- Why Is There Suffering
- Romans 5:1-8
- Brian Brownlow June 9, 2019
The last few weeks we’ve been tackling “God-Sized Questions.” In a world with Wikipedia and gotanswers.com, we are used to quick and easy answers. By its very definition, a “God-sized question” doesn’t have easy answers. When we start tackling God-sized questions, it gets complicated. By his very definition, God ultimately is beyond what we can understand with our human mind. No sermon or series of sermons could ever answer all of our questions. Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We will never be God. However, let me read you the verses that come immediately before that. I just quoted verses 8 and 9. Listen to verses 6 and 7, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts…”
God-sized questions have complicated answers. But that does not mean they have no answers. This passage from Isaiah, and many others, makes it clear that the same God who created the heavens and the earth, the same God who is so majestic and magnificent that He is beyond our comprehension, not only pursues us, but desires that we would pursue Him. He wants us to know Him. He wants us to go beyond just knowing about Him. He wants to have a relationship with us; He wants us to know Him on a personal basis.
Today we are going to tackle a God-sized question: Why Is There Suffering? All of us at one time or another has asked the question, “If God is all-powerful and all good, why doesn’t He make suffering go away? Why doesn’t He wave His hand, and ‘poof,’ suffering doesn’t exist anymore?
Before we tackle the “why” in our question, I want to spend just a moment on what is suffering. I know that may seem obvious, but it’s hard to understand someone else’s suffering. Human beings tend to diminish – or dismiss – what we don’t understand. Often, we don’t understand what we haven’t experienced. There’s an old saying, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.”
I want to acknowledge that many of you listening to me this morning have suffered in ways that I can’t even imagine. Sometimes I complain that I only have two knees, but I’ve had four knee operations. We have a member of this church that I visited on a few occasions, who has had his leg amputated. My “suffering” pales in comparison to what he has experienced. I may have had some knee problems, but I walked onto this stage. I don’t run anymore, but if a bear got in here, I could outrun enough of you to stay alive. I don’t jump anymore, but if there was a ripe, juicy peach hanging on a limb just out of reach, I could probably make it happen.
The question – what is suffering – isn’t always so simple. I think we have to acknowledge that there are different degrees of suffering. I have not suffered the loss of an infant child. I have not suffered the loss of my spouse, and I have never had a doctor look at me and tell me I have cancer. We all suffer in different ways, and I’m not diminishing or dismissing any type of suffering. What I am saying is it’s hard for us to understand the suffering that someone else is going through when we haven’t experienced it ourselves.
There are also different types of suffering. Sometimes we suffer physically, sometimes we suffer emotionally, and sometimes we suffer spiritually. While different, all types of suffering take a toll on us, and while the symptoms may not be the same, the hurt and pain are just as real.
There also different sources of suffering. Sometimes we suffer as a consequence. Sometimes it’s a consequence of someone else’s actions. Unfortunately, all of us are aware and can remember the hurt that has been inflicted by someone else. Perhaps it was unintentional. My wife often says that our marriage has been a three-ring circus. First, she got the engagement ring; then she got the wedding ring; then she got the suffering. Perhaps the person knew exactly what they were doing, and causing suffering and pain was the objective. Sometimes pain is self-inflicted. I’m going to be honest; most of the suffering that I have experienced in my life was due to my own poor choices and/or stupidity. Sometimes it’s totally out of our control. It’s not anyone’s fault or the result of a decision or an action. Matthew 5:45 says that God causes His sun to shine on the evil and the good. Rain falls on the just and unjust. Sometimes things just happen and they don’t fit our plans. We call them suffering, but they are part of the natural order of God’s creation. Using Jesus’ example that I just quoted, the farmer can rejoice for the rain that has fallen while his son thinks it’s the end of the world because his baseball game got rained out.
What constitutes suffering can be different for different people. However, the question of “Why” seems to be universal. In the midst of our suffering, all of us want to know, “Why is this happening to me?” When we watch other people suffer, particularly those that we love, we want to know what kind of a God would allow this to happen.
We are going to look closely at a passage from Romans that will hopefully help us in the struggle. Before we go to Romans, I want to remind us of the first thing we see about God’s character in Genesis. When God created mankind, He placed them in the Garden, which had all of their needs provided. He told them that everything in this vast garden was theirs. He put them in charge. They were given authority to rule over everything else in creation – except God Himself! They got to choose the names for all of the animals, and they pretty much had the run of the place, if you will. Reading that account of creation, it’s hard not to describe the environment for Adam and Eve as anything but paradise. The character of our Creator God is one of provision and protection. God did not leave anything out of creation that was necessary for protection and provision of His creation.
We also see God creating the human part of creation in his image. Again, nothing in Scripture gives rise to the idea that God made human beings equal with Him, but He does give them authority. That authority allows them to make choices. As we know, choices have consequences. The suffering that we see in our world was not a part of God’s original intent. It does, however, seem to be a consequence of the intentional disobedience on the part of the first human part of creation. Their actions were not an oops. It was intentional and willful disobedience. God, whose character, His very essence, is Holiness and righteousness demands consequences for such disobedience. As a result, mankind was almost immediately removed from paradise. And yet, God, whose character demands consequences never gives up on His creation. God does not destroy Adam and Eve in a fit of anger. He had every right to destroy them. He had given them everything – including the beauty of His own presence – and the first thing they did was throw it back in His face. But instead of destroying them, God shows us other aspects of his character: love, mercy, and grace. Later, when the whole world will become corrupt, God would extend mercy and grace to Noah and his family.
