Can We Find Meaning in Suffering? [2-7-21]


DeVonta Smith will be playing in the NFL next year. What I love about the guy is, he seems to be his generation's Barry Sanders. Sanders was one of the most calm, humble men to ever play the game. Smith only played the first half of the college national championship game against Ohio State. He already had three touchdowns for Alabama before leaving with an injured hand.


Interviewed after the game, there was no doubt in the mind of this Heisman Trophy winner that, with or without him, they were going to win. He said, "It came down to the young guys just putting in the work, every day, every week, knowing if somebody went down, they were going to have to come in and do something big. I believed in the them from the jump. That's what we do; that is why you come to 'Bama."


Putting in the work. Paul calls that working out your own salvation with fear and trembling. In other words, know what you believe and why you believe it. Know the Bible. Grow in your understanding of how God's Word speaks to every aspect of your life. Develop a Biblical worldview, so you're not blown about by winds of change, adversity, or wrong beliefs. Align your thoughts and actions with God's revealed Word. Are you with me on that? Do the hard work of drawing your heart and mind close to God and you will know that no matter what you experience or go through in life, all is well, because Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior.


Think about the apostle Paul. As he described it, he had a "thorn in the flesh." It caused him to be tried and tested. It pushed his physical endurance. We never learn what this "thorn" was, but we do know that God also permitted His apostle to experience significant suffering, dangers, hardship, and rejection. And yet God gave Paul the message of my grace is sufficient for you…my power is made perfect in weakness.


Paul repeatedly pleaded with God to remove his thorn in the flesh. But instead of removing this thorn, God instead gave him the grace to bear it. That's why Paul was not only able to rejoice in his sufferings…he was able to glorify God in them. As he wrote, "Therefore I will boast all the more

gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

And here's the point. No matter what we face, we have God's full assurance that His grace is sufficient for anything that comes our way. As I like to say, no matter what we experience or go through in life, all is well, because Jesus Christ is Lord. That worldview transforms how we think about suffering in our lives.


So, how do we understand suffering in our lives? In our moments of suffering, in each singular instance of hurt or pain, we have questions or confusion about the why of those moments. At the micro level…the personal level…we struggle for the rhyme or reason. Never let the fog of the moment blind you to the bigger picture. Always remember Romans 8:28, "For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."


That's the opposite of the micro level. That's looking at suffering from the macro level…the big picture…Biblical truth that transforms our under-standing of how suffering shapes and impacts our lives.


Here's the first thing we have to do when looking at the big picture of

suffering. We have to get rid of the big lie of why do bad things happen to good people. Who here is a good person? By what and whose standard would we make that claim?


Original sin, that basic and essential Biblical doctrine that flies in the face of our self-esteem embracing, we're-all-just-good-people-at-heart culture, tells us that no, not one of us is truly good. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. As Isaiah describes it, we all like sheep are lead astray by our sinful desires and selfish nature. And if you aren't fully convinced original sin is real, despite what the Bible says, then you've never seen a 3-year-old throw a hysterical, fall dead-weight on the floor kicking-and-screaming tantrum because after he asked for the crust to be cut-off his P,B,&J, you gave him the P,B,&J with the crust cut-off. That there is an expression of wickedness.


Original sin…the wickedness of the human heart…gives lie to the protest, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" We are always thankful for God's grace and mercy, because we deserve neither. We ought never take the everyday blessings of life for granted. To get up this morning and breathe in the crisp, cold air. The way the full moon lighted off the snow before the sun came up. Those are beautiful gifts that we didn't earn or deserve.


The real question is, when bad things happen, what do people of faith do?


The Bible steers us in the direction of asking the right questions. What are the macro purposes of God in our sufferings? I hope the next five points satisfy our Biblical quest for the big picture reasons behind suffering.


1. REPENTANCE


Luke 13:4-5, Jesus says:

"Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Here's the first thing you might want to write down:

Suffering is a call for us and others to turn from treasuring anything on earth above God.


2. RELIANCE


Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we

experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Here's the second thing you might want to write down:

Suffering is a call to trust God and not the life-sustaining props of this world.


3. RIGHTEOUSNESS


Hebrews 12:6-11 says:

"For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Here's the third thing you might want to write down:

Suffering is the discipline of our loving heavenly Father so that we come to share His righteousness and holiness.


4. Reward


Again, we hear from Paul, this time 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Here's the fourth thing you might want to write down:

Every moment of suffering here will fade away into nothingness

when we receive our great reward in heaven.


5. Reminder


We read in Philippians 3:8-11:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Here's the last thing you might want to write down:

Suffering reminds us that Jesus came into the world to suffer so

that our suffering would not be God's condemnation but His

purification.


It is understandable that our hearts would cry out in suffering. We don't know most of the micro reasons for suffering. Why now? Why this way? Why this long? But don't get so caught up in the micro reasons that you overlook the massive help God gives you in His Word for understanding the macro reasons for suffering. Undeniably, hurt cuts deep ruts through our souls, but God's truth runs fuller and deeper, filling the wounds suffering leaves in our lives.


Never forget. Christians suffer in hope. We pray not only, "How Long, O Lord?" but also, "Come, Lord Jesus!" Jesus died on the cross to take our punishment for our sins upon himself, reconciling us to God. And in his resurrection, he shows us how God restores all things. We still ask why our bodies hurt and our hearts ache. We might even wonder when God will make all things new. But we remember who suffered in our place to secure our salvation. And until Christ returns, we follow Jesus Christ, our Servant King, on the road to the Cross. Amen.


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