Why Does God Allow Christians to Suffer?

Have you ever wondered why those who are called into the family of God have to suffer so much? We have a dear brother in Christ who came to the Lord about ten years ago and George Davis and I got to baptize him in the local river after he knew he was ready to fully surrender all to Jesus. After that his life was constantly under attack by the enemy, even in his own home. Yet, in all this he drew ever closer to Christ. The Spirit would speak to him about a certain thing in the Bible and he would lock onto it until taught him what He wanted him to do in that matter. The last on of these was prayer. Bob became a “prayer warrior.” He would call me daily wanting to know what he could pray with me for. About two years ago he came down with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma and went through much chemo-therapy and lost all his hair and was often in weakness and pain. The chemo stripped his body of being able fight of sickness and he ended up in a long term care hospital where he caught Covid 19 and recently died. We miss you, Bob, and will see you again on the other side, my brother. ❤

We have another friend who has gone through a few misfortunes in his life. He came from a broken home and his mother had to work to support the family, so he about raised himself, yet this made him stronger in that he also had to work as a child to help support the family. Even the recent loss of his dear wife he took in stride. He is like a cat, always landing on his feet. Most of these “misfortunes” (except the loss of his dear wife) have made him richer and more prosperous in the long run. He says he believes the Ten Commandments and has done a pretty good job of keeping them all and gives credit to that being part of why God has prospered him. This is interesting, but that is not how God has shown His love to me and of thousands of other suffering saints (see Hebrews 12:5-11). It is also interesting that this man cannot understand “how a loving Father could allow his Son to be tortured and die in such a bloody way as Jesus did.” The message of the gospel is foolish and offensive to him. This man is intellectual and spends hours each day reading scientific magazines and such, seeking the truth, but will not read the Bible “because it was written by fallible men and has many flaws in it,” as if scientific journals weren’t written by fallible men! Science is constantly having to go “back to the drawing board” when new discoveries prove their older theories false. The one thing lacking in our friend’s life is life changing faith in Jesus Christ, which is a gift that comes from the Father. This is what we are praying will happen, and he seems to be more and more open when the Spirit speaks through me as we visit.

As Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44, AKJV)

Paul stood before King Agrippa and laid out his whole story about his encounter with the living Christ, how the law and the prophets foretold of Him as the Savior of the world and all that He suffered and did. Paul knew that this king had a knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures. But what was Agrippa’s reply? “Almost you convinced me to be a Christian.” The God-given gift of faith was still missing in him and no intellectual argument could save him. In Hebrews we read:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, AKJV)

Paul wrote:

For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, AKJV)

My wife once told me after we met that I was different from all the Christian boys she had met (She was raised in a Bible church atmosphere and even graduated from a Christian college). When we met I had a hunger for God but knew nothing about the Bible. My wife and her mother and my father’s parents were praying for me to come to Christ. Things got totally miserable for me and I later found out why. The “hound of heaven,” the Holy Spirit, was after me! I know exactly when this life changing gift of faith came in. It was the evening of June 12, 1970 after I heard the full plan of salvation and that God required an unconditional surrender if there was to be any change in my life. That night I went through a deep repentance and gave Him total authority over my life. What made me this desperate to do such a thing with this God that I didn’t know? Unlike our friend, when I got dropped I never “landed on my feet.” Everything in my life was a struggle and everything that I touched got worse, not better, and this included what I was doing in the lives of my wife and children. I was full of bitterness and self. You see, I grew up in a totally dysfunctional family. So after I graduated from high school I joined the Navy and ended up in the Vietnam War. I came home from the war to a lot of rejection and also had what was later called “post traumatic stress disorder.” These things affected everything in my life in a negative way. Yet, our Father had a plan in all this, and I came to see that this world is not my home, but God’s spiritual house is. Through all this He got me to look elsewhere and to seek the one that is to come. The love that my earthly father did no show me came through my heavenly Father instead. The forsaking of the one for the other brought about not only my salvation, but an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus said:

He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor. (John 12:25-26, AKJV)

From the very moment of my salvation I wanted nothing more of what this world had to offer and that is how it should be if we are followers of Jesus Christ. You see, I lost nothing by the time I came to Christ and counted all that I once had as so much refuse. From that night when I surrendered onward, I wanted to be wherever Jesus was. If He was where two or three were gathered in His name, I wanted to be one of them. I had a honeymoon time with Jesus that lasted for months because I could feel His presence all day long. I soon found out, though, that following Jesus was not going to be all “puppy dogs and roses.” The world–and even worldly Christians–reject those who are no longer of this world. And Jesus said that if we are to be one of His disciples, we have to take up our own crosses and follow Him. Hmmm.

We know that Jesus learned obedience through the things that He suffered, and in that suffering, He purchased our salvation. The scripture even says He was made perfect through suffering and we share in His perfection.

For it was fitting that he [Jesus], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Heb 2:10-11, ESV2011)

Satan tried to get Him to bolt out of the Father’s plan (see Matthew 16:21-23). But Jesus knew that there was a lot more at stake than His popularity among the Jews. In Romans we read, “…by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom 5:19, AKJV) and Jesus was obedient to the Father even to the suffering of the cross.

