Suffering

Tuesday Devotional: Habakkuk 1

bibleHabbakuk 1

“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.”

I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep cross the whole earth
to seize dwelling places not their own.”

God is unbelievable.  The Bible is unbelievable.  The Gospels are unbelievable.  Jesus is unbelievable.  Not because they cannot by trusted and therefore must be false,  but because they contradict our human nature and instincts as storytellers so much that if they could not possibly have been created for literary or moral purposes.  The Bible contains far more honesty than we like.  It contains far more justice than we are comfortable with.  It also contains far more wisdom than we are even able to fathom.

The God of the Bible never acts out of consideration for our feelings, interests or desires.  The God of the Bible ONLY acts on behalf of what is true and what is just.  Therefore, when we need correction, He gives it.  When we need instruction, He gives it.  When we need compassion and gentleness, He gives it.  When we need discipline, He gives it.  In fact, God challenges us to believe the unbelievable in regards to His approach to discipline and suffering.  Through Jesus we no longer have to fear punishment from God, but suffering persists.  Why?  If the suffering is not a sign of God punishment, what is it?

The purpose of our suffering or hard times has one purpose and one purpose only.  It is ONLY to see God as sovereign and us as entirely fallible.  As Jesus is Emmanuel and therefore with us in any and all situations, the purpose of the suffering is ONLY to move us to seek the face of Jesus, to take up His grace in order to carry us through the storm.  But let us never forget that suffering will persist.  Bearing the name of Christ not only means that suffering will persist but that it will inevitably increase. 

But in the face of increasing suffering we are never to disown the name of Jesus by interpreting our hard time as the divine punishment only Jesus has any right or claim to.  We were not and are not punished because Jesus already was.  Therefore, the suffering we experience is present with us to reveal the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And in His name and because of His Lordship we will prevail amidst the suffering and we will see His face in the storm.  The presence of God in our lives through Jesus does not yield to suffering and sin.  It overcomes sin and suffering entirely.  Jesus rose on the third victorious over sin and death proclaiming, “Where, O death, is your sting?  Where, O death, is your victory?”  God allows suffering to a degree of such intensity that to create such a God out of thin air would not only fail to appeal to anyone but would be mocked rather than worshipped.  While one side of the world writhes back in disbelief in the face of God’s grace and compassion, the other writhes back in the face of God’s justice.  The only message relevant to the entire world is a message that is true to both sides of the world.  In Jesus, truth is united at the cross, revealing God’s grace and justice simultaneously.  The extent of both God’s grace and His justice are truly unbelievable, but in Jesus they CAN be believed and they CAN do more than we think.

 

Hell: A Place of Loneliness

This reflection series deals with the topic of Hell. Using Jesus’ illustration of the Rich Man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, this week we’re reflecting on hell as a place of suffering.

Read Luke 16: 19-31

3328593629_b5e6e8a416_o

Last week we discussed the suffering of longing and emptiness that all people can relate to. If asked what remains as another fear common to all, most would likely answer, “loneliness.” We humans were created for fellowship. Even before we were brought into this world, God designed us for fellowship with him.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Genesis 1:26-31

Then, being brought into this world by our parents and family, we were born and raised to be “with” people, loved, cared for and nurtured by them.

As we get older and our lives separate from family and home, we find ourselves apart from people more than we find togetherness with them. While independence does have its place in human development and is an integral part of finding unity with the Father who created us, fellowship with people is where we are given the fullest sensation of what we were designed to experience. Thus, being constantly alone is a fate that most are terrified and tormented by.

The Rich Man, aside from his eternal dissatisfaction and longing for relief from his suffering, is completely alone in hell.  He is left alone to ponder both his condition and the absence of a solution to his suffering. He is alone, with no one to listen to his problems, no one to offer any empathy or compassion.

When confronted with Church or Christianity, many people view both as a burden. For many people (especially in the modern Western world), individuality and the freedom it seems to give them is enough to give them the brash and prideful overconfidence to look God in the face and say to him, “I don’t need you! Leave me alone!” But we learn from the Rich Man that hell is a place where we are finally given our way. Hell is a place where God hears our request for isolation and gives us what our hearts desire. In effect, we request to be alone and God ultimately respects our desires and leaves us alone. Therefore, where many people view hell as a sort of large jar with people scrambling like insects to escape, only to find the judgmental, jealous and cruel God firmly tightening the lid, according to Jesus, hell is quite different. Hell is a place that the people residing there have in their heart of hearts requested, and who have received what they demanded.

