We all face trials and challenges. When we suffer, we cannot help but wonder if God even cares about us. Some have rejected God completely because of the suffering they have experienced or the suffering they see others endure.
After the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011, Martin Bashir interviewed a well-known Christian author and speaker. The earthquake had killed over 15,000 people and damaged over 500,000 buildings including a nuclear reactor. Bashir asked the Christian author and speaker this question: “Which of these is true? Either God is all-powerful but doesn’t care about the people of Japan and they’re suffering or He does care about the people of Japan, but He’s not all-powerful? Which is it?”
The Christian author looked stunned. He was on the show to promote his book.
After trying to describe God’s compassion for people, Bashir pressed him once again for an answer: “So which is it?”
The author’s response: “I think it’s a paradox at the heart of the divine, some paradoxes are best left as they are.”
Does God care or doesn’t He? And if He does care, why would He let this happen?!
The Scriptures are filled with stories of people who suffered in tremendous ways. For those of us who follow Jesus, we follow someone who is referred to as “the Suffering Servant.” In fact in Isaiah 53, Isaiah predicted 700 years before He came that the Messiah would come and suffer on our behalf. Jesus knows what it feels like to grieve and experience loss. He was acquainted with every aspect of life. He understands what it feels like to experience pain, rejection, abandonment, betrayal – all the things that haunt us. The Bible gives us great insights into our suffering and into God’s response.
One of the disciples of Jesus who is mentioned a lot in the New Testament was Peter. Here’s what he wrote to those he cared about who were going through a difficult time:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name … So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. – 1 Peter 4:12-19
Peter reveals that there are three different types of suffering:
1. Consequences – Bad decisions have bad results.
Are you suffering because of a mistake you made or continue to make? Peter mentions that some of us suffer because of our criminal acts or for meddling in the affairs of others while not taking responsibility for ourselves. Maybe you had the best intentions, and you were even heading in the right way, but you ended up messing up the process. In the end, we reap what we sow. Sometimes our suffering could have been avoided if we had more emotional intelligence or did what we knew we were supposed to do. We do things we know we shouldn’t do, and then get mad at God for the results!
God loves us so much He does not force us to live according to His ways. He respects and loves us enough that we have been given freedom. The challenge is that we have made bad choices that lead to results we did not want. We wonder if God cares, and He wonders if we are even listening!
So often we ask God to free us from the consequences of our actions. Instead we should be asking Him for help to make better decisions.
We need to be quicker to learn from our mistakes. We need to humble ourselves and ask God for forgiveness, ask those we’ve hurt to forgive us, and ask God for the help to forgive ourselves. Guilt and shame can keep us trapped. We need to have the courage to involve others in our healing and recovery process. Humility helps us acknowledge we need help from God and help from others. Our pride can keep us from moving forward.