by Doug Focht, Jr.
In our last article, when we considered universal suffering, we cited Romans 8:18–21 to show that the Bible gives a logical reason for sufferings and hardships:
"The creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God."
(Romans 8:20–21, NASB)
Later, in verse 23, the apostle continues…
"And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body."
No one groans over something pleasant. The groaning Paul spoke of was the result of the futility of this present life which, although filled with happiness and beauty, is also apt to lash out without warning to break that serenity and heap upon us the pain and sorrow of suffering. Even the apostles of Christ were not immune to these vanities.
For purposes of review, the following points are summarized from our last article:
1. Suffering is a fact of life and neither proves nor disproves the existence of God.
2. Suffering is both universal and personal. Though suffering is universal in the sense that it is common to all, when large populations experience flood, famine war and disease, this is often perceived as different than the suffering that occurs to us personally.
3. If God is to allow His creation the right of free choice, He must allow suffering. If He intervened in the matter of suffering, He would have to intervene in the matter of sin. It would be illogical for God to allow us to sin without consequences for our actions.
4. Since things that are good, pleasant and fair are defined in comparison with things that are bad, hurtful and unfair, mankind must experience the latter in order to know the former. This is especially true seeing that God's eternal promises, whether for peace or pain, relate to the after-life, in which we hope to be delivered from the vanities of the present life.
The understanding of suffering does not necessarily ease the pain, but it tends to shorten it, because we see our lives in a different and broader perspective. In this article, we will consider the relationship between universal and personal suffering. We will do this by seeing personal suffering as a microcosm of universal suffering because, after all, that's what it is! Much as a "school" is made up of individuals, so "universal" suffering is the result of much "personal" suffering. The point is: We perceive personal suffering to be different than suffering in general. We rarely consider that our own hardships are part of the whole. This failure of proper perspective causes us to see ourselves in a less-than-realistic way. Either we think more highly of ourselves than we should, or we think less of ourselves than we should.
When suffering afflicts us personally, we often ask, "Why me?" When we ask this, we display a lack of understanding for at least a part of the purpose of life. What do we mean by this? Are we saying, "Yes, suffering can happen to others, but I am special," or do we think that we did something wrong and God is punishing us for it? The first response has no merit whatsoever, for we are not equipped to judge ourselves as more or less valuable than another in the scheme of time and life. Although God can and does intervene in the matter of personal suffering, even when such intervention is according to His infinite knowledge and purpose, He is not obliged to do so! The second response (suffering because of something "done wrong") has some validity, but not as much as most people suspect.
Personal suffering comes in two categories: Those things which are the result of our own doings, and those things that are beyond our control. In this article we consider what Scripture has to say about suffering due to our own sins. Notice how the passages quoted here can be applied both universally and personally:
"…God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error."
Romans 1:28–29 (NASB)
"But realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come, for men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these."
2 Timothy 3:1–5
"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life."
Regarding suffering that is the result of sin, what could be clearer than these Scriptures? The unbeliever may stomp about with all vigor and complain that it is "bigotry" to associate the rise of AIDS and other diseases to sin; that biblical morality is narrow-minded, outdated, and totally wrong. But this fact is unalterable: In a society where biblical morality is abandoned, suffering always increases. Where biblical morality is followed, suffering always declines. Always.
One of the hallmarks of a good theory is its ability to predict a result based upon a certain action. When people believed the earth was flat, the "theory" predicted that if one sailed far enough, he would "fall off the edge of the earth." Hence, the flat-earth theory could be validated or invalidated depending upon what actually happened when one sailed far enough. Throughout the course of civilization, the "theory" of the Scriptures cited above has been validated numerous times. As is often the case, the very thing—suffering—that men use to "disprove" the Bible actually gives testimony to its truth. If the theory of biblical inspiration is true, then as long as we proceed along the path away from biblical morality, we are in for far more suffering than we have now.
If suffering is sure to increase because of sin, it stands to reason that those who practice righteousness can be spared from much (but not all) of that suffering. Those who practice biblical morality rarely contract any of the diseases which inflict the sexually promiscuous. Those who have their minds set on spiritual things do not feel the same anxiety over the things of this life which result from lust and greed. Rather, they practice love toward one another; they keep their families together; they teach their children obedience along with generosity, responsibility and consideration for others. Above all, they see their lives in a much broader perspective than non-believers, and that perspective gives understanding and hope. And if one is disposed to argue that this is a false hope, or that religion has been "concocted" to ease the minds of suffering souls, then let it also be answered how the Bible can be so consistently right in its predictions and evaluation of suffering.
What can you do to avoid this kind of suffering? First, find out what the Bible says about sin. It's one thing to say that suffering is the result of sin, but what is sin? If we sin without knowing it, we should not expect our ignorance to protect us from the result of sin any more than from the injury caused by a gun that someone "didn't know" was loaded. Secondly, when you find the truth, verify it over and over (to be certain that what you believe is indeed the truth) and hold on to it for all it's worth, for it is worth your very life! In the end, only God's truth will save, for only God's truth will prevail.
"If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
Source: Growing in Grace Vol. 1 #8, July 7, 1996
The Problem of Universal Suffering by Doug Focht, Jr.
Suffering is both universal and personal. Nations at war, mass starvation and disease, these are examples of universal suffering. To be precise, all suffering is universal in that it happens to all, but when it happens to me it becomes personal.
The Problem of Personal Suffering - Part 2 by Doug Focht, Jr.
We all know of righteous men and righteous women who seem to have known little but suffering and sorrow most of their lives. Perhaps they have lost their spouses in tragic and sudden ways, or they may be suffering from debilitating diseases that waste away the body. In general, we know about them not because they succumb to their situations but because, like Job, they prevail.
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