We are often our worst company, our worst comforter and our worst coach. On the other hand, Jesus Christ came into this world as “Emmanuel.” Jesus is, “God with Us,” and hell could not be more radically different. Hell is “Man with Himself.”

Tuesday Devotional: Lamentations 5

bible Read Lamentations 5

Things are not the way they are supposed to be.  This we can all agree is indisputable.  The questions we ask are “Why?” and “What can we do to change our situation?”  Our instinct is to look at external factors influencing our status and to seek a remedy to those factors.  We see injustice and decide that the best course of action is to address the social and legal issues underlying the injustices.  We see poverty and decide that a new social initiative requiring more legislation or community activism will most effectively change the situation and fix the problem.

The problem is that poverty has never been solved.  Injustice has never been solved.  We do in fact have an obligation to do what we can to improve our communities and the lives of those around us. However, regardless of the amount of time, energy and resources we throw at a problem, the problem will persist, most likely grow and exist for others to wrestle with after we have passed on.

So, is there any hope?  Is there any point in addressing these issues if the outcome will never change and our efforts will have little to no impact on the problems?  If we rely on our own efforts and believe that our new idea or program will conquer the insurmountable summit of suffering in this world, then no.  The solution to these problems is counterintuitive.  Where we think that the first step is to attack the problem head-on, the opposite is actually true.  In order to address problems in the world and discover a solution we must look internally rather than externally.  The problem is in each of us.  The problem is not others.  The problem is inside of us. Only by addressing the problem within each of us will we find the origin of our current world issues.  We will also discover that by finding the origin of our problem we also find the origin of the solution.  God created the world we live in upon the spirit of shalom.  The world was created for balance, harmony, unity, self-sustainence and comprehensive blessing.

When we compare our imperfections with the harmony of the created order, we will be pointed in the right direction of fixing what is broken and healing what is sick.  In Jesus Christ exists the fulfillment and revitalization of the created order.  In Jesus Christ there is hope that change WILL happen and that it CAN start today.  In Jesus Christ there is no longer fear, there is no longer hunger, there is no longer injustice.  No fear, because Jesus conquered the threat of fear by overcoming the thing we fear the most, death.  No hunger, because the words of God illuminated by the Holy Spirit sustain us daily, even when our physical bodies endure weakness and pain.  No injustice, because the injustice we perceive is actually just punishment for our undeniable sin, and true injustice is revealed in the perfect God accused, mocked and murdered upon a cross as a condemned criminal in the face of cheers and jeers from a guilty crowd.  We want change.  So does God.  The question is, are we willing to inherit and adopt God’s heart for change? or do we look upon Jesus and say, “I’ve found a better way”?

 

Hell: A Place of Suffering

This reflection series deals with the topic of Hell. Using Jesus’ illustration of the Rich Man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, this week we’re reflecting on hell as a place of suffering.

Read Luke 16: 19-31

3328593629_b5e6e8a416_o

Describing hell as “a place of suffering” is obviously nothing new. Most people with no experience with Christianity would agree. Throughout the years, hell has been depicted in art and the media as a fiery place of torment and torture. When most people hear the word, “hell,” immediately they think of demons, devils, screaming, fire, blood, all under the terrifying and brutal umbrella of “suffering.” An oft-used tactic from the pulpit has been to illuminate these images in the hopes of scaring the congregation into an increase in attendance or in giving. Not all churches deploy this strategy, of course: many pastors illuminate these images out of sincerity to the truth that hell is a terrible place that we should be terrified of. However, whether used from a self-centered or Christ-centered pulpit, hell equals suffering.

Reading the passage in Luke’s gospel, some might be surprised to learn that the Rich Man is actually speaking from inside of hell. Aside from the mention of the burning that apparently consumes the Rich Man, the stereotypical images of hell are mysteriously absent. Where are the demons? Where are the torture tools? Where is the terrifying Satanic imagery?

