With the rise of persecution against Christians in the Middle East, we are reminded that we live in a world full of pain and suffering. In the midst of a bad economy, natural disasters, and the growing risk of international terrorism people are seeking real answers to tough questions. Many people feel alone and unable to handle the many problems that can come their way on a daily basis.
As a pastor, I am often asked questions like, “Where is God when bad things happen?” or “Why do bad things happen to good people?” These are real and legitimate questions to ask. Another question is, “Does the Bible have real answers to real problems?” The answer is yes, although they are not always easy. Therefore it is important that we have a Biblical understanding of suffering and pain to comfort people who are hurting.
Many people feel that God is silent when it comes to difficult issues. However, the Bible is full of stories of men and women who overcame trials, persecution, and suffering. Joseph suffered in Genesis, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, the Prophets suffered time and time again for God, and Jesus died for all humanity. These stories help to remind us that suffering often serves a greater purpose in God’s plan. We are told in Genesis 50:20 (NIV), “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” God is able to work all things together for the good of those who are called according to his purposes.
Many people are not able to see pain and suffering in a redemptive light. We must believe that God is good even though there is so much hurting, death, and disease in the world. Despite all of this, there are several things that we need to keep in mind when we experience pain and suffering.
God is Our Comforter
The Bible never says that times of adversity and suffering will not come into our lives. Even in the midst of trials, suffering, and sorrow the Scriptures say that, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1, NIV) This Biblical passage affirms that God is always with us in the midst of our times of greatest need.
We see that He does not always remove difficulties and trials from our path, but the Bible promises that He will be with us in our hour of need. Even in our time of sorrow and pain the Psalmist tells us that God is our refuge and strength, which means that He is the One who shelters us and enables us to make it through the difficult seasons of our lives.
The affirmation of God’s presence can also be seen in 2 Cor 1:3-4 (NIV), which says, “Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we may comfort those in any trouble with the comfort that we ourselves have received from God.” Notice the number of times that Paul uses the word comfort. The word for comfort literally means, “called along side.” It refers to the ministry of God’s presence in our times of trouble. Comfort and healing comes from the presence of God. We are called to share in God’s ministry of healing and restoration by being present to others who are suffering with the same presence that God has given to us. God becomes present to them through us. We are never alone in our sufferings.
Satan is the Source of Evil not God
Many people ask the question, “Why would a good God let bad things happen to good people?” As hard as it may sound God does allow bad things to happen. There is a difference in God permitting bad things to happen and God actually being the one who causes them.
We see in the book of Job that God allows evil by setting parameters on Satan. Job demonstrates the authority of God through emphasizing His limitation on Satan. After being petitioned by Satan the Lord said to him, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, But on the man himself do not lay a finger.” (Job 1:12 NIV) The “but” in this passage shows that Satan is limited in his authority and dealings with man to sovereign lordship of God. Therefore we can conclude that God is in control even if it may not seem like it to us and ultimately like Job we must say, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2:10 NIV).
God Has Given His Word to Comfort Us
God has not only given us the comfort of His presence, but He has given us His precious Word to comfort, heal, and guide us in the midst of our trials and suffering. In a similar way we are to share the word with others who are in times suffering. In the Word “we have been given great and precious promises.” (2 Pet1: 4) In Psalms 107:20 (KJV) we are told that, “He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” In Psalms 119:105 (KJV) it says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” It is the Word of God that helps us in our toughest hour because we can find the answers and comfort we need for every problem. We also see that there are others in the Bible who went through difficult times, but overcame.
Dr. Winfield Bevins is founding rector of Church of the Outer Banks and Canon for Church Planting for the Diocese of the Carolinas. He is the author of several books, including Our Common Prayer and Creed.