Suffering is one of the most common reasons people doubt God.
If God is so loving, how can such bad things happen?
Trite statements by Christians only make this worse:
Something good will come out this, just wait.
God has a purpose for everything.
Something good will come out of rape, child abuse, or the premature death of a loved one…
As if God were committing atrocities so we’d learn a lesson later.
I want to propose that most people live with the expectation that this world is heaven, so when they discover (through observing or experiencing suffering) that it isn’t, they are devastated. Specifically, their idea of God is devastated.
This is a very complicated topic because we are indeed eternal beings, yet we do not live in an eternal world.
As eternal beings, we long for heaven. Not just heaven as the place or destination, but a state of being without suffering, pain, disease, and death. This is, in fact, what we were created for so it makes perfect sense we’d still be hardwired for this. What we long for is a world without the effects of sin, while we live in the midst of a world riddled by these effects.
Jesus has come and has won the victory and more than just the ultimate victory, he has also established his Kingdom here on earth. But it would be premature to think that Jesus’s Kingdom was fully here, with all of its authority therein, for two reasons. This is important to note because many Christians teach this with good intentions. The teaching is that because Jesus is more powerful than the power of sin, and since we have the authority of Jesus because his Kingdom is here, we can claim his authority over such things as disease and find instant healing in his name.
If the healing doesn’t happen, we only have a few options to choose from. One, we simply didn’t have enough faith. This means we are either a bad Christian / bad person, with the weight of shame that goes with that, or it means we better muster up some more faith. As if we could conjure God up to do what we want/need if only we display the right manifestation of faith or do enough good behavior. This is either manipulating God, as if He is our genie/butler, or it’s straight legalism, as if we can earn his grace. Neither of these check out with the gospel or with Scripture, and both leave us feeling condemnation, which Romans 8:1 promises does not go along with those who are in Christ Jesus.
Another option is that God is too weak to fix our problem. In this case, we have a major God problem. What kind of God is a weak God?
The final option is that God is cruel. This is where most people land who have walked away from their faith because of suffering.
I want to go back to the two reasons it’s premature to say that the authority of Jesus’s Kingdom is fully here. In other words, it’s premature to say that this world is heaven.
First and foremost, Jesus is not here. Don’t get me wrong, his Spirit is here! And amen to that. But he is not here in bodily form, which the Bible promises will happen when heaven comes. So how could his Kingdom be fully here, if he himself is not yet here?
The second reason we know this world is not heaven is because the Bible and Jesus himself tell us over and over and over again there will be suffering on this earth:
John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jesus speaking)
Romans 8:18-21 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
2 Corinthians 5:1-4 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened
These are just a small sampling of verses in Scripture about suffering. Some Bible verses refer to being persecuted for our faith, while others simply refer to the general suffering of our lives, as well as of everything in creation.
These verses already allude that the world in which we live is in a temporary state, that there is an eternal and perfected state (a.k.a. “heaven”) we are looking forward to.
We must also remember that 11 of Jesus’s first 12 disciples were brutally tortured and killed for their faith, with John’s island prison exile being the lone exception. Let alone Paul, Stephen and the countless Christians who were fed to lions or who simply lost everything.
If you are struggling with reconciling suffering with an all-loving and all-powerful God, remember that this world is not heaven. If you live with that expectation, you are living with an entitlement none of us have earned. This type of entitlement never leaves us fulfilled. Just like the parched desert wanderer chasing a mirage, we will always be disappointed, in despair, and longing for more.
The reverse of entitlement is gratitude. The only way to find gratitude in this fallen world is to realize we deserve nothing from God. Not only is this world not heaven, we don’t deserve the heaven that is coming. We don’t deserve to be saved from this broken world. We don’t deserve to be saved from our sins. (What we deserve is hell) When we realize that the ultimate victory of Jesus over Satan (and Jesus over our sin) brings us into an eternal relationship with him, we can then be overcome with gratitude–gratitude for this wealth of riches we know we don’t deserve.
It is this gratitude we must take with us through this world of suffering. A world that might not be hell itself, but let’s be honest, is a lot closer to hell than it is to heaven. It’s not being pessimistic, it’s being real to the person who has been abused, the person whose nation is undergoing genocide, the person who has been raped, the person who just lost their mother, child or spouse to cancer. That is a lot of hell on earth to account for. While this might be an unpleasant reality to accept, to deny it is to live in a world that isn’t true, let alone a world that isn’t biblical. It is to continue to chase the desert mirage and wonder why you are still thirsty. Sin and perfection cannot exist together. Eden was perfect, this sin-infected world isn’t, heaven will be once sin is fully eradicated by Jesus’s 2nd coming.
Attempting to live in a world that isn’t true (and that God never promised) will leave us disappointed with God every single time.
Why doesn’t God stop the hell on earth this very moment?
A better question would be, why didn’t he stop it 100 years ago, or 1000 years ago? Or right after our world first fell to sin and all of this pain and suffering entered it in Genesis 3? Stopping it then would have saved a lot of heartache.
I don’t know the reason he lets us keep on living. I do know the world wasn’t meant to be this way, I know it won’t always be this way, and I know Jesus is the only one who will get us through it.
Healings and miracles still happen, praise God for when they do. But they aren’t guaranteed, we aren’t entitled to them, and we can’t make God do them for us. They are abnormal reminders that God has won the victory, not normal rules of a sinful and fallen state. At the end of the day, everyone will die, even those who get healed. And at the end of the day, a healing will never save you from your sins so don’t chase them like they are your savior. Chase Jesus, he is your Savior, and he is your only hope in this world of suffering and sin. This world isn’t heaven, but we can bring some heaven to earth while we’re here, as we walk hand-in-hand with the one who suffered more than you and I ever will, as he lovingly leads us to our eternal home with him in a place well described in Revelation 21:1-5:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
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Host of the "Behind the Curtain" Ministry Podcast
Executive Director of Seeds Christian Community Development
Blogging at AtACrossroads.net
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