Surprised by 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

Just as when he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, Paul was in prison when he authored Philippians (Phil. 1:7). And although he had certain freedoms while in Roman custody (Acts 28:17–31), the apostle’s time behind bars was still a period in which he experienced suffering for the sake of the gospel. Today, believers around the world still face harassment, discrimination, and even imprisonment and martyrdom for their witness to Christ. We all suffer sickness, pain, death, and other difficulties unrelated to our Christian profession as well. Scripture helps us understand and deal with every kind of suffering, and Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Surprised by Suffering will assist us in learning to respond to our trials.

The Bible addresses a multitude of metaphysical realities, such as the nature and attributes of God, the reality of angels and demons, and more. Since we have yet to experience the metaphysical realm in its fullness, we are often forced to use abstract terms to describe the invisible world. Suffering, however, forces us to dwell more on the concrete realities of physical existence. In the midst of tragedies, we often ask, “Why God — why have You allowed this pain into my life?”

Some people answer this question with an assertion that the Lord has nothing at all to do with our suffering. This response is utterly fallacious. After all, our Creator is omnipotent and He has the power to end our suffering even if He does not always stand in its way (Job 42:2). Moreover, God’s Word tells us that our Lord has ordained whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11); thus, His hand is in all our suffering, though He is completely incapable of doing evil Himself (James 1:13–15).

Other radical thinkers teach that God has an incomplete knowledge of the future, which means there are some evils that He cannot foresee and that cannot serve any purpose. Yet the teaching of today’s passage and many other portions of Scripture makes this position untenable. Because God knows all — past, present, and future — and providentially controls all that happens, there is no meaningless suffering. The reasons for our pain may often remain mysterious, but there is no doubt that the Lord works for our good and His glory in all our difficulties and pain (Rom. 8:18, 28). He is never surprised by our suffering.

Coram Deo

At the outset of our look at suffering, we must realize that Scripture does not give us all the reasons for our pain in this life. In fact, we may never understand why we suffer the way we do on many occasions before we die. We can be confident, however, that the Lord is always working for our good and His glory. In the end, our pain will contribute to a future more glorious than if we never suffered at all.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 139:16
Proverbs 16:33
Isaiah 55:10–11
1 Peter 4:12

We Recommend

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343