What we do find is in many ways more terrifying and far more relatable. In the place of the physical suffering we often equate with hell due to the plethora of images depicting torture, we find that his suffering has much more to do with satisfaction. He has a thirst that cannot be quenched. He feels a burning sensation from within that he cannot escape. This is the suffering of hell that Jesus illustrates in this story. And it is this idea of suffering that should connect with all of us.

While most of us can live out our lives avoiding physical torture, what none of us can avoid is the internal desire for satisfaction that we can never satisfy. We all want things we cannot have, and we all have felt that aching pain of lusting after something that is forever beyond our reach. From infancy there is nothing more torturous or cruel than the idea that there is something that we are being prevented from having. What we learn from the Rich Man is that hell is where that complete dissatisfaction goes on eternally. Hell is a place where we can never be satisfied and will remain forever unfulfilled. Jesus teaches that unity with him and the Father is where we, as the children of God, find complete fullness, where our cup is allowed to overflow. Therefore, hell is a place where God is absent, the occupants remaining out of reach of that fellowship with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, forever suffering an eternal emptiness. Hell is Godless and thus, utterly hopeless.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Jeremiah 4

bible18 “Your own conduct and actions
    have brought this on you.
This is your punishment.
    How bitter it is!
    How it pierces to the heart!”

19 Oh, my anguish, my anguish!
    I writhe in pain.
Oh, the agony of my heart!
    My heart pounds within me,
    I cannot keep silent.
For I have heard the sound of the trumpet;
    I have heard the battle cry.
20 Disaster follows disaster;
    the whole land lies in ruins.
In an instant my tents are destroyed,
    my shelter in a moment.
21 How long must I see the battle standard
    and hear the sound of the trumpet?

Jeremiah 4.18-21

There is unnatural stress and anxiety in this world.  It seems that fears breed fears, that once we overcome one, another soon takes its place.  We are surrounded on a daily basis by the things we have and don’t have.  We struggle to maintain and protect what we have, and we fight for a place to earn and gain possession of things we long for.

While we realize that we should probably relax more, let things go faster, not strive to have all that we want and just be happy, who can really accomplish this genuinely?  Perhaps for a limited period of time we can, but eventually we hear the sound of running out, having less or needing more.  This is inevitable in our world and our hearts.  We strive for what we cannot actually obtain on our own.  We strive to satisfy our restless souls with everlasting peace; we strive to satisfy our unhappy hearts with eternal happiness that continues to elude us.

Although it is easier to point the finger and blame something other than ourselves for our restlessness, the truth is that we continues to choose our will over God’s that would lead us into the place where we desire rest and peace over anything else.  God desires that we find true peace and happiness, but He also proclaims to us that only in a life united with Him and faith in His son Jesus can we find both.  Until we yield to God’s will and authority in our lives we will forever sense the encroaching presence of pressure and strife as we seek to satisfy our souls in this world by ourselves.  No person in human history has found the holy joy and peace that God offers apart from Him.  Apart from God there is a private place in the heart of each person that longs for rest from the battle, to find what ultimately does not exist in this world.  We are designed to know peace and happiness intimately.  God desires that we rediscover our design and know peace and happiness.  Will you continue to strive and fight?  Will you stay on high alert awaiting the next wave that may or may not overtake you?  Or, will you concede defeat in the fight for control and know victory in this world by accepting the control of the living God by faith in Jesus Christ?

Tuesday Devotional: Hebrews 2

Read Hebrews 2:5-18bible

Man was not created to be alone.  There are far reaching implications of this truth, both for good and bad.  Even times of joy may be followed by emptiness when what is being enjoyed or experienced cannot be shared with someone else.  Similarly, in times of trouble make us desperate when what we suffer cannot be shared with another person who can understand or empathize.  God has not given us the luxury to look him in the face and tell him, “You don’t understand.  You don’t know!”  In times of suffering, our desire to be rescued from our pain is sometimes matched by our desire to be isolated in our suffering, to feel an odd sense of superiority in being the only one who can understand what is happening and what we are feeling.  When we indulge in our suffering, knowing that no one can understand our suffering allows us to avoid healing and rescue, leaving us self-obsessed in our pain, which belongs only to us, and self-satisfied in knowing that only we can understand ourselves.

