Recently I was shown a brochure many are finding in their mailboxes these days. The main subject of this one was why there’s suffering in the world. I’d also just recently heard a speech on the same subject, by a well-known Christian, Joni Erickson Tada, who’s been quadriplegic most of her life. She explained how many today push the idea that God is just a distant observer who’s not really personally involved in His creation and that evil and suffering just happens randomly. Ironically, this is also what that brochure was pushing and its called Deism. But Joni explained what she called the “theology of suffering,” where God allows what He hates in order to accomplish what He loves. And she said God’s sovereignty in suffering can be better understood if we look to the suffering of Jesus.
For example, in Acts2:23 and 4:28 we see that God determined beforehand what would happen to Jesus. We also see here how God ordains for His purposes to be brought about by “wicked hands.” He sovereignly directed their wickedness to fulfill His purposes, even though they didn’t realize it (Prov.20:24, Jer.10:23). And although the wicked do it from evil motives, God does it sinlessly, for He cannot do evil (Job 34:10-12).
Even as far back as Genesis 45:5-8 we see God directing the evil actions of the wicked in order to bring about His purposes. Joseph’s brothers meant evil against him, but Gen. 50:20 says God meant it for good, because He is good and all that He does is good. In fact, He works all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom.8:28). So we can be comforted in knowing that we can have hope in God, for there is no random, purposeless evil or suffering in this world.
So are the wicked excused because God directs their wickedness to fulfill His purposes? Absolutely not, because God didn’t cause them to be wicked, He only directed the evil that was already in their heart. We are all responsible to God no matter what (Rom. 9:20). And even when God works good from our evil, we cannot take any credit for it. Yet, if God hadn’t set up everything this way, we’d think we could control everything and even take credit for our own salvation. But God has set everything up so perfectly, that we might get a glimpse of how beautiful and miraculous His grace and mercy really is.
But personally, even after writing about the sovereignty of God for over 2 years now, I still can’t completely wrap my feeble mind around it. And it seems that along with every article I’ve written, God in His mercy has often disciplined me thru some very painful depths of suffering to bring me to the end of myself. Perhaps to save me from the prideful pitfalls that often happen when one tries to proclaim the beauty of God’s sovereignty and salvation. All I know is that it’s been only in my weaknesses that I’ve truly been able to realize the strength of God’s grace.
And so when it comes to God’s sovereignty, in puddles of tears and pleas for mercy, I have to confess, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Psa. 139:6). “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out” (Rom.11:33). So along with Paul I have to say, I am determined to know nothing among you, except Christ and Him crucified (1Cor.2:2). Sis. Lee Anne—-much needed prayer and humbling rebukes from God’s people are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
4 thoughts on “Theology of Suffering”
I am participating in an inner healing course, sozo and a few hard to read books on dealing with past hurts, etc. My reaction – what happened to studying God’s book for inner healing? The whole thing has just given my spirit the creeps from day one. I kept going thinking there was something wrong with me. Now it’s just a burden. I find that I am scheduled for a trauma prayer session, without my knowledge-well everyone is. Everyone seems yielded to the whole process.
It seems that the Holy Spirit may be convicting you concerning your possible participation in something that the Bible says is an abomination to the Lord—–(Lev.20:6, Deut.18:9-14, Jer.14:14, Acts 16:16, etc.)
After reading these Bible verses see how the Holy Spirit may be showing you what Sozo is really all about.
When God first began convicting me over Sozo and other unbiblical practices I was into, I too began to think there was just something wrong with me. Because I’d look around the room and see everyone else falling for it “hook, line and sinker.” As time went by, it even seemed that their eyes became glassed over—-literally.
Looking back I realize there was a battle for my soul. The devil on one hand trying to convince me that I just had an overly sensitive conscience. And God on the other hand drawing me closer to Him thru His word, by showing me the true gospel and how Sozo was a complete counterfeit.
The real test came when I chose God’s truth and had to face confrontation from those in error. By God’s grace, I continue to stand for His truth, despite all the opposition I have to face almost constantly it seems.
Please reconsider going to that “trauma prayer session.” It’s nothing but a snare the devil has set for you, but don’t yield for a single second, no matter how yielded the others may seem. Stand strong and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ——
Please let me know how it goes and I’ll be praying that God will be with you to strengthen you and bring you out of bondage from those who falsely promise liberty.
“Theology of Suffering” was an excellent article. I believe that the article’s real strength is the recognition of not ‘knowing’. So, knowing so little myself, I figured I would chime in.
Like many others who have had the privilege of hearing Joni speak, I have always been encouraged by her work. Yet on the balancing of suffering and sovereignty I find myself, like you, yielding to the majesty of God. Truly, His ways are beyond searching out. But weighed in the balance of this issue of suffering is the very covenant between God and man which is secured in the spent blood of our Lord. God, without compromising His sovereignty He establishes wonderful promises in the cross. From what I can see, that covenant established in the cross promises healing.
God’s promises through the cross of Christ remain as relevant and vibrant as they were when Isaiah first uttered them 2500 years ago. Yet the cancer that attacked my body 7 years ago is still there and relevant too; uglier and more menacing than ever. Does God love Joni less than a healthier Christian? Of course not. As for me, the Holy Spirit coursing through me keeps me always delighting in Jesus as much in illness as in I did in health; arguably more so! So illness does not separate us from the presence of God.