Suffering is integral to the overall plan of God. Consider this passage from Romans:

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation works patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:1-6, AKJV)

Salvation is a process. Yes, we are justified in the eyes of God by our faith in Jesus and the work done for us on the cross, but there is more to the Father’s calling upon us than simple salvation from our sin-filled lives. God is after many sons and daughters who walk not only free from sin, but in the grace and glory of His Son. Jesus is the forerunner for us all in the overall plan of God. His life, death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father was to lead the way for everyone God has called into sonship with Him as our Father. The above passage from Romans speaks of our earthly process that brings forth the fruition of what it means to be “saved.”

[1] We are justified by faith in what Christ’s obedience has purchased for us.

[2] Through this gift of faith from the Father we have access to the riches of His grace.

[3] Walking in His grace, we have hope that we might stand upright in the glory of God.

Here is where our part in the purification process begins. God puts a high value on our experience when it comes to salvation that we might grow up into the perfection of Christ.

[1] “We glory in tribulation.” How can this be?

[2] The tribulations we suffer work the patience of God into us just as it did in Job of old.

[3] And as we patiently endure our suffering and overcome by His grace, we gain experience. That experience gives us hope that whatever comes our way in the future, God is there with us to see us through just as He has done before.

In the book of James we read:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (Jas 1:2-4, HCSB)

Jesus walked in the perfection of steadfast faith toward God on this earth. Our Father is after that same faith in us that we might “be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” in His eyes.

I would like to share the following excerpt from T. Austin- Sparks regarding Romans 5:1-6 and how important experience is to God:

In the New Testament, not only in statements but in many ways, experience has a very high place indeed in the work of God… The Lord places such great importance upon experience, and shows that there is nothing that can be a substitute for it, and that He Himself is prepared to take very great and serious risks with lives in order to work experience into them.

It does sometimes seem that the Lord is experimenting with us. Whether that is a right way to put it or not, what I mean is right. Because of its very great value and importance, the Lord is prepared to put us into situations in which the most serious consequences may develop, in order to get this one thing; for here is the heart of usefulness and value to Him – experience. [Note: Remember the parable of the four kinds of ground on which the seeds of the Sower fell. Not all took root and were able to deal with the trying times and offenses that came]

Experience with God is much more than knowledge. We may be very greatly informed, and have a great deal of knowledge, but, lacking experience, our knowledge will remain purely technical information. Experience is more than knowledge. It is also far more than human cleverness. Clever people may be able to do a lot of things and seem to be successful. The absence of this quality of experience will find that their structures will sooner or later come crashing down, for there is no body [substance] there. Experience is something that we can never inherit, nor can it be transferred from one to another in any other way; it has to be bought. It is therefore the sole possession and property of the individual who has it. It is something very personal. If it had been possible for the Father to bring His own Son, the Lord Jesus, to the designed and determined end in any other way, He would have done it. The only way was experience: “…yet learned (he) obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb.5:8); He was made “perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10). Even Jesus Christ (and I speak in a certain sense) had to buy His experience. He had to come to the full end, or the end of fulness, to be made perfect, made complete, by the way of experience.

The Holy Spirit, with all that the gift of the Spirit means of enduement and endowment and instruction and strengthening, is not a substitute for experience. We are very often found asking that certain things shall be done for us by the Holy Spirit which the Holy Spirit will never do. He has to lead us into experience. It is the only way in which He can answer our prayers. Many prayers are answered through experience. You ask the Lord to do something, and He takes you through experience, and you arrive at the answer in that way. You had not meant that, of course: you wanted the Lord to do the thing there and then as a gift, as an act; but that would have been merely objective, something given, whereas He wants to make it a part of yourself, and so He answers prayer by some experience. ‘Stedfastness worketh experience’, and if there is no experience, what is the good of anybody or anything?

So then, experience is of greater importance than being delivered from tribulation. ‘Tribulation worketh experience’. Oh, how often we have asked the Lord why He allowed this and that, or why He did not do this or that. Why did He not hinder Adam from sinning? Why has He not stopped the world in so many things that have had most terrible results? Experience is very largely the answer.

Experience is very important because, after all, it is the very quality of service. When we come to real life, and we are really up against things and the issues are of the greatest consequence, we do not want just information, we want experience, and we go where experience can help us. Is that not so? Thus experience is the very body and quality of service and usefulness to the Lord. [1]

Sparks brings up a good point here. Would you rather have a man fresh out of medical school do open heart surgery on you, or one who has years of practical experience in this field and a long track record of successful operations? This is the meaning of true eldership in the body of Christ–those who have experience in the ways of God and the ways of the devil, and have overcome in their own lives by the grace of God. True elders are not given that position as a reward, because they gave a lot of money to the church, or have worldly influence in the community. EXPERIENCE! Without it there is no eldership. The world is lacking leaders who have experienced and overcome all manner of trials in their own lives by the hand of God, and this is the same lack is in most churches today. Because of this the church and the world is in chaos where men deceive and are being deceived.

Father, do whatever it takes to make us your faithful stewards over all you would give us. Give us life changing experiences that You know we need. Take us through these necessary and trying experiences by your overcoming grace into the full maturity and measure you have for us in your Son. Amen.

[1] https://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001978.html

Note: all these pictorial quotes from T. Austin-Sparks can be found here: https://www.austin-sparks.net/quotes.html