But God has not allowed us the luxury of wallowing in our misery and claiming exclusive right to our suffering.  The beauty and glory of God being truly Emmanuel is that, despite his majesty and authority, in order to bridge the gap between his creation and himself, he lowered himself so that man would never have be able to claim a sense of advantage or authority over him.  It was in his submission to man’s authority, the authority of the life and death of man, that he sought to firmly establish his everlasting authority over it.  It was in his submission, in lowering himself physically to wash the feet of sinful man, that he ultimately brought all of his creation under his own feet.  Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there is absolutely nothing that we can claim to possess that Christ has not already possessed.  There is nothing that we can claim to have experienced that he has not already experienced to a much higher degree than we have.  There remains nothing that can separate us from the life and love of Jesus Christ. 

This truth was not established to remove our excuses.  This truth was established so that in times of joy and in times of suffering we would always know that the God that presides and reigns over all of creation is a God who is with us, in everything. He gives us permanent and everlasting fellowship in both our joy and suffering.  He suffered, not so that we would never have to, but so that we could come to the realization that this world we live in has been overcome by his suffering and salvation, and we can live in this world being slowly transformed into a new creation, with hope in the life to come.  God does not demand that we come to him and exemplify his perfection.  God came to us.  He came to us taking the form of man, bearing man’s sin and imperfections, so that we could need nothing else except for the truth of himself and his Gospel.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Thessalonians 2

bibleRead 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

When we are experiencing suffering or trials, the suffering itself is often not the cause of our pain.  The cause of our pain may be more related to our perspective of that suffering.  It is a question of size.  When we experience a setback or tragedy it becomes far too easy for our problem to balloon to an irrational size, overwhelming everything else in our lives.  As our problem grows in size, we shrink, and feel overpowered by it.  In this state, the comforting words of a friend to “stand firm” are typically received with thanks, but are of little practical use.  In this state of despair what we need is not necessarily a power to remove the suffering, but something powerful enough to restructure our perspective.  What we need in these moments is something bigger than our suffering.

For many, the primary purpose of the Bible is comfort in times of suffering and helpful hints in times of confusion.  This approach to the word of God is not only mistaken, but is a travesty when one understands the why we were given the Bible.  This misuse of the word of God is the equivalent of using a brand-new Porsche to haul firewood.  The purpose of the word of God is not to comfort us or instruct us.  The purpose of the word of God is to define us.  The word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, is that very thing that can restructure our perspective, providing us the hope and strength we require in order to persevere through and over our suffering.  The word of God is big.  It is not only big in the sense that God is big and if he is in control then we can have nothing to fear.  It is big in that from the beginning God has included us, along with billions of others, in his family, the family he has protected with his life.  The word of God not only gives us a starting point that validates the desires of our heart and the longings of our souls, it gives us the way that so many have walked before us— and prevailed.  The word of God is not stories and lessons to learn from.  The word of God is our story. It is our story because it is his, and he made us.  The word of God gives us hope in standing firm that goes beyond good advice.  It grants us the perspective of creation and transformation, which began with God and is continually brought about by God.  In the face of the suffering of this world, the magnitude of God and our place alongside him has the ability to reduce any and all trials we face.  If God is for us, then who can be against us?  If God is with us, what problem can ever overwhelm us?

 

Serving the King: Suffering

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Suffering (Isaiah 53)

In the first section, in 1 Samuel 15, we met Israel’s first king: Saul, a king with human tendencies and human abilities.  Saul demonstrates so well the potential of the human heart to fall victim to power, success, temptation and glory.  In this section we will read one of the most powerfully prophetic scriptures about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Isaiah 53 shows another sort of king, a “suffering servant” who is the complete opposite of Saul.  This individual, innocent of sin, is the most glorious and most praiseworthy figure in history, yet received nothing but suffering, disgrace and shame in his mission to save the world.

The Bible can be difficult to digest because it is an ancient text, but it also can be difficult because of what it demands of us.  The Bible and, more specifically, the teachings of Jesus Christ, establish a bar of behavior that is intimidating at best.  Christians are called into a life of service that no human being could ever live up to. Jesus Christ’s depiction of true Christian character seems superhuman and impossibly unrealistic.

