“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Unbelieving men and women throughout history have used the argument that since evil exists and humans experience pain and suffering that God must not exist. If He does exist, they say, He must either not care to fix things despite His power to do so or care but not have the power to do anything about it. The argument is crafty and tries to pin the Christian in the corner with no way out. The reality from the Scriptures is that evil clearly exists, that there is a battle between good and evil, and that good will ultimately win.
According to the Bible the first recorded incident of evil, which can be defined as anything that goes against the character of God, was Satan’s pride. Satan, according to Isaiah 14:13 said, “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” Satan wasn’t content to be subservient to God. He wanted to be like God and warred with a third of the angels of heaven against God. They were defeated and thrown out. But God didn’t wipe Satan out at that point. He will not do so until about a thousand years or so after the second coming of Christ. God created a perfect world, a paradise for Adam and Eve. The Lord allowed Satan to creep in and tempt Eve, and Adam, in turn, sinned against God. The earth was cursed. Work became a toil and struggle, thorns came up, and they had to labor and sweat just to survive. Paradise was lost. But this was all part of God’s master plan. Thousands of years later He would send Jesus who would bring grace to all men should they choose to receive it. Adam brought sin to all men, but Jesus brought salvation. Of course Satan has been active throughout all this time as well. He knows that he is ultimately defeated because Christ conquered sin and death at the cross, his main weapons. He knows that it is prophesied that he will be thrown into the lake of fire. So he is angry and wants to take Christians down and keep the unsaved from finding the Savior. So though the war is already won, the battle for righteousness and purity continues to be waged against the devil's wiles and attacks.
In the meantime, we as Christians must deal with the broken reality of things. The earth has been marred by sin, leading to disruptions in the weather patterns, diseases, earthquakes, famines, etc. Our bodies are weak and prone to aches and pains. Satan tempts us and forces us to fight even when we want to rest. All will be restored to an even better paradise than Adam and Eve experienced once we get to heaven, but in the meantime, we must deal with the curse of sin on the world, with sin itself, and with Satan himself. All three can bring pain and suffering into our lives.
Scripture is definitely not silent on answering the question of why God allows evil. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Romans 5:3-4 says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” Scripturally, we can trust that God is sovereign over our difficulties, not giving us more than we can handle with Christ, and that the trial is tailor-made to accomplish a specific purpose of growth in our lives. Thus, knowing the result and that God is in control, we can take joy in trials because we will come out better than when we began the trial.
Let us take the case of Job. I am convinced that the Book of Job is written for one main purpose: to illustrate to us what is going on in our trials. Job was a righteous, God-fearing man. Satan wants to take glory from God by showing that Job is only righteous because God has blessed him financially and given him a large family and many possessions. He wants to show that Job’s faith is conditional upon God blessing him. Satan approaches God’s throne and asks permission of God to bring hardship upon Job. Job is stripped of his sons and daughters and his possessions. Yet he worships God. Satan goes back to God and asks to attack Job directly. God says that he can do whatever he wants as long as he doesn’t take Job’s life. Job is afflicted with boils and is in great pain. His wife exhorts him to curse God. His friends for days and days try to convince Job that his difficulty is a result of unconfessed sin in his life. They were of the mindset that godly living brings blessing and ungodly living brings cursing. Job calls out to God but there is no answer. Finally, after what seems like forever, God responds by rebuking Job and reminding Job of all of His creation, power, majesty, and wonder. Job responds in Job 42:5-6 by saying, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” Job realized that God was God, and He was not. His job was to believe that God was in control, and He could be trusted. God was merciful to Job and blessed Job more in his latter days than his earlier days.
There are so many precious truths contained in this story which dates back to the time of Abraham in the first book of the Bible. First, God is sovereign. God is in complete control and has a master, ingenious plan for us and for the world that only He fully understands. Second, Satan is subject to God. He can only tempt and bring pain and suffering if God grants him permission to do so. In the case of Job, God knew that Job would come to a place of growth in the Lord. God knew He planned to bless Job more richly later. God knew that all of us would benefit from knowing about Job’s story. We got to see behind the scenes. Job did not. In our own lives, we do not get to see behind the scenes, but we can learn from Job’s experience that God can be trusted and that He is in complete control. Third, we see that pain and suffering is not necessarily a sign of sin in a person’s life. In John 9:1-3 the disciples ask Jesus a question along these lines: “And as He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, not his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” This man had surely suffered great disdain for all of his life because of the prevailing belief that sin was the sole cause for suffering. Jesus healed the man and used him for an occasion to bring God the Father glory. The other side of the coin of this issue is that just as suffering is not a sure indicator of sin, neither is blessing a sure indicator of faithfulness. The rain falls on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). God is sovereign over the good times and bad times. Fourth, we see that God brings growth and a greater understanding of Himself through trials. Job learned a really precious lesson through his difficulty. I believe that this is Scripture’s answer to why God allows pain and suffering. Now God doesn’t fully explain Himself in the Scriptures, and neither does He to Job. The answer for Job and for us is that God is God and is in complete control. We know that God is in all-powerful and that He is loving. So we trust Him that all that comes into our lives, even pain and suffering, first passes through the loving hands of the Master. Therefore, we can trust that all that we experience is necessarily the kindest, wisest, and best because God is overseeing the process.
As a point of clarification, sometimes we experience self-induced pain when we sin. Sin has direct ugly and painful consequences. The Bible says that sin is pleasurable for a short time, but its hangover and bite are really nasty. We might find ourselves not just dealing with the direct consequences of our sin, but we may experience the discipline of God. Hebrews 12:9-10 says, “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.” Again, the theme reoccurs of God bringing us along to be more like Jesus, sharing in His holiness. In this case, it is the loving discipline of God that helps bring about a godly change in our lives. We can rest assured that God disciplines us for our good, never making a mistake or error in judgment.
Personal growth to be more like Christ is the primary purpose of pain and suffering as seen in the Scriptures. We can take joy in and have peace amidst our trials because we know God is in complete control. Our present pain and suffering is part of God’s specially designed plan for each of our lives. He knows we need to learn something or grow in a certain way. God is good and we can trust and rest in His perfect and gracious plan for our lives. Let us also remember that all pain and suffering will be gone when we get to heaven. That is our home, this is not. We can have great hope and eager anticipation because what we are waiting for will be so much better. Let us persevere in the present time and stand firm, waiting on God and believing in the promises of God.