The Doctrine of Suffering

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, September 11, 2020 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

A few weeks ago, I wrote about preparing to suffer. The context was getting ready for persecution. As I am writing about an objection against God asking why God doesn’t heal amputees, I am going to look at suffering from a different angle: a necessity for growth.

We in America are such spoiled brats, it’s rather embarrassing. In 2011, El Paso, TX was slammed with the harshest winter storm we’d ever seen. Not much for snow and wind, but for the first time in recorded history, El Paso was below freezing for over 72 hours, much of it below 15°F. Now I know most people who are from up north are laughing about this. I grew up in Colorado, so I know cold, but the northern mid-west still has me beat on that one, too. But El Paso is not built for cold. While we do often see temps fall into the teens, it’s only for a few hours and the daytime is above freezing. We had never experienced 2-3 straight days where the high never got above freezing. What happened?

The pipes froze and burst in many homes and buildings. City water pipes also burst, forcing us to be on a one-week “boil water” order, because dirt had leaked into the main water lines. The generators also froze which meant they could not pump water. The city lost 90% of its water, and we had to maintain rolling black outs because we couldn’t produce enough electricity because everything was frozen over. But how did the people respond?

The residents of El Paso whined and complained. They demanded of the mayor and city government to fix the issues immediately, and they put the blame on them for not being prepared. Who living in El Paso would ever think that kind of cold would hit us? How could they be prepared? El Paso citizens were comfortable in our comforts, and when those comforts were taken away even for a couple of days, sin rose up in the forms of selfishness and pride. Just on the other side of the river, Juarez, Mexico had the exact same problems but they had a very different response.

In Juarez, most people were used to suffering so when their pipes burst, they simply went about their business and fixed it. They didn’t whine or complain. No riots. No public protests against the short comings of the government. They just went about their business, dealt with the situation, didn’t whine about it, and basically treated it as just a new obstacle for that day. After all, when you live in homes built with pallets and your doors and walls are blankets and curtains, and the cold wind of winter or the searing sun scorches you anyway, what’s a lack of water for a day or two in which you really only have a barrel of water for everything anyway going to do? The people of Mexico, living in the colonias in third-world settings didn’t bother whining about the cold temps. They were used to being in it anyway. They had been hardened by suffering and so this Deep Freeze event didn’t even bother them.

The same issue applies to us as Christians. There is a satanic doctrine in many American churches that says that “suffering cannot be from God.” The notion of “brokenness” is virtually anathema in many Christian circles (check out this sermon by Voddie Baucham on the value of brokenness). They teach that if we are suffering, it must be because we have sinned or don’t have an enough faith. (Perhaps these people need to read and study the book of Job, because that book specifically refutes such a notion.) So, when people pray for a miracle to answer the suffering and then whine to God because the pain didn’t go away, that’s a problem. Now, no one likes suffering. I’m not suggesting that we should like it. However, our response to suffering should not be “God, please remove this.” Our response should be, “God, what do you need to teach me through this?”

A man caught cancer and asked his pastor to come pray for him to heal him of the cancer. The pastor said, “I will not pray for God to heal your cancer, because this cancer has brought you closer to God than 40 years of my preaching. But I will pray that this cancer cannot take another cell of your body without express permission from God.” What was happening? When we suffer, the natural instinct is to turn to God to appeal to His grace and mercy to get us through it. Nowadays, many people have so seared their conscious that they no longer seek after God but after whatever drug they have found that can dull the pain. Russel Berger was a spokesperson for CrossFit and both he and his wife were exceptional athletes. Yet his wife had a genetic disorder that completely sapped her strength and has forced her to live on oxygen, among other issues. But she came to know Christ through the suffering and gladly suffers as long as she gets to be with Christ. Their story can be found on the “American Gospel: Christ Alone” documentary.

Many of us love a good story of a hero rising up to face a great evil and overcoming that evil. We love to watch in the distance from our armchairs because the hero goes through immense suffering, and it is in that suffering that he gains the character and strength needed to face his nemesis and gain victory. Those of us who want to be like the heroes tend to go for the admirable qualities and the action but are not willing to face the suffering from the training or the losses that are required to go there. Eric Ludy preached on Richard Wurmbrand one time and said he admired and wanted the love Wurmbrand had for the Communists who tortured him. God reminded him, “Do you want to go through what he did to get that (14 years of brutal torture in prison)?” Ludy had second thoughts. I greatly admire Ray Comfort for his genuine love for the lost, but what has he had to go through to get that love? He became known as the “Banana Man” and is the center of ridicule for many atheists. Yet through that suffering, he has had the opportunity to witness to so many people including Lawrence Krauss and Penn Jillette. But it took suffering to reach that point.

Suffering is really the only way God can work sin out of our lives without destroying us in the process. When we suffer, it forces us to depend upon God, because we naturally will not do it on our own when we are comfortable. God never calls for His people to be comfortable, because only when we are not comfortable do we actually depend upon His strength instead of our own.

But we must also remember that the suffering we must face in this world is only temporary. Our lives in our sin-cursed bodies will end, and for those of us who are born again, we will be resurrected with a new body, one that is not cursed of sin but rather one that is glorified. Revelation describes how there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more death when God brings it all to a close. We will instead truly have that “they lived happily ever after” ending. The suffering we face is temporary. Let us keep that in mind as we pray and as we address the answer to why God allows suffering in this world.

The suffering we face in this world will end. Those who have put their faith in Christ will receive glorified bodies that will have their full function, without pain or suffering. Yet, those who think the suffering is bad in this world now and don’t receive the free gift of Christ, this is as good as you will get. We deal with the cards we are given and many of us have been dealt a difficult hand. We can whine about it, or we can make the best of it. But if you haven’t noticed in my posts lately, there is a common message: those who know how to handle suffering well tend to be the happiest and most content people alive. Trouble comes their way and it’s just water off a duck’s back. That doesn’t make it any less painful or real, but it doesn’t bring them down. It just makes them stronger. We as Christians in America need to learn how to suffer well, because the end result will be more of Christ and a greater longing to spend eternity with Him. I look forward to that day. Nineteen years ago today, 9/11 happened. We suffered. Only a few people learned from it. We are far worse today than we were 20 years ago. What’s it going to take?

So to wrap up my study on why God doesn’t heal amputees, I’m not going to defend God before a scoffer. I’m not going to put God through a “test.” I’m going to expose what the real issue is, and the real issue is not about not having prayers answered or not having evidence of the supernatural. The real issue is about a sinful heart that is looking for a reason to reject God. We are to give a defense for why we believe what we believe, but God can defend himself just fine. I will say that God is God, and we are not. He is in charge. We are not. He is the standard; we are not. We answer to Him; He doesn’t answer to us. Some will call Him cruel. I’d tell them to look in the mirror first. God’s grace is sufficient for us. Be grateful you get any at all.

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