Unfortunately, many Christians and non-Christians leave the expectations and frustrations there.  They see expectations and demands and never move beyond the daunting realities that those demands present.  But this mistake can be resolved if we understand Isaiah 53.  In the Gospels we don’t encounter a list of demands and orders from a distant and judgmental deity.  Rather, we meet Jesus.  The suffering servant came into our world and lived alongside us in order to model a way of life so that we could follow him and not simply the commands.  Jesus never preached orders.  On the contrary, Jesus preached repentance, change not to harm us but change that can free us.  Jesus announced “good news,” not “new rules.”

Jesus preached himself because only in him can we truly live the way he expects us to.  He is the savior of Isaiah 53 who did far more than we will ever be expected to do, simply so that we wouldn’t have to.  In Jesus we have a God that suffered, felt pain, and understands us completely.

Why did Jesus choose to come into the world? The question can be confusing.  If we view his life as a platform by which to give orders and make demands, then his sacrifice and the way he lived falls out of order and lacks purpose or rationality.  For thousands of years God spoke through the prophets, like Isaiah, to deliver important messages to his people.  Therefore, what necessity would there be to send someone as valuable as his son to do the same job?  However, if we think about the life of Jesus as he himself proclaimed, his purpose begins to fall into place.  The mission of Jesus Christ was not only to save his children, but to be with them and love them by living alongside them, and finally, by dying for all of them.

In our social lives, the people that we are closest to are typically people who share the most in common with us.  We are drawn to these people; we depend on and trust them.  Therefore, knowing our hearts, God knew that the only way to reach us was to be a “God with us.”  He came as a servant to show us that he was willing to serve in a way we could never serve.  Only through the reception of his life and service as a free gift, undeserving and unearned, will we find the ability to live the life that he desires for us.  Jesus Christ came into our world to serve us with only God’s approval in mind.  Through the life of Jesus we see that God understands us: our trials, our sorrows, our tribulations. Not only has he experienced them all himself, but he can truthfully say that he was tested beyond anything we can possibly compare with.  Lack of understanding and empathy does not emanate from a God who demands too much from us without knowing us.  The lack of understanding is ours, directed toward Jesus, who gave more for us than we could ever give him in return.  He suffered in ways we never will be required to.

Jesus was the teacher of all teachers for many reasons, but one of his most powerful qualities was his ability to lead by example.  He led us into salvation by his example.  All that is left for us is to do is be moved by his life and begin to follow in his footsteps one step at a time.

ASK: Jeremiah 33

 phonesource

This update is from a recent meeting of ASK Daegu. Each member contributed something to the message that follows. We pray that our group encourages you in the same way that it encouraged all of us.

READ JEREMIAH 33

God pleads with us to call on Him. But do we? God promises to provide us with answers to our deepest questions and concerns, but do we listen? Our understanding of God is revealed in how we call on Him and how we listen. Why do we call on Him? If we call on Him with an expectation that he will remove the most present obstacle in our life, then we have reduced His promises to be as temporal as the world we live in. If we measure His power in how effectively He removes the particular trouble in our lives, then we fail to grasp the depth of His promise and are left abandoned by a rescue He never actually vowed to make.

Emptiness does not necessarily mean godlessness. Emptiness in this world is a result of the fallen nature of this world. However, God’s promises are real and they are ever-present. They are now. They are working. The wickedness and destruction of this world should not cause us to need God less. On the contrary, it should reveal in us a greater need for Him. The suffering in this world does not prove the absence of God. Suffering reveals our need for a savior to rescue us from the suffering in and to which we all actively participate and contribute. We need His heart and we need His words.

In the end, the answer to our call does not manifest itself in rescue now. Rather, it rescues us spiritually in the present in the promise of Jesus Christ to rescue us completely in the future. Jesus Christ is God’s answer to our plea for help. Jesus Christ IS hope. He provides us the hope that all is not lost and what we have lost is not the end. Jesus does not help us get to the end. Jesus IS the end. To find Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is to find the answer we sought from the beginning. We are lost in this world in one way or another; Jesus Christ comes to find us. We have been hurt or are presently hurting; Jesus Christ comes to heal us. We are afraid of the finality of this world; Jesus Christ tells us to find peace in Him as the beginning and end that encompasses all that we have been, are and will ever be. He is life, and God’s answer to all of our questions is Jesus Christ.

 

Above All Else: Clarity

pen-and-paper_400x295_39(Check out the first and second installments here and here.)

This week, we’re asking God for clarity to find Him in the storm.