Can we still say then that suffering and illness can be the same thing in the Christian experience? Obviously, the answer is yes. I can tell you my illness causes me to suffer. But that is the wrong question. Instead, let us ask if the Word of God compels us to recognize that He uses illness like He uses suffering from persecution? Even Paul’s infamous thorn in the flesh, on close and contextual consideration, appears to be a buffeting from the enemy after Paul had received tremendous revelation rather than an illness or poor eyesight, etc.. Paul’s writings reveal that even in the first century Christians got sick, but in some cases there is no record of them receiving healing.
The example of Christ demonstrates suffering, and Christ taught us to expect it as well. But He healed every manner of sickness and disease. He NEVER said no. He NEVER said, “Well, you must remain sick because of …” He healed all comers without caveat or qualification (interestingly, in the cases where He attributed faith to healing – “Your faith has made you well” -the only common denominator was that they came to Him). Matthew also tells us that Jesus also said “if you have faith and do not doubt” you could practice your softball pitch with a mountain.
Is doubt just the opposite of faith? Or could it be its own activity? I lean toward the latter. Is it possible that faith is attributed to us when we come in our own weakness and asking Christ for healing? Perhaps, like faith and doubt, we have ideas about weakness (translated infirmities in KJV) that we must attend to. Is it not a holy demonstration of weakness to surrender all understanding except the cross? Are not our formulaic methods of prayer often no more than fleshly attempts to convince our minds of the magnitude of His cross, even as our hearts languish in the doubts that it has been taught?
In the Book of James we learn that a double minded man is unstable in all his ways, and should expect nothing when he asks anything of God. That sounds way too much like the Church in America today; tottering and uncertain. Today in America, the Church is reeling in confusion from an onslaught of deceit from within. The result of that confusion is double mindedness. But let us be careful not to characterize all theology that results in confusion as heresy, per se. Many things are taught as a result of good people trying to make sense of their own circumstance. I certainly have done the same, and have spent more than one session repenting before the Throne of Grace as a result.
Clearly, the sovereignty of God cannot and will not contradict His own Word. So let us as believers decide what is true sovereignty and what is more intellectually appealing than scriptural. Let us at times hold our tongues, taking care not to teach things that can create doubt (through contradiction with the Gospel) by attempting to explain circumstances that we cannot truly understand. But let us also take great care in our criticisms, for we can only be known as His when we love one another.
I know nothing of the ways of God except those He reveals through His word. I do not understand why cancer is still in my body. I have lived longer than expected because He sustains me. I take medicine that I would have a few years ago never considered, because I am uncertain as to what I should be doing. I am, one could argue, double minded about healing. Perhaps. Likely. But whatever label may fit me, I still find that receiving healing is difficult for me, while recognizing it as part of the work of the cross is as natural as worship itself.
It is my prayer that this attempt to highlight and balance two important counterpoints on suffering and sovereignty are not a cause for hurt. It is not my intention to persuade anyone through excellence of words, but rather hope this note may generate a sincere contemplation in Christ with careful attention to His Word on these subjects. In the end of this discussion I realize that I know very little. But I am more than ever content to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.
From one sufferer to another, I’ve noticed one of the biggest doubts that the devil tries to exaggerate during suffering is doubts concerning the goodness of God. After all, even Job went thru this, thinking he himself was just and that God wasn’t, for putting him thru such suffering (Job 32:2).
Notice in Job chapters 32 on —-Elihu truly addressed the heart of the matter. He was NOT one of the three “miserable comforters” Job had to make sacrifices for in the last chapter. Although many don’t realize that.
So we can better understand Jobs problem by reading what Elihu had to say about his suffering. In Job 35:1 he makes it clear that Job had been thinking God wasn’t good for causing a supposedly “good” man to suffer.
Again in Job 36:21-23 Elihu gets to the heart of the matter by saying Job had chosen iniquity (the sin of thinking God was unfair or unrighteous or not good), rather than suffering.
In Job 42:3-6 Job humbly confesses to God that he was the one who had darkened counsel, uttered what he understood not and ended up repenting in dust and ashes.
Consequently, God healed him, blessed him and forgave the other three “friends” Job offered sacrifices for. Interestingly, if you read some of what those three had been saying to Job, we find they were very much like todays “Word of Faith” proponents who think along the lines of cause and effect—-“do this or say that—-and get this result.”
But God can’t be put in that kind of box. His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah?). Although man thinks along the lines of natural laws, God’s word clearly shows Him constantly overruling them.
Even with Job, God comes within a sudden whirlwind out of nowhere and without the natural signs of an impending storm. Can you imagine the kind of faith God was producing in Job thru all of this!!?
Before, Job was trying to come to God on his own terms, trying to present his own case, his own faulty self-righteousness. But AFTERWARDS, Job comes to God confessing God’s righteousness and his own wretchedness!! What a turnabout!! What repentance God had produced in him thru all the pain and trials and severe chastening!!!
Truly it’s this work of God that leaves us crawling to the cross of Christ to have our own flesh crucified and His righteousness imputed to us (Rom.4).
It’s at this “plateau of praise” (true salvation) that God reveals to us that our coming and our believing are one and the same!! Because there is no double-minded wavering when God opens our spiritual understanding to comprehend by faith that Jesus’ blood was shed for us personally.
Truly, Christ and Him crucified is the continent of all contentment!! God bless