Critical Comfort for Suffering Saints
Throughout turbulent periods of human history, the question is often asked, “Where is God in all of this?” Whether in famine or war, disaster or epidemic, people are prone to look to God for help in understanding their dire circumstances. People want to know why this has happened and what purpose it can possibly serve. The Bible has an answer.
At the outset we must first recognize that there is no circumstance in life that escapes God’s knowledge, his control, his purpose, or his plan. Even when circumstances seem bleak and fear seems to reign in the hearts of many, we must remember that God is still ruling and reigning over his creation. Though God is not the cause of the evil that occurs in the world, nonetheless everything that happens in life ultimately fulfills the purposes of God, even the bad things. We know because the Bible promises us in Romans 8:28 that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” In this short verse we learn three things about God’s activity in our lives.
First, God works all things together for good, even our suffering. When the Bible says all things, it means all things, not just the good things we experience but also the difficult things, especially our suffering. God is in control of everything that happens including the evil in our world and he works it together, not for our pleasure or enjoyment, but for our good. We see this truth most clearly presented in the crucifixion of Jesus who went to the cross according to “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” but was in fact carried out “by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). A terrible act carried out by evil men served God’s purpose in bringing about a greater good, the sacrifice of the one who would be the Savior of millions.
Second, knowing that God works all things together for good brings comfort in times of suffering. Difficult circumstances are easier to endure when we know that our suffering serves a purpose. Think of the sacrifices we make every day to better ourselves, to train our children, and to love one another. God is not the cause of the evil that occurs in our lives, but the fact that he is in control of it and will only allow it to accomplish its intended purpose serves as a comfort to us. God uses suffering in our lives to grow us, to shape us, to test us and to prove us, all of which are for our benefit.
Finally, we must understand that God has an eternal purpose which he will accomplish. God uses our suffering to draw us to himself. In times of difficulty that seem to have no answer or escape, where else do we have to turn? God is on a mission to save sinners from their self-inflicted death sentence in a place called Hell and he will use every circumstance of life to proclaim his name and his message of deliverance to people who desperately need to hear it.
Times of suffering serve as an opportunity for God to reach out to us, but they are also an excellent opportunity for us to reach out to others. We are called to “be the Church” in times of struggle and turmoil. We are God’s representatives here on earth and we must be willing to speak and to act in order to demonstrate who God is and why we have the confidence that we have despite our circumstances. And most importantly we must share that that confidence is available to others through the gospel of Jesus Christ.