Some thoughts on suffering

Suffering is a big topic, one that everyone is passionate about. Why? Because, on some level or other, we all experience suffering. Be it a loved one who dies prematurely, a mother that is bedridden, needing our constant attention, a young child with a debilitating disease, an entire nation destroyed by earthquakes and tsunamis or having your pastor burned alive for loving Jesus.

People like me, who don’t shut up about God’s goodness and His good and glorious purposes towards us, often come under scrutiny for not talking about suffering enough, it can often seem like we have scored out certain parts of our Bibles. I don’t blame many people for thinking this, however it couldn’t be further from the truth.

You see I have experienced my fair share of suffering, I was extremely ill and stuck in my house for the best part of 6 years. My mother has died multiple times and still suffers daily from the after effects of a brain hemorrhage, I am daily persecuted for my beliefs and have been ostracized from certain friendship circles and churches I once called my closest families. I do not say this to gain pity, but rather to point out that I’m just like everyone else out there, I too experience suffering (maybe more than some, definitely a lot less than many!).

So why don’t I talk about these things, why do I seem so intently one-track-minded?

I’m currently working on a small book focusing on this topic of suffering, but since that will not be available for several months I wanted to put a few thoughts out there for people to read in the mean time. These thoughts are not comprehensive, and may leave many with more questions still, but they should serve to give you an idea of where I’m coming from and hopefully will challenge people in their views of suffering. The topics I’m going to touch on briefly are, the biblical context of suffering, God’s will concerning suffering, God’s ability to work good in all situations and most importantly…

The Sovereignty of God

Did I just go there? I did. I think there are few topics as important to address as the sovereignty of God.

The word sovereign has for so long been interpreted to mean that God is in control. That He is up in Heaven somewhere as a grand master puppeteer working out every aspect of our lives: if we brush our teeth it’s God’s will, if we get hit by a car it’s God’s will, if we get cancer it’s God’s will, and so on.

The problem with this is that it’s really quite drastically unscriptural. The idea of a sovereign God as described above isn’t in the Bible. First of all, for everyone that uses the NIV as your translation (and I want to state it’s a great translation) there is something you should know. Every time you read “Sovereign God” (288 times to be precise) it actually should read “Lord God”. The Hebrew does not mean sovereign and that was a translator’s decision. Secondly, where the word sovereign is used it does not mean in control, it means in charge. Did you catch that? Here exactly is our problem. In charge and in control sound very alike but are actually widely different.

Take for example a CEO of a company, while he is in charge and responsible for a large amount of employees he ultimate isn’t in control of their actions, in fact this is typically what makes or breaks a good employer, whether they can recognize this and empower their employees or if they will try to control them by micromanaging every move they make. Just like the employer, God is in charge, this is what His sovereignty means, He is over everything, answers to nobody and has responsibility for everything. From the very beginning God chose his “employees”, those He would delegate responsibility to and put in control of the Earth. It talks about this in Psalm 115:16 where it says the Heavens are God’s but the Earth He gave to men. We then see man hand those keys of authority to Satan in the garden of Eden. This is why Satan could offer Jesus in the wilderness the whole Earth, because the whole Earth was no longer under Jesus’ control but rather it belonged to Satan. (Matt 4:8-9)

The idea of a God having absolute control is a Greco-Roman way of thinking, you see they would see a god who doesn’t have absolute control as a powerless god. The Bible paints a different picture for us of a God who is so secure in His position and power that He comfortably gave us control knowing we’d screw up. He could do this because He is so good at working things out for good and seeing His overall purposes come to pass. This to me describes a God who is infinitely more powerful, not less-so.

Why do you think that Jesus told us to pray that God’s will would be done on Earth as it is in Heaven? Because His will is done in Heaven but not always on Earth. Why do you think Jesus raised dead people, or healed them? Because it wasn’t God’s will for them to die or to be sick. You see in 2 Peter 3:9 it states that God’s will is that none would perish. If we hold to the view of God being in absolute control we are left with two options, we must either become universalists (and call Jesus a liar for saying that many will perish) or we must tear that passage out of our Bible. Rather if we read that passage in context we can see that it is simply stating that not everyone will be saved, but God is good and His desire is that they would be.

