“God permits that which He hates so that He can accomplish that which He loves.”
– quoted by Joni Tada (Founder of Joni and Friends Int’l Disability Center)
“If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why did God let suffering and problems persist?” This is the finger-pointing shout that many unbelievers of God spit on Christians. Why do we suffer? Furthermore, why do we suffer even if we are already followers of Christ? Suffering is a reality that humanity face and that Christians are not safe it. Believers in restrictive countries like China, North Korea and the Middle East suffer daily from persecution. Many more are suffering from disabilities, sickness and losses. How can such things happen to such faithful people of God?
I have heard someone say that Satan causes all suffering, that when you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Satan is disabled and now all our problems are solved and that people suffer from many problems because of their unbelief even if they claim to be Christians. While this idea seems to be sensible at first, when I crosschecked with Scriptures, a big gap opened. The Bible has many references to grave problems. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, different kinds of problems are being illustrated. While it is true that Satan caused many of these problems and that many of these sicknesses are a penalty from God, the Bible at many parts also liberates suffering as an open door to holy living and sanctification.
A classic example would be the experience of Job in the Old Testament. Job is a faithful man of God who never forgets the Lord and worship Him always. The very fact of his deep genuine faith had a special attention to both God and Satan. Despite His faithfulness, God let Satan induce suffering on Job, so much suffering that is unbearable enough yet not grave enough for him to die. This does prove the point that many of our sufferings is indeed from Satan but the idea that every problem and suffering is sin-induced does not connect to the dot. That very idea is maimed by the reference of Scripture. It just proves that not all problems are sin-induced but rather, they happen so that our faith may be magnified and that His glory will shine in our lives. As for Job, his sufferings were not in vain for the Lord heard his plea and blessed more than He blessed him before.
To claim that all problems are products of sin and a proof of unbelief is rather overrated and unbiblical. The Bible proves that suffering serves a purpose for the glory of God. Many of you may have read the quotation above while reading this article. This nails the point that God uses our very tragedy in order to bring out something better in us. Nothing can better illustrate this than John 9:1-24 which God heals a blind man on Sabbath. The contention is pronounced by the disciples’ question to Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v.2) Here, people linked to his disability to sin which they though was that of the parents or his own. Jesus himself rebuffed them by saying, “…but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (v.3) Clearly, not all problems are sin-induced or solely the work of Satan but this is for the means of proclaiming God’s sovereignty and message of salvation for us.
While some people over-magnify the role of Satan or sin in our sufferings, the very truth is that God willed it to happen to our lives. Is this because He hates us? No! In fact, God loves us so much that He has a greater plan through our sufferings. He lets us lose something so dear to us so that He can shower us with greater blessings and purpose for our lives. I have quoted from Scriptures examples of suffering through the lives of Godly men and His saints but, let me tell you the story of a modern-day woman of God.
I first met Raissa Laurel last 2008 when I first joined the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) Chorale. She was a jolly person with a clear, strong conviction. We became acquainted and became friends in no time. While getting to know her better, she began sharing to me her many struggles in life. That somehow amazed me since I saw her as a strong, young lady. I cannot relate to you what we have talked about but I can tell you that there are many. Deep inside, she is spiritually thirsting for God and His word. I kept on praying for her, encouraging her with Scriptures. When I left UA&P Chorale, I lost regular contact with her but whenever we meet, we greet each other and ask how she is in her walk with God. I was glad that when I met her at around the year 2009, she is already active in the worship ministry of Victory Christian Fellowship and that her boyfriend, Raine Subijano, also a friend of mine who used to be a nominal Catholic, now serves with her in the ministries of the church and in himself a man of God.
Disaster arrived last September 26, 2010 that shook her, her boyfriend and her family to the core. While enjoining with some former schoolmates celebrating the end of the bar exams at De La Salle University, a grenade exploded in front of her. According to the eyewitness account of my own brother who was there at that time, it shocked the people around them that it took many seconds before the people reacted. There on the streets of Taft Avenue was left Raissa and many other victims of the blast. Raissa lost both of her legs at that time. One may ask, how can this happen to a faithful woman of God? Was this because of her unbelief and sins? Not quite.
Satan may have had a part in it but clearly, God has a greater plan for her. He let this happen to her so that His name will be glorified and His plan of salvation be preached through the very life and testimony of Raissa. God knew that she has a strong faith and dedication to Him. She may have lost both her legs but God gave her a new one, she being the “legs” of God from which His glory and grace will be known. Not only does her powerful life testimony impact her home church but the country as well.
Is a believer immune to problems or have problems immediately solved at being a follower of Christ? No! Sometimes, these problems, many of which are unresolved, are the very vessel of proclaiming His plan of salvation and not quite the contrary. Problems are never a hindrance to faith but rather a powerful tool for the kingdom of God. Christians from China are not praying for the end of persecution and suffering to the Church in China but are rather praying for strength to endure. They know full well that earthly freedom may as well put a lag on the work of Christ in their country. Through their suffering and great testimony of martyrs around the world, the gospel is fast advancing to places that the gospel has not been preached before.
Is suffering and hardship a curse of sin and unbelief? Not so. At many times, suffering and hardship are in themselves blessings in disguise. This is something that unbelievers would fail to understand yet be amazed at such spirit. In order to fully understand the plan of God, one must understand the aspects that Christ works in the lives of many. Let your suffering be a powerful testimony of God’s grace in your lives and what it could to the lives of many more.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
– James 1:2-4, New International Version
For further reflections on the Theology of Suffering, you can watch this full video from the message of long-time paraplegic Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, discussing the theology of suffering. She explains how suffering can be redeemed in a manner that glorifies God through her pondering of God’s word and her very own testimony of suffering. You can visit this video link http://www.dts.edu/media/play/theology-of-suffering-joni-eareckson-tada/ from Dallas Theological Seminary Chapel Hour.