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The Sovereignty behind Suffering

by Skip Heitzig |
You know those motivational posters and plaques--the ones that typically extol the virtues of success or determination or imagination? I have yet to see a poster or a plaque extolling suffering. There are no statues erected in honor of pain, no Pain Day that's part of our calendar. And there's a side of God that I don't think a lot of us like to think about: if God has revealed Himself as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, then why is His world so messed up? Why doesn't He stop evil and pain?

Sometimes you can have this packaged, clean theology about God in your mind, then catastrophe strikes, and what was once clear to you no longer is. For me, it happened when I was twenty-two years old and I got a phone call from my father that my brother had been killed in a motorcycle accident. It took me completely off guard. Another strike hit sometime later when my wife miscarried a child and my father died on the same day. It wasn't that I didn't believe in or trust God after these times, but my view was different.

So how are we to interpret episodes of pain and suffering and evil in the world? In John 9, we read about Jesus' encounter with a blind man. Before healing the man, Jesus' disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (v. 2). What they voiced was and is a very common contention--why was this man suffering? This inevitably leads to a larger question: Why is there suffering at all?

There are some pretty typical explanations people give, the first being the sin explanation, which we see here in verse 2. Now, sin is ultimately the root cause of all misfortune in the world, but personal acts of sin are not always directly the cause. The common view among atheists is simply that there isn't a God, because how could a God who's all-powerful and all-loving and all-knowing allow evil to exist? But the problem of saying there's evil in the world is that it presupposes a standard of goodness against which to measure evil, and if there's no God, then where did we get that standard? Another explanation is that God wants to help--He's just not all-powerful.

But look at what Jesus said: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (vv. 3-5).

One thing I really appreciate about Jesus is He didn't give pat, predictable, packaged little answers to the problem of suffering. What He did was elevate it to a higher level--the level of the sovereignty of God: behind suffering, God is still in control. And there are a couple points that speak to this. First of all, God did not create evil; He only enabled the possibility of evil, because He created people with free will. Not only that, but suffering in the hands of a loving God can produce great good. For instance, God took what most people would say was the very worst thing that could ever happen in human history--the cross--and turned it into the very best thing that could happen in human history.

Here's what I hope you get from Jesus' interaction: this blind beggar was not an academic case to be discussed in a theology class; he was a person who needed compassion and healing. And the time is now that we have the opportunity to help and bless and fix. We can't just deal with the problem of pain theoretically or academically--that's a cop-out. Yes, the biblical God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, and one day He will judge evil and eradicate injustice. But until then, we have a spiritual obligation as the body of Christ to help alleviate suffering and allow it to work for us.

Wouldn't it be a lot easier to believe Romans 8:28 if it said, "Some things work together for good to those who love God"? But it says, "All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Remember that the next time a pebble hits your theological windshield, when you hear the bad news, when the doctor calls--all things work together; God is in control.

In His strong love,

Skip Heitzig

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