Love can only exist in freedom

In Paul’s famous discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13 he states “Love does not insist on its own way”

You see for love to be possible God must allow us to have free will within His sovereignty. Love without choice is no love at all. If one is not free to choose to hate someone then they can never truly love them. I love that my wife loves me, but if I had somehow brainwashed her into loving me before we got married I’m certain I would not be as happy today as I am knowing she makes the choice of her own accord everyday to love me.

When I look at the creation account I don’t see God interested in having robots in the garden but friends who choose to love Him. He even created two trees within that garden and gave them a choice, “don’t eat from that tree or you’ll die”. Their freedom to choose was more important to Him than the choice they made.

This is why I can confidently say that God’s sovereignty is not His being in control of every aspect of our lives and the lives of everyone else, but rather Him being over our lives and the lives of everyone else.

But what about 1 Peter 4:19; is suffering God’s will?

A lot of people bring up this verse when we talk about suffering. At first glance this passage is pretty condemning of what I am trying to say, but I want to dive into it a bit deeper and look at what it is really saying in context.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the passage it reads, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” Pretty condemning proof that God’s will is for us to suffer right? Hmm… not really. We really need to read the passage in context, if you do a study on “God’s will” you will find that it’s a big theme in 1 Peter, it is mentioned as anchors four times in chapter 2-4. To understand the will of God then, lets look at how it is used…

He starts in chapter 2 by setting the stage, it is here he explains what the will of God is.

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” – 1 Peter 2:15

Next he makes sure you are still tracking, you may suffer for doing good, but it’s OK because doing good (not suffering) is God’s will.

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” – 1 Peter 3:17

The next time he mentions suffering it really needs the verses around it to follow well so I’ll let you read them in your own time, basically Peter is saying here that we no longer operate in the old man, by the lusts of the flesh, but rather in the new man, in the will of God (doing good)

“so as to live for the rest of time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” – 1 Peter 4:2

It is here we come to the verse that seems to suggest that suffering is God’s will, which with this framework is going to mean something very different now you read it in context.

“Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.” – 1 Peter 4:19

So as you follow the train of thought of Peter’s letter you can see it’s not saying that God’s will is for you to suffer, but rather you may suffer for doing God’s will.

This passage here teaches us a valuable lesson though, we need to read our Bible in context. I want to talk about what happens when we pull passages out of their context next.

Suffering in context

When we come to the word of God we have to look at things in context, we tend as people to read the Bible with some lenses on. These lenses are our experience, how we come to the Bible is heavily influenced by our experience in life and the way we have become preconditioned by that experience. This is very dangerous at times and very helpful at other times.

You see this can be a great tool, for example, when we are aware and fully convinced of some Biblical truths, like God’s goodness or the absolute finality of Christ’s work on the cross it helps us read the Bible with a biblical lens (this is especially helpful when reading harder to understand old testament passages). On the flip-side however when we have an experience of life being hard, everyone we know being sick and we don’t have much faith in God actually truly being good on a practical level in our lives we might draw some really scary conclusions from certain passages. It’s knowing this tendency of myself that I endeavor to always ensure I am reading the Bible in context.

Why do I say that here? I’ll give you some examples… Did you know that Jesus never once said we would suffer, but rather said we would face persecution (John 15:20)? Paul in 2 Tim 2:3 states that all believers will face persecution, again, persecution, not suffering (if your translation chooses suffering a quick glimpse at the context of it shows it is persecution). In Phil 1:29 it states that we should “not only believe in Him [Christ] but suffer for His sake” – again in the context of persecution, the next verse clarifies that.

I’m not saying that all passages translated suffering actually mean persecution, I’m just saying that we’ve made it a much bigger focus than it is in the Bible and I think this is because of some of our worldly lenses. My challenge to you is how much do you do this as you read the Bible? I know I do at times!

But what about when it is talking about suffering?

Now what about when the Bible does talk about suffering? Well again let’s read in context, I want to know what was their purpose of talking about suffering? Never does the scripture talk about suffering as an end, instead they talk about how to view suffering.

Take Romans 5 for example, Paul says that we glory and have joy in trials and troubles. What’s his point? He’s not trying to point out that God wants us to suffer! He’s trying to point out that when we do suffer (for whatever the reason) we are to expect a glory and joy in the midst of it! Even Jesus Himself “endured the cross for the joy set before Him” (Heb 12:2).

My point here is that the Bible is full of keys of how to respond in suffering to get through and out of that suffering. It is not constantly mentioning suffering to appease you in your suffering so you can wallow in it!