This morning we are still left with the question; if God is all-powerful and desires only the best for me and all of His creation, why is there suffering?
Turn with me in your Bibles to Romans 5:1-8.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Paul is writing to the church in Rome, and he has been teaching them about righteousness. The point he’s been driving home, over and over again, is that we have no righteousness of our own. We, like all humans since Adam and Eve, have a tendency toward selfishness and sin. The only righteousness that we can have is a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is giving the church in Rome the basic gospel message: we are sinners, and we need a Savior. That Savior is Jesus Christ. Despite our sins, if we have faith in Jesus, we can have access to His righteousness. We don’t have any of our own. But He gives us His righteousness when we believe, in faith, in Him.
That’s where we’re picking up in chapter 5. Paul is reminding the church that they have been justified – which means being made right with God – through faith in Jesus Christ. Then Paul says something interesting. He says they can boast. Paul is not saying they can boast about anything they have done. They are not bragging on themselves. They boast in the glory of God that’s been given to them. Before they were hopeless in their sins, now they have hope to be included in the glory of God. I like that! What about you? That’s some good stuff right there.
But then Paul has to go and get complicated. I told you these God-sized questions were complicated. If the first couple of verses were interesting, the third verse is downright weird. Let me read this to you so I don’t get it wrong. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings…” Romans 5:3a Are you kidding me? I can see the first part – boasting in the glory of God. I can get into that message. But seeing glory in my suffering? I just don’t know about that. Just to be sure we don’t misunderstand, Paul goes on to clarify this point. “Because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.…” Romans 5:3b-5.
There’s that word again, hope. The hope of the glory of God. Paul is telling the church at Rome, and I think he’s telling us as well, that the hope that we have in the glory of God will be bound up in some measure of suffering.
Paul is telling us a very uncomfortable truth: the path to see the glory of God is paved with suffering. That suffering will produce in us fruits that will give us a taste of the glory of God. Paul talks about suffering producing perseverance, and that perseverance produces character. It is God’s character that allows us to see His perfect goodness even when our circumstances aren’t perfectly good. When our character is formed through suffering, it forms us and shapes us. It gives us hope even when the day seems dark. Paul’s words to the church at Rome ring true for us today. Hope that comes through God’s love will never put us to shame. We are promised that through the Holy Spirit, we will have hope that will sustain us no matter what our circumstances are.
Last week, my son, Carson, had the opportunity to play in the ASCO All-Star football game. The game was started to raise money for those who have had traumatic injuries playing football. At the banquet on Friday night, a young man got up to speak. He went to the podium by himself, but it was difficult for him to climb the steps. When he began to speak his voice was halting, and he had to stop several different times, but he gave one of the most powerful testimonies of faith that I’ve ever heard. His name is Tanner Cook. He was a star football player for the Idalou Wildcats in 2008. Tanner was an all-state running back his junior and senior years. He qualified for the state track meet his sophomore and junior years. Tanner was the district MVP. In the fourth round of the playoffs that year Tanner suffered a brain injury on a routine play. That was eleven years ago. Since then, with a lot of prayer, rehab, and love, Tanner is married and doing well. During his testimony, he said some really powerful things, but one statement grabbed my attention, and I continue to marvel at it. Tanner said, “The worst day of my life (referring to his injury) has become the best day of my life.” Tanner has graciously agreed to share with us how, despite all the things that have happened to him, all the things he lost, he can still make that statement.
God has created a good world. A world with laws of physics that are part of His good creation. The laws of physics are a part of God’s magnificent creation, and they make this a good and safe place for us. But those laws of physics sometimes have consequences that are no one’s fault. Today we have huge hunks of metal that we drive down the road upwards of 75 miles an hour. If the road is a little slick from a rainstorm, that many of us would call a blessing, or someone makes a simple unintentional mistake by looking off just a few seconds too long and two of those hunks of metal collide, the consequences of the laws of physics can be catastrophic. It might not be anyone’s fault, but it happens. An event involving the laws of physics happened in the fall of 2008 and it has changed Tanner Cook’s life forever.
As you can see, Tanner still suffers from the effects of that collision. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It wasn’t the consequences of bad choices on his part or anyone on the other team. God did not do this to Tanner. God did not punish Tanner. An event involving the laws of physics happened in the fall of 2008 and it has changed Tanner Cook’s life forever. And, according to him, he is better for it.
Healthy, sane people do not want to suffer. We were not created to crave or seek suffering. God did not create us to hurt us. He did create us to be conformed to the image of Christ. To be drawn to Him so that we can return to paradise. Heaven, yes, but also His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. In order to be formed in the likeness of Christ, we will have to experience some measure of suffering. We will have to walk in faith in the broken nature of this world. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, no matter what comes our way, God can do miracles. Sometimes that miracle is in the form of supernatural physical healing. Sometimes it is in the form of a transformational experience that gives a man the faith to say, “The worst day of my life has become the best.”