concern to our kith and kin but we can lash out in horrific ways at what we consider an uncaring world.

David Heddle remarks,

On the one hand, a very illuminating observation. On the other hand it is nothing more than yet another attempt at the proof of godlessness by the existence of evil. Axiomatic atheism is, if you will, a one-trick pony: Bad things happen, ergo no god. They also throw in “show me god exists” – a reasonable request from their perspective—but this is a negative statement rather than a positive. The only positive argument atheism has is, as Loftus puts it, shit happens. He writes:

In a universe where there is an all powerful, perfectly good, all knowing God this tragedy is not what we would expect to happen.

Here Loftus is 100% wrong. He is operating under the misguided assumption that Christianity is a religion that teaches shit never happens.

The bible teaches us to enjoy life, God’s bounty, and temporal happiness. It also promises, like a prescription medication: side effects may include pain, despair, suffering, lapses into grievous sin, weakness, apparent senselessness, persecution, misery, and physical death. Why atheists think that fallen man in a fallen world behaving exactly as the bible tells us is somehow a problem for Christianity is unfathomable. Shit happens. Loftus is correct that a godless world predicts as much. He is incorrect that a world with the god of the bible does not. Both hypotheses fit the data.

Heddle is spot on. But further, I would say that many people see God as a Ivory-Tower God, a God that is disconnected from His creation in any meaningful way.

If God were an Ivory-Tower God, then Atheists would be correct

But God is not an Ivory-Tower God but a God who can identify with our suffering.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable.” We need a suffering Savior. We need a Savior who has tasted the cup of horror we are being forced to drink.

But more to the point, as Peter Kreeft goes so far as to say, “If good and evil exist, God exists. The struggle of life is a struggle for faith, but not just faith but faith in Jesus, our Emmanuel.


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24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (ESV)

If God is Good, Why is there Evil, Pain, and Suffering?

It’s the age-old question. “If God is good and all powerful, why is there pain, suffering, and evil in the world?”

All kinds of evil, pain, and suffering you go through can color the lens by which you approach this question.

Loss of job, cancer of any stripe, death itself, financial debt, watching friends or family suffer, floods, homelessness, orphans, the list can go on and on.

We do not think much about pain and suffering, until, that is, pain and suffering affects us personally.

Pain and suffering only makes us sit up and listen when it’s personal.

So when we go through a traumatic experience of any sort, we ask, “If God is good…” We think, “God can’t love me and he can’t be all powerful since he’s letting me go through this!”

There is a myriad of answers to the question of pain: God brings pain in our lives for His glory, to teach us, to mold us into someone better, to help others, among many other possible answers.

But the most important thing that we must remember when pain becomes personal:

We are not left alone in our suffering

Scripture tells us that Jesus, Who is God by the way, was tempted in everything that is common to man:

“Therefore, He (Jesus) had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”

During a hurricane, which tree feels the full force of the storm?

The tree which never falls but stands firm until the end.

Jesus stood firm to the end–the end that is death–even the death of the cross being forsaken by the Father. He did this so that WE would never be forsaken, but fully and gloriously accepted and loved by the Father. Jesus is the one in whom we must trust because He has gone through the greatest pain and suffering anyone has ever gone through–standing firm to the end.

Jesus did this for us and in our place. To the end.

You are not left unto yourself, that is, if you trust Jesus. Trust Jesus and rest in His finished work on the cross.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (ESV)

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (ESV)