Works all things for good

This topic of God turning our suffering into joy falls squarely under the umbrella of Romans 8:28, “He turns all things to good for those who love Him.” This is such a beautiful truth that we have all seen again and again. Yet it’s strange that this truth is sometimes so powerfully effective that we use it to pervert the image of our God and His nature.

Take a family that sees their child get cancer for example, they spend years in and out of hospital (more in than out!) and many nights unsure whether or not their child will live to see his teenage years never mind grow old to have a family of his own and see his dreams fulfilled. They watch their child go through the agony the cancer eating away at his body married with the harrowing experience of going through the chemotherapy which makes him sick 24/7. And yet God moves, He loves the family so well, they grow closer than they have ever been through the experience, their church bonds together throughout the ordeal and supports the family and grows closer together too, people in the children’s ward are inspired by the strength that God provides the family and some even meet Jesus through it. What’s more the child eventually comes out the other end cancer free and grows up to live out his dreams.

The above is just an example but I can think of countless people who fit that bill almost exactly! Praise God that they are alive and well today and God brought them through it all. (Not that He caused it to come about!)

God is SO good at turning the devil’s next great idea into something so good he’ll regret he ever tried it. The problem I have witnessed is that some people having seen things turn out so well, will attribute the whole ordeal to God’s master plan. He wanted them to get cancer so that He could show off and heal them. Aside from this being cosmic child abuse it’s also really, really bad theology.

A house divided can not stand and God does not contradict Himself. Jesus was the perfect representative of the nature of the Father and you never saw Him making someone ill so He could heal them, or create storms to calm. God does not bring about suffering, as we have already covered, and while we are expected to be amazed at how great He is at turning those sufferings around for good, we certainly shouldn’t be so foolish as to attribute the suffering to God! There must be few things as heart breaking to God as when His children attribute the devil’s work to their Father.

Let me tell you something, God is more than capable of making us go “wow” in a world that is perfect, He doesn’t need darkness so His light might shine brighter – that is a theology based on man’s experience and nothing else. Let me ask you this? If we truly believe that, do we realize how dull God is going to look in Heaven where everything is perfect, nothing goes wrong and there is no darkness?

Exactly.

So why don’t I focus on suffering?

So all of that to explain why I don’t spend time talking about suffering.

I don’t talk about the devil and his works, I talk about my Father and His great lovingkindness. I focus on what God is doing, not what He has yet to do. I don’t talk about sickness when I can talk about healing, I don’t talk about people being damned for eternity if I can talk about them being saved into eternal life, and I don’t focus on my lack of money when I can talk about how much He’s blessed me (and will continue to bless me) financially.

Hopefully that was helpful, it was far from exhaustive but it is a start.

What questions/thoughts do you have?

There are countless scriptures and areas which I did not cover, as I stated in the beginning, that was not the purpose of this article, I am considering writing a book on this very topic.

With that in mind:
What topics should I talk about that I didn’t?
What are your thoughts on suffering?

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82 Comments

  1. Hey Phil – this is a great post. Your unpacking of 1 Peter in its context was great and I really appreciate the way that you looked at God’s sovereignty from a different angle.

    thanks

    • Hi Ryan,

      Thanks so much for the encouragement.When God spoke to me about 1 Peter my brain kinda melted in my head a little… it was a huge revelation for me. He just said… “does it say God’s will anywhere else in 1 Peter” and that was it. Game, set and match for me :)

      Love you bro!

      • Hello phil.. Thanks for the write up. Going through a very rough time in my life, everything looks hopeless(Health,finance,) I know my faith for Victory is in the Blood.your write up really encouraged me to hold on, All things indeed are working together for my Good. I Trust God. God bless you and the Body of christ. Shalom

        • Hi Israel,

          So sorry to hear that things are a bit tough for you in this season. As Solomon was once apparently famous for saying I declare over you “this too shall pass”.

          I’m glad to hear that the article could at least in some ways encourage you and strengthen you in your hope that God is turning this situation around for good!

          Please do let me know how you are doing and how I can be praying for you :) Email me if it’s private and you would like prayer :)

          Much love,
          Phil

  2. Hi Phil this is really good. I was raped by three different men from the age of 3 to 14 on several occasions. In the process of God restoring my life I had read 1 Thes 5:18 ‘…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’ It was one of those moments when it stopped me in my tracks and I cried out to God, “You want me to be thankful for that (meaning the rape)?” and He said “Yes!” “For that Lord?” “Yes, Patti, for I will take what he enemy had meant for your destruction and I will use it for my glory!”

