Biblical Promises About Suffering

Our child’s death is not proof that there is no God or that the Bible is not true. In fact, if we examine the Bible closely, we find that God actually promises suffering to those of us who follow God. From the beginning of His own ministry, Jesus warned that suffering will accompany all those who follow Him. He tells his followers to “take up their cross and follow Him.” Matthew 10:38. The Apostle Paul writes to one of the early Christian churches, telling them that suffering is part of God’s plan. He writes, “Don’t be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well we were destined for them.” 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3. Similarly, Peter tells the early Christian church, “Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful creator and continue to do good.” 1 Peter 4:19. Rather than promising a life of comfort and luxury, Peter tells us that suffering is a part of God’s plan for our lives.

But the Bible does not claim that suffering is good in and of itself. Instead, the Bible makes the audacious claim that God uses this suffering to accomplish His pre-designed purposes and to change us for our own good. God does not let suffering run rampant in the hopes that good things will eventually arise out of our strength or our own created purposes. God allows suffering to occur because he is actively involved in bringing redemption through our sufferings. The Bible teaches that God sometimes chooses to use the worst human suffering imaginable in order to achieve his great purposes.

The greatest example in the Bible of what God can do through great suffering, even death, is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Based upon the descriptions of Jesus in the Bible, Jesus deserved human acclaim. He healed the sick, taught about love, and challenged hypocritical religious leaders. Given that He came from God, and was God “in the flesh,” his life and work deserved to be seen as significant. Whether as a king, emperor, or widely-acclaimed religious or philosophical leader, Jesus deserved to be treated with honor.

But instead of receiving honor, Jesus received the torture and inhumane execution befitting a traitor or murderer. Rather than a place of esteem, Jesus was stripped bare, mocked and murdered. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, Christians believed that He accomplished something more than He ever could have accomplished if He had been just a great political ruler, or well-respected religious or philosophical leader. Through his perfect life and agonizing death, we believe that Jesus redeemed my life, and the lives of all of His followers, for all time. “For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” 1 Peter 3:18.

The cross of Christ is the symbol of hope for Christians in the midst of even the most terrible circumstances, for it means that there is meaning and not absurdity in the cruelest of all human sufferings and that, somehow, God will turn our greatest sufferings into our greatest joys. If God would go so far as to allow the death of his own Son in order that we might receive the free gift of salvation, would not God also provide for you and your children? God promises that just as He used Christ’s great suffering to bring about great purposes, so also He works in our lives, even in our darkest hours, to accomplish His purposes.

If God loved us so much to allow His one and only son to die, would He not also be working the universe in such a way that it is ultimately for our good? To accept a Biblical view of suffering means that we must live in faith, trusting that there is significantly more going on in our lives than what we can see. Author Mark Galli writes, “God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful, and this we must proclaim right in the midst of the most awful circumstances and in the face of the most mysterious questions. But we proclaim it not glibly, not easily, but in fear and trembling, with nothing to hold on to but faith. We proclaim it not because we know exactly how God will work out his justice and mercy—for this he has steadfastly refused to reveal. What he has revealed to us is that he is perfectly just and perfectly merciful—as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God with us!” Mark Galli, Trusting God with the Ones You Love, Christianity Today, August, 2011 (web only version).

As grieving parents living in faith in Jesus Christ, we can rest in the assurance that our child did not die because either God does not love us or that God lacked the power to save our child from death. In the Bible, we find the assurance of God's love for us and our children , of God’s sovereign power to control life and death, and through this power, to accomplish God’s great and eternal purposes he can accomplish through our suffering the loss of our little children. Without these Biblical promises, there is no substantive hope for the future, no strong and certain basis on which to believe that we will ever know any answers to the “why” questions. But in God, we can grieve along with other grieving parents, having a common foothold in the promises that God is accomplishing all His purposes, even through these dark days of grief.

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