May 1, 2020
The Sovereignty Behind Suffering
By Skip Heitzig
You know those motivational posters and plaques that typically praise the virtues of success or determination or imagination? I have yet to see one extolling suffering. On that same note, there's a side of God that a lot of us don't like to think about: If God has revealed Himself as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, then why doesn't He stop evil and pain from happening in the world?
Sometimes you can have this packaged, clean theology about God in your mind, then catastrophe strikes, and what was once clear to you no longer is. This happened to me when my brother was killed in a motorcycle accident when I was twenty-two years old. It took me completely off guard. It wasn't that I didn't believe in or trust God afterwards, but my view was different. For some of you, this might have happened when this virus hit and you lost your job or even a loved one because of it.
So how are we to interpret episodes of pain and suffering in the world? In John 9, we read of an encounter between Jesus and a blind man. Right off the bat, Jesus' disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (v. 2). In other words, why was this man suffering? And why is there suffering at all?
There are some typical explanations people give for suffering, the first being the sin explanation, which we see here in this verse. It's true that sin is ultimately the root cause of all misfortune in the world, but personal acts of sin are not always directly the cause. Another explanation people give is that there simply isn't a God, or if there is, He's just not all-powerful.
But look at what Jesus said: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (vv. 3-5). Jesus then went on to heal the man (see vv. 6-7).
One thing I really appreciate about Jesus is He didn't give packaged, predictable answers to the problem of suffering. What He did was elevate it to a higher level: behind suffering, God is sovereign—He's in control. And suffering in the hands of a loving God can produce great good. Think of the cross: God took the very worst thing that could happen in human history and turned it into the very best thing that could happen in human history.
So here's what I hope you get from Jesus' interaction with this blind beggar: this man was not an academic case to be discussed in a theology class but a person who needed compassion and healing. In the same way, we can't deal with the problem of pain theoretically or academically—that's a cop-out. Yes, God will one day judge evil and eradicate injustice, but until then, we have a spiritual obligation as the body of Christ to help alleviate suffering and allow it to work for us. The time is now to bless and help others in whatever ways we can.
Wouldn't it be a lot easier to believe Romans 8:28 if it said, "Some things work together for good to those who love God"? But it says, "All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Remember that the next time a pebble hits your theological windshield. All things work together. God is in control.
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