It is neither new nor uncommon for a Christian to cry out in prayer for relief in the face of opposition or difficulty.  At times we spiritually scream at the top of our lungs for help.  There are times when we do the courageous thing and take the glory of Jesus Christ into the storm and then await rescue.  With every passing moment that deliverance is delayed, we begin to doubt the decision to trust in the word and take it literally into the storm.  These can be moments that test our faith in far greater ways than the initial crossroad where we chose to trust the words of Jesus and allow him to overcome.  These are the moments where we gasp for air in the fiery furnace or strain to maintain spiritual centeredness as the refining fire scorches our sensitive Christian skin.  The promise of deliverance has been made, the leap of faith to trust in the promise has been leapt, and now all that remains is to wait for a miracle.

The way we approach this “refining fire” and the way we understand its purpose will shape our view of our existence in the flames.  If we view God as completely outside of the flames, then what we experience within is severe loneliness and helplessness.  When we are up against a difficult situation there are few greater burdens placed on the human heart than that of isolation and loneliness.  The feeling of being alone magnifies the suffering and heightens the pain.  If we view God as outside of our current situation, we limit our experience with God and his promise to be “God with us.” We find ourselves without hope.

A God that does not enter the flames with you is either a God that does not care about your current suffering, or has no control to do anything about the situation.  Either way, with a God outside of the flames, there is little hope left to hold on to.

Of course, the opposing perspective is a God that follows us into the flames.

As we begin to feel the heat of the fire, the prayer that is usually first to emerge is, “God, get me out!” In some cases, maybe that prayer is answered directly: we are rescued from the flames unscathed and alive.  But both the Bible and our own lives are full of evidence that such moments of the miraculous are not prevalent.  More often than not, we remain in the blaze, seeking answers and explanations to our delayed rescue.

The question of suffering is a difficult one for most non-Christians to grasp and sometimes more difficult for Christians to explain.  When discussing Christianity with non-Christians, the issue of suffering and a God that allows its continued existence is always an issue: ‘Why would a good God allow so much suffering? Pain? Death? Destruction?’  There are plenty of answers and explanations for this question. But often in answering it, I find myself simply left with “I don’t know.”

There are biblical explanations to explain the nature of suffering in this world: the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, for example. However, explaining the very real presence of suffering by referring to a story of a garden with fruit trees, naked humans, snakes and flaming swords hardly satisfies the troubled mind.  But while we cannot know the whys and purposes and resolutions of suffering, we can explain what the reasons cannot be.  It cannot be because we have a God that does not care for us and it cannot be because our God does not have the power to stop it.

Throughout the Bible we read time after time that God can put out flames of suffering and sorrow whenever he desired at a moments notice.  We know that he performed miracles repeatedly, from Scriptural accounts as well as in the lives of many people living today.  Therefore, the question remains: Why does he allow suffering to continue?  The only explanation from a God that claims to have plans beyond our understanding is that the suffering exists for a greater purpose.  Perhaps the suffering persists so that greater healing can be revealed and experienced.  If we are willing to plead ignorance concerning the presence of suffering in this world, we must be willing to admit ignorance concerning the purpose.

Against difficulty, against pain, the first option is to quit and give up.  Our suffering is too much to handle. The effort to fight and overcome seems hopeless.  Quitting seems to be the most reasonable and pain saving option.  But the truth about quitting is that, in most cases, quitting does not satisfy. Instead, it brings regret. The second option is to take heart and continue onward.  Whether coming from a religious or non-religious background, most people agree that the decision to press onward through suffering typically results in a stage or period in life that we look back on and value.

All throughout the Bible we see moments where God chooses to allow suffering to persist.  In each instance where suffering is allowed to persist there follows a greater moment of healing that proved to be the original purpose of the suffering.  Whether it is the story of Joseph or the story of Lazarus, God always expresses a desire to bring about more healing than what we could have possibly foreseen.  This multiplication of healing is born out of the seeds of suffering.

The God of the Bible is never unclear about the realities of suffering or his views on our suffering.  He sees it, he knows it, and he never stops caring.  In the Bible, we see a God that accompanied his believers into the flames for all to see, a God that accompanies us into our human experience to truly be called, “Emmanuel.”  The God of the Bible cannot exist outside of the flames of suffering because he is God with us.