By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Contemporary English Version)
Quotation For Consideration
“My life is but a weaving, between my Lord and me; I cannot choose the colors,, He worketh steadily. Oft times He worketh sorrow, and I, in foolish pride, forget He sees the upper and I the underside. Not till the Loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly, Shall God unroll the canvas, and explain the reason why. The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hands, as the threads of gold and silver, in the pattern He has planned.” (The Tapestry, by Corrie Ten Boom)
Questions For Contemplation
If I don’t understand why God lets me suffer, does that mean that I cannot trust God?
Is it possible that God (being all-knowing and seeing the end from the beginning) has reasons for allowing me to suffer which I cannot immediately understand?
In our studies of the Book of Job, we have been examining the subject, “Why do evil, pain, and suffering exist in the universe?’ We have noticed that atheism, sadism, dualism, and karma do not provide adequate answers to this question; and that each of these proposed answers falls under the weight of logic.
Likewise, we have turned our attention to the fact that the Bible teaches that suffering in our universe is the result of the misuse of freewill (remembering that freewill is a good thing in and of itself); and that the misuse of this blessing leads to sin, or evil (Jeremiah 18:1-9).
Furthermore, we have learned that the suffering in this world is often the result of the spiritual war that takes place between God and the forces of evil (Satan, the fallen angels, demonic spirits, and people devoted to wickedness), a war in which we are all personally involved.
In this study, we are going to learn something which at first is quite unsettling: sometimes there are hidden purposes to suffering which we may not fully grasp in this present time.
If there is anything which stands out about the Book of Job, it is the prevailing question:
Look at some of the “why” questions that Job asked throughout his ordeal:
Job 3:11-Why didn’t I die at birth?
Job 3:20-Why does God let me live when life is miserable and so bitter?
Job 3:23-Why do I go on living when God has me surrounded, and I can’t see the road?
Job 6:11-Why should I patiently hope when my strength is gone?
Job 7:1-Why is life so hard? Why do we suffer?
Job 7:20-Why do you watch us so closely?
What’s it to you, if I sin? Why am I your target and such a heavy burden?
Job 10:18-Why did you let me be born? I would rather have died before birth.
Job 14:3-And so, I ask you, God, why pick on me?
Job 21:7-Why do evil people live so long and gain such power?
Job 24:1-Why doesn’t God set a time for court? Why don’t his people know where he can be found?
Job 31:35-Why doesn’t God All-Powerful listen and answer? If God has something against me, let him speak up or put it in writing!
Throughout the Book of Job, there is nothing to indicate that Job was ever given answers to these questions.
Indeed, from the questions that God asks Job at the end of the Book (Job 38-42), we see that God wants Job to learn to trust in Him, even when he doesn’t understand the answers to his questions.
As John Mark Hicks has written:
“But these questions also point to God’s wisdom and care. These are not simply questions about power. Their function is not simply to remind Job of God’s power, but also to remind him of God’s wisdom and care. The questions are not arbitrary; they move from God’s creative work when he laid the foundations of the world (38:4-7) and controlled the chaotic waters (38:8-11) to his transcendence over the chaos of the wicked and death (38:12-21), control over the waters (snow, rain, rivers) of the earth (38:22-30, 34-38), and his regulation of the stars and seasons (38:31-33). The questions then move to the animal kingdom and God’s management of his living creatures. The questions are not just about knowledge but about care. God asks if Job “knows” (e.g., 39:1), but he also asks whether Job can manage this creation and care for it the way God does. Does Job hunt for the lion (38:39), feed the young ravens (38:41), give the wild donkey his home (39:6), use the wild ox in his service (39:9-12), care for the ostrich even though she has no sense (39:12-18), and give the horse his strength (39:19)? God asks, “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom (39:26), or “does the eagle soar at your command? (39:27). Through his power God manages his creation with wisdom and care. God’s creation is not the playground of his power but the nursery of his care. The world is not out of control; God is managing it quite nicely.” (John Mark Hicks, Yet Will I Trust Him: Understanding God In A Suffering World, 173-174 (emphasis added, M.T.); Joplin, MO; College Press Publishing Company)
It is later (much later) that the inspired Prophet James teaches us that there was indeed a great purpose to why God allowed Job to suffer so terribly.
