Accidents and suffering happen all around us and all the time. Why does God allow accidents? Why does He allow tragedies that cause deep pain? Why does he allow suffering? The answer to these questions can be found in the Bible and particularly the first epistle of Peter. Peter’s first epistle was written during a time of intensely evil persecution that led to a great deal of suffering for God’s people. The first epistle of Peter is believed to have been written around 65 A.D. at the height of the first period of persecution of Christians by a Roman Emperor.
During a time of intense evil persecution and resultant suffering we might expect the apostle Peter to speak of the hardships and hindrances persecution. But what we find is quite to the contrary. Peter is inspired by God to point out that blessing can come from times of trials and suffering. He says:
- 1 Peter 3:14 – “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”
Peter states that the one who is persecuted and suffers from evil is “blessed.” There is a blessing in suffering. The word “blessed” is translated from the Greek term MAKARIOS which is an adjective that occurs 50 times in the New Testament. It conveys the meaning of, “blessed; happy; happier.” This word is derived from a root word of MAK which means, “large, lengthy,” and lending to the idea of being happy because one’s has been enlarged bountifully in some way. What blessing can there be in such tragic accidents that the Laurie family experienced? We have to remember that God looks at things from a much greater position than we do (Isaiah 55:8-9). We see things from a temporal perspective. God sees things from the perspective of eternity. We need to try and see things from a more eternal perspective, a more godly perspective if we are to discover the blessing promised to us in suffering. What Peter is inspired to tell us is that the blessing that comes through suffering is the direct result of being spiritually enlarged or matured in one’s faith so we can see things from God’s perspective.
What is suffering? The word “suffer” in its various forms occurs 40 times in the New Testament, 12 times in the book of 1 Peter (2:19,20,21,23; 3:14,17,18; 4:1,15,16,19; 5:10). The word “suffer” is a translation of the Greek term PASCHO and means, “to experience a sensation or impression that is usually painful,” therefore suffering is closely linked to the emotions experienced when loss, injury, harm, damage, or disease occur.
Why does God allow suffering? Why does God allow suffering? And why does God allow the righteous to suffer? Sir Isaac Newton, (you remember, the man who discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head), wrote the following about trials and suffering:
“Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes
because we need them; . . . . Let us trust his skill and thank him for his
prescription.” - Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727).
Was Isaac Newton a masochist? Or worse, is God a sadist? Does God enjoy suffering? Why does God allow suffering? Let’s see why God allows evil and suffering and if any good can come from it.
Suffering does not mean God has forsaken the sufferer. Some people say, "God has abandoned you, that's why you're suffering." Or, "It's because you don't have enough faith that God hasn't healed you." Such comments are usually packaged in an authoritative tone such as, "The Lord gave me a word about you." But God does not contradict Himself. The Bible tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Furthermore, it is the faith that Jesus gives us that enables healing to occur (Mark 9:24; Acts 3:16). Faith is not something we manufacture from within, but a gift from God (Romans 10:17; 12:3, 6; Ephesians 2:8-9). The witness of Scripture is that sometimes it is God's will for you to suffer, and in such cases God is still for you.
The issue of suffering and how it relates to the will of God is often misinterpreted. When such misinterpretations are applied to real life the result is compounded pain and suffering for the recipients. At the very least such careless counsel leads to frustrated faith and confusion about the nature of God. Such counselors should take note of God's reaction to those who misrepresent Him. Remember Moses? He misrepresented God to the people, and he was barred from the Promised Land (Numbers 20). It's important that we rightly divide the word as it was given by God (II Timothy 2:15).
The apostle Paul was a victim of such accusations. His detractors used his trials to attack his apostolic authority. When you read Paul's second letter to the Corinthians Paul is likely addressing such catcalls as, "Hey Paul, God is against you, that's why He's letting all these trials come to you. He's beating you through the whips and stoning you through the stones of men! If God is for you, why hasn't He healed your thorn?!" (II Corinthians 11-12).
Sometimes suffering is God’s will. To interpret suffering as a rejection by God compounds pain and robs one of a possible blessing. God never guarantees a believer will be free from suffering. Quite the contrary, Jesus said we could expect trouble in this world:
- John 16:33 - “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
The apostle Peter stated there is a suffering that is according to the will of God:
- 1 Peter 4:19 – “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”
Paul said those who desire to live godly lives would be persecuted and persecution is suffering:
- 2 Timothy 3:12 – “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
Paul wrote personally of a "thorn in the flesh" that God chose to leave in place (II Corinthians 12:7-10). Trophimus was "left in Miletus sick" (II Timothy 4:20, emphasis mine). Whose faith was not enough in these situations? Was God judging people in these situations? These are only a few of the proof texts that indicate believers will suffer, either at the hands of men or even in physical illness.
We live in a fallen world. Sin has introduced degeneration into God’s creation. This degeneration has put everything out of kilter. This degeneration occurs as a part of the planetary effect of sin. Sin has infected nature. Nature “groans and labors with birth pangs” (Rom. 8:22). Disease, disruptions in nature, and accidents are all the consequence of the objective nature of sin’s effects. We don’t choose these things; we are simply the victims of the effects of sin in these situations.
But there is also a degeneration that comes from personal sin. People reject God and His word. They rebel against God and choose to live in sin. And often such rebellious sinful behavior leads to great pain. People can be infected with diseases because of sinful choices. Such is the case with sexually transmitted diseases, cancers due to smoking or scerosis of the liver due to consumption of alcohol to name a few. Accidents are often the product of drunk drivers, shoddy workmanship, or disregard of law or instruction. In such cases there is a guilty offender and a victim. This too is a part of sin.
God takes pleasure in none of these difficulties. And a day is coming when God will put an end to this fallen state of being for us. But God is waiting for the redemption of as many as possible (2 Peter 3:9). Until God’s final redemption and restoration of all things, we join in nature’s lament as expressed by Paul who was inspired to write:
· Romans 8:18-25 - For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
If you are suffering as the result of objective or planetary effects of sin or because of your’s or someone else’s personal effects of sin, I encourage you to look to Jesus. The psalms are a great source of comfort and it is there that we find good instruction for whatever ails us. In psalms it states, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – from whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2). Turn to the Lord in whatever state you are. He is your Source of help.