One of the best sermons we heard during the Feast of Tabernacles was titled “Why Will God Release Satan to Deceive the World Again?” (Sept. 24 sermon, link in Pacific COG archives). I could probably write half a dozen blog posts on different points he brought up, but for now I want to focus on just one. In the context of trying to see things from God’s point of view (such as understanding His decision to release Satan after the Millennium [Rev. 20:1-10]), the speaker brought up the subject of suffering. When we’re suffering, our automatic response is to want the suffering to end because we view it in a negative light, but God’s perspective can be very different.
If we start reading the beatitudes, those who Christ calls blessed are not always in a condition we would consider a blessing. They are “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), they mourn and weep (Matt. 5:4; Luke 6:21), they are hungry (Luke 6:21), they are hated (Luke 6: 22), and they are persecuted.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12)
I don’t know about you, but my first reaction when I’m feeling persecuted is not to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” or to “leap for joy” (Luke 6:23). Yet we should be more like the apostles who, after they were beaten and commanded not to preach Jesus any more, “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” and made themselves the target of more persecution by continuing to preach (Acts 5:40-42).
If we suffer with Him
The question, “Why would God allow suffering?” is frequently asked by those in the church and by those who have rejected belief in God. If He’s all powerful, we wonder, why would He allow such terrible things to happen? One answer, as pointed out in the sermon I’ve been referring to, is that God sees suffering in a different light than we do. Often, what we see as negative in this moment will ultimately be for our good. For example, in Romans 8, Paul writes that we will be glorified with Christ on the condition that we suffer as He suffered.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:16-18, KJV)
This is certainly not the only scripture that talks of our glorious future as being conditional on present suffering. Here are a few more:
our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17)
if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed (1 Pet. 3:14)
But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:20-21)
Why is suffering so important?
Finding these scriptures and understanding that suffering is part of being a Christian is not hard. Accepting that there is a good reason for suffering in your life or in the lives of those you love is the hard part. And this is why I really appreciated this sermon message, because the speaker didn’t just tell people “suffering is good for you, be happy.” He pulled together an easy-to-understand analysis that moved logically from the proper reaction to suffering, to the reward for suffering, to the reason for suffering.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)
The reason for trials and testings and suffering is that it helps us learn to be like God. If we were dancing through life without a care in the world, we would forget how much we depend on God. If we never suffered for following Christ, we would have no sense of how much we owe Him for dying in our place. If we did not suffer the consequences of sin, we would never learn to hate sin as much as God does.