The Hidden Purposes For Job’s Suffering
James, in encouraging Christians to persevere in the midst of difficult times and trials, wrote the following:
James 5:11 (NKJV)-Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
Look at that phrase “the end.” It is a very interesting phrase in the Greek New Testament.
Look at some other translations of the passage:
James 5:11 (Amplified)-You know how we call those blessed (happy) who were steadfast [who endured]. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the Lord’s [purpose and how He richly blessed him in the] end, inasmuch as the Lord is full of pity and compassion and tenderness and mercy. [Job 1:21-22; Job 42:10; Psa 111:4]
James 5:11 (ISV)-We consider those who endured to be blessed. You have heard about Job’s endurance and have seen the purpose of the Lord—that the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
God is telling us that He had a reason for allowing Job’s suffering, even though Job did not see it at the time.
“The word translated “end” here, telos, often with the significance of termination, consummation, etc., also designates purpose, aim, design, it’s obvious meaning here. We, in our day, and from our vantage point (James is saying), can now see the purpose and design of God’s plan in Job’s case, which was not nearly so apparent then. The over-all-lesson here indicated ought not to be lost on us today. There is “a divinity that shapes our ends,” and though, for the moment, we are unable to discern the purpose or plan which God has, we should patiently wait for the unfolding thereof, knowing that eventually he will vindicate himself and all matters will turn out for our good…That is, “the end” (design, purpose, plan) of the Lord is to show great pity and much mercy for his suffering saints. In Job’s case, the Lord exhibited the greatest pity and compassion; and, this will he also do for all who similarly endure. The phrase “full of pity” denotes the fact that God is tender-hearted; he is not unmindful of the agonies of his people, nor does he turn a deaf ear to their cries. He abounds in pity (polusplagchnos), he is filled with it. Moreover, he is “merciful,” (oiktirmon), I.e., full of compassion for those who suffer.” (Guy N. Woods, A Commentary On The Epistle Of James, 287; Nashville, TN; Gospel Advocate).
Through his ordeals, Job learned to trust in God’s goodness even more then he had before. There was a time when Job saw God as his close friend:
Job 29:1-5-Job said: 2 I long for the past, when God took care of me, 3 and the light from his lamp showed me the way through the dark. 4 I was in the prime of life, God All-Powerful was my closest friend, 5 and all of my children were nearby.
Yet through his suffering, Job learned to rely upon God even more, and to have an even closer relationship with Him.
There was a hidden purpose for Job’s suffering, even if Job did not see it at the time.
We see the same with many other examples in the Bible.
Looking At Joseph
Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers because of their jealously (Genesis 37). The Bible then reminds us that while he was in slavery, he was falsely accused of rape and arrested (Genesis 39). For two years, Joseph was in prison (Genesis 41). He did not understand why he was suffering, and the Psalmist reminds us of this:
Psalm 105:17-19 (GW)-17 He sent a man ahead of them. He sent Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 18 They hurt his feet with shackles, and cut into his neck with an iron collar. 19 The LORD’S promise tested him through fiery trials until his prediction came true.
God had allowed Joseph to go through these trials, which he did not understand; yet the purpose of God was later made known. God had sent Joseph into Egypt to prepare saving people for the coming seven years of famine. Joseph himself learned this:
Genesis 45:5-8-5 Don’t worry or blame yourselves for what you did. God is the one who sent me ahead of you to save lives. 6 There has already been a famine for two years, and for five more years no one will plow fields or harvest grain. 7 But God sent me on ahead of you to keep your families alive and to save you in this wonderful way. 8 After all, you weren’t really the ones who sent me here—it was God. He made me the highest official in the king’s court and placed me over all Egypt.
Genesis 50:20 (ERV)-It is true that you planned to do something bad to me. But really, God was planning good things. God’s plan was to use me to save the lives of many people. And that is what happened.
The hidden purpose for God in allowing Joseph to suffer was to bring about greater good. We also see here that God sometimes allows us to suffer in order to bring about good, not only for ourselves, but also for others.
Looking At The Suffering Of David
The Bible tells us that king David (who had rebelled against God and committed horrible and wicked sins) was brought to repentance through his suffering.
Psalm 119:67 (ERV)-Before I suffered, I did many wrong things. But now I carefully obey everything you say.
