This is one of the most difficult, yet most universal, questions a person can ask.
When life falls apart, the natural response is to turn to God. Actually, that is one of the positive results of adversity. But this also presents a dilemma. Is God really God?
This is a classic theology question. If God is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving, why is there suffering? If God is all powerful He could prevent the suffering. If God is all knowing, He would know what will happen and stop it from happening. If God is all loving, He should be willing to stop suffering. The problem of suffering raises the issue of either God’s inability or unwillingness to do anything about it… either He can’t or He doesn’t want to.
But could God have a higher purpose for suffering? If God knows everything, He knows more than we do. Since we are not God, there will always be questions we don’t have answers for.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 we discover at least one reason God allows suffering. God allowed Paul to suffer some tremendous adversity to the extreme that he thought his life was over. He gave up on life but not on God. Some in Corinth thought his sufferings indicated his ministry and apostleship were invalid. Yet, Paul’s conclusion is that his sufferings were a mark of his apostleship and allowed him to have a greater ministry. We can learn a lesson about our suffering from Paul’s suffering.
“Praise be to 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 can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
One practical result of our suffering is that we gain the power to comfort others who are going through suffering. Even Jesus suffered to help others: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Our suffering is not wasted – we are better able to help others going through suffering.
Paul explains his suffering as sharing in the “sufferings of Christ.” Suffering is not a punishment, but a sharing in the sufferings and comfort of Christ. There is a closeness with Christ that we realize in suffering that we cannot experience in other way.
Paul also reminds us that the comfort is always greater than the sufferings. God’s comfort always exceeds our afflictions. It is abundant so that we can share that comfort with others. Those who follow Christ know great affliction and greater comfort and can help others going through suffering. Even Jesus suffered for us (on the cross) that we may be comforted. So we suffer for others that they may be comforted.
How did Paul comfort others?
By his attitude in suffering. Paul maintained a positive, joyful attitude in suffering and others noticed. It was in prison that he and Silas joyfully sang songs of praise (Acts 16). I think it was their attitude in suffering that caused the others prisoners to remain in prison following a potential breakout and led the prison guard to ask how to be saved. What attitude do you display when things don’t go your way?
By his prayers for them. Paul’s suffering gave him greater compassion for others going through suffering. This led him to pray for them. In fact, Paul explains that one of the benefits of suffering is that it encourages the prayers of others. If there is power in prayer, whatever causes people to pray for us is good. Do you pray often for others when they are going through troubles?
By his words of comfort. Paul’s comforting words to others were coming from a hurting heart. I remember when my father died, Judy’s dad simply came up and said he was sorry. Of all the people that expressed comfort, his presence meant more than anybody else. Why? Because he knew how I felt. I was 32 years old when my dad died. He was 19 years old when his dad died. It’s not just your words, but your heart that speaks. Do you connect with others in their time of need? Remember the old saying, ‘A friend in need is a friend in deed.”
Has your heart been broken? Has your life been broken? Has your home been broken? Your life is your ministry. God can do more with a broken person than one who seems strong in his own strength and power.
You don’t have to look far to find broken hearts, broken lives, and broken homes. Is your life a sacrifice? Have you suffered something so devastating that it has changed you? Don’t waste your pain.
Comfort others with the same comfort God gave you.
You can also read my previous post: God Comforts the Suffering