• 12 February 2024

Chapter 19 – The Medicine Chest

Finally, then, to the medicine chest: what does the Bible have to say about suffering? If there is a God who is loving, why does he allow suffering?

Firstly, suffering wasn’t part of God’s plan.

The world was made by God and it was very good. There was no suffering or death. Suffering results from the Fall; human beings deliberately deciding, when presented with a choice, to choose evil.

Secondly, God allows suffering.

Bad things happen to good people. The book of Job is a mysterious book that deals head-on with the question of suffering. It shows us that God is in control of everything, including evil.

Christopher Ash points out that Job’s friends wrongly reason like this: God is fair and gives us what we deserve. Therefore if you are suffering you have done something wrong.

Job (whom we know hasn’t done anything particularly wrong) is unsurprisingly unimpressed by this train of thought and replies with a different conclusion: I am suffering. I haven’t anything wrong. Therefore God is unfair.

God eventually answers Job out of a storm, but He only gives Him a partial answer. We can see the big picture behind God’s purposes while Job can’t. Job continuously complains about what is happening to him and says, ‘Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll’ ( Job 19:23). Which, of course, is ironically exactly what did happen.

But that wasn’t any help to Job at the time and, in that sense, we are all like Job. We are in the suffering story and struggle to see any reason for it. When we meet God, everything, I believe, will click into place. But how to live in the meantime?

Job sensed his need of a person to help with his suffering, a friend, an advocate, and a mediator. Someone to represent him, help him and get alongside him.

Now, finally, here comes the good news for all of us experiencing suffering. God didn’t leave us to the consequences of our own sin and to deal with suffering on our own, but he intervened, came on a rescue mission and offered us a way out of suffering. And that rescue mission involved God Himself suffering.

Thirdly, Luke records what Jesus prays just before He was arrested and crucified, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’ (Lk. 22:42). Luke continues the narrative, ‘An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground’ (Lk. 22:42).

When we look at our own suffering, there is nowhere else to go but the cross. We must always end up at the cross. We can’t make sense of our suffering without looking at God’s suffering on the cross.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who protested against the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. As a result he was sent to a concentration camp and was executed on Hitler’s order just before the war ended. Shortly before this he smuggled out of his cell a scrap of paper with these words, ‘Only a suffering God can help us.’

God can suffer because He became human and therefore experienced the types of suffering that we also face. Truly, this is mind-blowing. The infinite God, who made the universe, is also a personal God whom we may very reverently say ‘knows what it’s like’ to suffer.

God chooses to redeem the world through suffering Himself. God, therefore, knows what it’s like to suffer, but He does it voluntarily because He is perfect. I have no choice over my suffering, it just happens to me. Of course, if I did I would stop suffering straight away and so would anyone sensible. But God chose, in the person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to suffer.

Why did He do this? Because He loves us.

We could also add that God deeply sympathises with us in our suffering. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. But He also does something about our suffering. He comes on a rescue mission and by suffering freely, He opens up a way of escape from the evil that causes those who suffer.

Fourthly, ‘“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”’ (Rev. 21:4–5).

We can all picture a small toddler who trips up in the garden, scuffs her knee and runs crying to her father. He sits her on his knee, takes care of the graze, pulls a tissue out of his pocket and wipes away his daughter’s tears. The toddler is comforted and soon stops crying and runs back off to play.

This is the amazing and staggering image that we find right at the end of the Bible. God Himself will wipe away all our tears and pain. All suffering and pain and even, I suggest, the memory of suffering will be removed. Everything that’s gone wrong will be made right. Evil itself will be defeated and destroyed.

How is this possible? Through Jesus’s death on the cross. Why? Because He loves us.

What should our response be? Trust in the suffering servant, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Excerpt from Hope in the face of suffering – 20 devotions for tough times by Jeremy Marshall

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