Psalm 119:71 (ERV)-Suffering was good for me; I learned your laws.
Psalm 119:75 (ERV)-LORD, I know that your decisions are fair, and you were right to punish me.
God had allowed the suffering in David’s life in order to bring about his repentance. From this, we learn another very important lesson about suffering: it can be allowed by God to try and bring people to repentance.
Isaiah 26:9-Throughout the night, my heart searches for you, because your decisions show everyone on this earth how to live right.
Isaiah 26:9 (ISV)-My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me searches for you. For when your judgments come upon the earth, the world’s inhabitants learn righteousness.
Isaiah 26:9 (Amplified)-My soul yearns for You [O Lord] in the night, yes, my spirit within me seeks You earnestly; for [only] when Your judgments are in the earth will the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (uprightness and right standing with God).
Lamentations 3:15-33-15 God has turned my life sour. 16 He made me eat gravel and rubbed me in the dirt. 17 I cannot find peace or remember happiness. 18 I tell myself, “I am finished! I can’t count on the LORD to do anything for me.” 19 Just thinking of my troubles and my lonely wandering makes me miserable. 20 That’s all I ever think about, and I am depressed. 21 Then I remember something that fills me with hope. 22 The LORD’s kindness never fails! If he had not been merciful, we would have been destroyed. 23 The LORD can always be trusted to show mercy each morning. 24 Deep in my heart I say, “The LORD is all I need; I can depend on him!” 25 The LORD is kind to everyone who trusts and obeys him. 26 It is good to wait patiently for the LORD to save us. 27 When we are young, it is good to struggle hard. 28 and to sit silently alone, if this is what the LORD intends. 29 Being rubbed in the dirt can teach us a lesson; 30 we can also learn from insults and hard knocks. 31 The Lord won’t always reject us! 32 He causes a lot of suffering, but he also has pity because of his great love. 33 The Lord doesn’t enjoy sending grief or pain.
Looking At Jesus And The Gospel
Perhaps the ultimate display of God’s hidden purposes in suffering which brings about good are displayed through the “mystery” of the Gospel.
Ephesians 3:4-6-4 As you read the letter, you will also find out how well I really do understand the mystery about Christ. 5 No one knew about this mystery until God’s Spirit told it to his holy apostles and prophets. 6 And the mystery is this: Because of Christ Jesus, the good news has given the Gentiles a share in the promises that God gave to the Jews. God has also let the Gentiles be part of the same body.
Several times the Bible talks about the “mystery” that is found in the Gospel. The word “mystery” as used in Scripture is often greatly misunderstood in our day and age.
Speaking of the word “mystery” in Ephesians, William Barclay tells us:
“The New Testament uses the word mystery in a special sense. It is not something mysterious in the sense that it is hard to understand. It is something which has long been kept secret and has now been revealed, but is still incomprehensible to the person who has not been initiated into its meaning. Let us take an example. Suppose someone who knew nothing whatever about Christianity was brought into a communion service. To that person, it would be a complete mystery; he or she would not understand in the least what was going on. But to anyone who knows the story and the meaning of the Last Supper, the whole service has a meaning which is quite clear. So, in the New Testament sense, a mystery is something which is hidden to non-Christians but clear to Christians.” (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters To The Galatians And Ephesians, 95 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press)
God had kept the mystery hidden for a very long time, even from the angels.
1 Peter 1:12-But they were told that they were serving you and not themselves. They preached to you by the power of the Holy Spirit, who was sent from heaven. And their message was only for you, even though angels would like to know more about it.
Paul discussed how the angels are learning from us:
Ephesians 3:9-10-9 God, who created everything, wanted me to help everyone understand the mysterious plan that had always been hidden in his mind. 10 Then God would use the church to show the powers and authorities in the spiritual world that he has many different kinds of wisdom.
