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” (Gen. 50:20).

- Genesis 50:15–21

Over the course of our study of 1 Peter, we have seen that God calls us to suffer for doing what is right. While the suffering we endure for our profession is the main kind of suffering Peter has in mind throughout his epistle, it is also clear from the rest of Scripture that sometimes the suffering we face is unrelated to our confession. We must face sickness, death, and a host of other difficulties that often have very little to do with our faithfulness.

In order that we might better understand the broader Scriptural teaching on suffering, we will spend the next few days studying what the Bible has to say about this topic with the help of the teaching series Surprised by Suffering by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

Because so much of theology deals with metaphysical realities that we do not yet fully experience, we necessarily speak in abstract terms when we seek to explain the teachings of Scripture. When it comes to the experience of suffering, however, things become much more concrete. When we endure the tragedies of life, we often find ourselves asking the question “why — why God have you let this pain happen to me?”

Some have attempted to answer this question by saying that God has nothing to do with suffering at all. Yet, this answer fails because we know that God has the power to stop our suffering and yet does not always do so. Furthermore, we know that God has ordained whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11) and therefore His hand is in our pain, even though He is never an agent of evil (James 1:13–15).

Others have said that God does not have full knowledge of all future events, and therefore some evils happen for which there is no purpose. However, given the teaching of today’s passage, as well as many other portions of Scripture, this position is untenable. God knows all, past, present and future, and is in full control of all that happens. Therefore, there can be no meaningless suffering. Though we may not always know why evil happens to us, we can be confident that in all our suffering God is working for our good and for His glory (Rom. 8:18, 28). He is never surprised by our suffering.

Coram Deo

When we come to the issue of suffering, we can see how God’s sovereignty is a comfort to us. Because He is in full control of all events past, present, and future, we know that ultimately there can be no such thing as meaningless suffering. Though we may not always understand the purpose in our pain, we can be sure that God is working good in it (Rom. 8:28). Do you trust that He is doing this? Ask the Lord to build up your trust in His goodness, despite your hardships.

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 139:16
Prov. 16:33
Isa. 55:10–11
1 Peter 4:12

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