Sovereign over Suffering

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (v. 20).

- Genesis 50:15–21

Conversion to Christ brings with it a great number of blessings. Chief among these are that we have peace with God, receive Him as our Father, and have the sure hope of eternal life (John 1:12–13; 3:16; Rom. 5:1). We also benefit from the joy that is given to us as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Yet at the same time, we also know that Christianity does not carry with it a guarantee of freedom from pain and suffering (see, for example, 1 Thess. 1:6). In fact, becoming a Christian may lead to rejection by family and friends, loss of work, and other trials directly related to the profession of faith. Even if we do not face overt persecution for our faith, however, living in this fallen world means that we will endure suffering in the form of sickness and disease.

No matter the form our suffering takes, God’s Word has much to say on its place in the Christian life. To help us better grasp the meaning and purpose of suffering, as well as the proper Christian response to it, we will pause our studies in the Old Testament Wisdom Literature in order to look at suffering in its broader biblical context. Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Surprised by Suffering will guide this study.

Suffering has a way of cutting through abstract theology and getting to the heart of matters that seem most pressing and practical. Most significantly, suffering has a way of prompting us to ask God why He has allowed particular tragedies to come into our lives.

When such questions arise, many people seek to remove God from any association with the pain. Some individuals state that the Lord has nothing at all to do with suffering. They suggest that He did not bring it into our lives, that He does not want it to happen, that His hands are entirely “clean,” as it were. But this answer cannot stand. God works out all things according to the counsel of His will, not just the happy things (Eph. 1:11). The Lord is sovereign even over our suffering, and He ordains it for a specific purpose. Joseph found strength to persevere in the midst of his suffering in Egypt because he understood that the pain he endured was sovereignly established by God in order to put him in place to save many lives (Gen. 50:15–21). We can be confident that God works all things, including our suffering, for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:18, 28).

Coram Deo

God always has a good purpose for allowing suffering to come into our lives, but we do not always know what that purpose is. Yet, because we know the Lord is perfectly good (James 1:13–18), we trust that He will work all of the pain that we endure for our final good and His final glory. The better we know the character of our Creator, the better we will be able to trust in His goodness and grace in the midst of all our suffering.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 16:33
1 Peter 4:12

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