“The words “to the intent” reach back to verses 8 and 9. Vincent says: “Grace was given me to preach Christ and to enlighten men as to the long-hidden mystery of the admission of the Gentiles, in order that now, etc.” The principalities and powers are the holy angels. Alford says: “For this sublime cause the humble Paul was raised up – to bring about – he, the least worthy of the saints, – that to the heavenly powers themselves should be made known, by means of those whom he was empowered to enlighten, etc.” “Might be known” is gnōrizō, “to make known.” “By” is dia, “through the intermediate agency of.” “Manifold” is polupoikilos, “much – variegated, marked with a great variety of colors.” The Church thus becomes the university for angels, and each saint a professor. Only in the Church can the angels come to an adequate comprehension of the grace of God. They look at the Church to investigate the mysteries of redemption. Peter (1Pe 1:12) speaks of the things which the angels have a passionate desire to stoop down and look into, like the golden cherubim that overshadow the Mercy Seat, ever gazing upon the sprinkled blood that is upon it. The preposition para, “beside,” is prefixed to the verb “stoop down,” which speaks of the angels as spectators viewing the great plan of redemption from the side lines, not being participants in it.”. (Kenneth Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies In The Greek New Testament)
The angels did not understand God’s incredible plan of redemption. It had been “hidden” from the world at large, and even from them, until God’s good purposes were brought to light.
Even the devil and the forces of darkness did not understand the mystery of the Gospel, and what would happen when Jesus was killed. Paul tells us:
1 Corinthians 2:7-8-7 We speak of God’s hidden and mysterious wisdom that God decided to use for our glory long before the world began. 8 The rulers of this world didn’t know anything about this wisdom. If they had known about it, they would not have nailed the glorious Lord to a cross.
The phrase “rulers of this world” was often used to mean Satan and the collective powers of darkness:
“There are a number of good reasons, however, for believing Paul intended his readers to think of demonic rulers when they read this passage. First, Paul used the term “ruler” (archon) elsewhere for Satan. In Ephesians 2:2, for example, Paul described Satan as “the ruler (archon] of the kingdom of the air.” On one other occasion,, he did use the word for human rulers (Rom 13:3), but the important point to establish here is that the word was part of his vocabulary for referring to an evil spirit-being. Second, it is more natural to interpret the demonic rulers as being “wiped out” (katargeo) than the human rulers. Later in the same letter he said Christ must destroy (katargeo) the powers of darkness (“all dominion, authority, and power”) before he hands over the kingdom to God the Father (1 Cor 15:24). He also used the word katargeo to refer to Christ’s slaying of the satanically inspired “lawless one” during the time of great distress at the end (2 Thess 2:8). He never used the word for the ultimate doom of unbelieving humanity. It is significant that the writer of Hebrews also used the word katargeo with reference to the evil spiritual realm-by his death Christ “destroyed” the devil (Heb 2:14). Third, this interpretation best explains Paul’s argument in this passage. In the larger context Paul was acclaiming the inscrutable wisdom of God. This wisdom is the essence of Paul’s message and is imparted by revelation of the Spirit to believers. He belittled human wisdom as useless for understanding God’s ways. He now advances his argument by showing that not even the angelic powers could understand the secret wisdom of God. Fourth, Paul probably used the word ruler for evil angels because it was part of the wide array of terminology for evil spirits in Jewish tradition at the time. Furthermore, it likely carried the connotation of exceptional power and authority in the hierarchy of evil spirit-beings. This is especially true when we realize it was a title for Satan. The use of the word “ruler” (archon) in Judaism for evil angels can be illustrated by its appearance in the second century B.C. Testament of Simeon…Finally, the word “ruler” (archon] was also part of the early Christian vocabulary for the satanic. The “prince [archon] of this world” is one of John’s most common expressions for the devil (see Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). An example of its use by the Apostolic Fathers can be seen in the late first-century Epistle of Barnabas…Paul held the demonic rulers responsible for Christ’s death. He assumes that these powers of Satan were working behind the scenes to control the course of events during the passion week. It was not a part of Paul’s purpose to explain exactly how these demonic rulers operated. At the very least we can imagine they were intimately involved by exerting their devious influence in and through Judas, Pilate, Annas and Caiaphas, and by inciting the mob.’.” (Clinton Arnold, Powers Of Darkness: Principalities & Powers In Paul’s Letters, 102-104 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press)
Paul teaches us here some important lessons about how God worked out His good plan, even through the free-will and wicked choices of Satan and the wicked rulers:
“This passage contributes three important insights into our understanding of the powers. First, their knowledge of God’s plan is limited-they were not aware of precisely how God would inaugurate his method of redemption through Christ. Paul states it plainly, “None of the rulers of this age understood it.” God did not reveal to these supernatural beings his “secret wisdom” (literally, his “wisdom in a mystery”). The intricacies of the plan of salvation were kept hidden, not only from humanity, but also from the angelic realm. The satanic opposition thus naively believed putting Jesus to death was the way to do away with the Son of God who had come to fulfill his Father’s will and inaugurate his kingdom. Second, the demonic rulers are facing impending doom (1 Cor 2:6). Paul asserts that the rulers of this age “are coming to nothing” (NIV), “are passing away” (NASB), “are declining to their end” (NEB). Paul here employed a strong word (katargeo), which is generally used to mean “render powerless,” “abolish” and “wipe out.”2 Ironically, this is true of the powers because the cross of Christ marked their defeat. Although they may experience temporary victories in their ongoing hostility against the church, their ultimate doom is certain. Paul uses the same word (katarge5) later in his letter to the Corinthians, when he says all the hostile powers must be destroyed before “he hands over the kingdom to God the Father” (1 Cor 15:24). The demonic rulers are also described by Paul as being part “of this age.” Following traditional Jewish eschatology, Paul conceived of two ages, this age and the one to come. The powers are a pan of this present evil age (see Gal 1:4) from which God is rescuing his people. The demise of the powers is all the more certain because the Second Coming of Christ will mark the end of “this age.” All the fullness of life in the age to come will then be experienced-and without contending with the devilish influence of the demonic rulers. Third, the demonic rulers are intimately involved in the affairs of life by working in and through people. From the Gospel accounts it is clear that Jesus was nailed to the cross by humans-Roman soldiers following orders from the proconsul, Pontius Pilate. Jesus had been handed over to Pilate for crucifixion by the Jewish council consisting of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and led by the high priests Annas and then Caiaphas. Furthermore, a crowd of people had assembled for Passover who were shouting to Pilate that Jesus should be crucified. It appears that the guilt for Jesus’ death should be assigned to all of these people. Yet in this passage, Paul pointed to demonic responsibility for Jesus’ death.” (Clinton Arnold, Powers Of Darkness: Principalities & Powers In Paul’s Letters, 101-102 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press)
Through the suffering of His Messiah, God brought incredible good to the world through His hidden plan.
Looking At The Apostle Paul
If anyone understood suffering, it was the Apostle Paul.
2 Corinthians 11:22-33-22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Jews? So am I. Are they from the family of Abraham? Well, so am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a fool to talk this way, but I serve him better than they do. I have worked harder and have been put in jail more times. I have been beaten with whips more and have been in danger of death more often. 24 Five times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes with a whip. 25 Three times the Romans beat me with a big stick, and once my enemies stoned me. I have been shipwrecked three times, and I even had to spend a night and a day in the sea. 26 During my many travels, I have been in danger from rivers, robbers, my own people, and foreigners. My life has been in danger in cities, in deserts, at sea, and with people who only pretended to be the Lord’s followers. 27 I have worked and struggled and spent many sleepless nights. I have gone hungry and thirsty and often had nothing to eat. I have been cold from not having enough clothes to keep me warm. 28 Besides everything else, each day I am burdened down, worrying about all the churches. 29 When others are weak, I am weak too. When others are tricked into sin, I get angry. 30 If I have to brag, I will brag about how weak I am. 31 God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, knows I am not lying. And God is to be praised forever! 32 The governor of Damascus at the time of King Aretas had the city gates guarded, so that he could capture me. 33 But I escaped by being let down in a basket through a window in the city wall.
Certainly, Paul knew about suffering. How did he view the reasons of why God allowed his hardships?
2 Corinthians 4:16-18-16 We never give up. Our bodies are gradually dying, but we ourselves are being made stronger each day. 17 These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing. 18 Things that are seen don’t last forever, but things that are not seen are eternal. That’s why we keep our minds on the things that cannot be seen.
To Paul, suffering was allowed by God to build him and help prepare him for eternity.
Sometimes God allows suffering in our lives for reasons that we may not fully understand.
Yet He has promised to bring good through the pain that we face.
Like Job, we need to learn to trust in God’s purposes:
Job 13:15-God may kill me, but still I will trust him and offer my defense.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.