    I appreciate your breakdown of the Sovereignty of God … he gives people free will … a choice and unfortunately because of brokenness and sin there are some who make really bad choices. It is never God’s will for anyone to suffer … but we are never alone in the midst of it! One of the most powerful moments for me was when I realized that what they had done to me they had done to Him. He took it all! I was never alone! That truth rocked my world!

    You see I know that it was not God’s will for those horrible things to happen to me … as well I know it grieved His heart to the core! At that time I had no idea of the plans that God had for me. That 10 years later Mourning to Morning Ministries would be birthed. I now travel internationally speaking to women who are victims of violence. The question of suffering and
    ‘where was God in all of it’ always comes up. It is truly amazing to watch a woman transformed as the love of Jesus heals her at her core! As she understands the truth of who she is … a beloved daughter of the King! And that she is not and has not ever been alone!

    • Wow! That is an amazing testimony Patti! I’m deeply sorry you had to go through it but so delighted that what the enemy has meant to destroy you God has turned it around to not only bring you closer to Him but to help heal thousands of women around the world who have gone through similar situations.

      You are such a wonderful woman of God, thanks for all you do and thanks for your vulnerability in sharing so that others might be encouraged and grow from your testimony.
      Love you :) 

      •  Thank you Phil … it is the power of the testimony that sets people free! You are a great blessing to the body of Christ … keep speaking the truth we need to hear it! Oh yes I have been thinking about your Momma through out the day and I pray for God’s grace and healing in her life as well. Much grace to you!

  3. Phil,

    Great stuff here. I fully agree with your understanding of the “sufferings” of Christ. I too have received the left hand of fellowship over theology from long time friends.

    I was pondering this a few years ago and I felt I received a little revelation on it that I haven’t fully processed. I will submit it to you for your review :).

    I think in addition to the suffering of rejection that Jesus felt, he also suffered as a result of having to live and do life in the fallen, broken world. He talks a little about is when he speaks of wanting to gather the people of Jerusalem as chicks to the mother hen. I think it was immense suffering for him to see and live with such misunderstanding and perversion of the Heart of the Father.

    As we have our minds renewed, we too taste of this suffering when we see our friends, family, and the world living in darkness, bondage, and sickness. This didn’t lead Jesus to inaction but to action. So to it should lead us to action.

    His perfection living in such imperfection had to have produced internal “suffering”, so to, our perfection living in such imperfection can produce internal suffering.

    Not sure how clear this is, but it’s a try!

    Blessings to you,

    Rick Wood
     

    • I really like that Rick! The train of thought that is, not the fact Jesus suffered haha

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head describing what must have been excruciating to watch people again and again misunderstand and misrepresent the Father.

      I know for me this is really upsetting and frustrating and so I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Jesus!

      Thanks for sharing, I will probably mention that to some degree in the book I’m working on, I will have a huge section on the sufferings of Christ and how we are to “suffer” with Him. Should be interesting.

      Thanks for the encouragement :)

  4. I am sure you will cover it in your book but quite often people bring up the Old Testament (Exodus, evil spirits “sent” by God to Saul, earth swallowing the people of Moses, etc.) when it comes to suffering. This is usually a great topic to discuss as most struggle with this concept without context of the Jewish mindset and other things.

    I agree with everything you have discussed. I didn’t even really know the counter-arguments, such as 1 Peter, so that was really cool to learn a bit more and makes me want to study it myself. Loved the emphasis on his sovereignty and the difference between being in control vs charge. Good stuff!

    • Thanks Cory – I’ve already gotten quite a few emails about Job and such things.

      It’s amazing to me that people don’t understand what Jesus did and that it actually changed our standing before God. 

      I’ll definitely go into this topic in depth in my book although I have to confess I only have a few very brief notes on this so far. That will make for a fun rainy day! :)

      Thanks for the encouragement – love you bro!

      • what would be your response to Job. In my head i went straight there. Not necessarily to counter argue. But because it is the words of God. And just want to hear your take. Great post though. Still mullin some things over. 

        • Here is a VERY brief summary of some thoughts on Job I sent to a friend who asked the same question… I could talk about it for an extended period of time but I’m in the middle of a lot right now and planning to take a team to Germany in a few days :)

          If you read Job again and look for this point I think it will shed the book in a new light for you…The devil did not mention Job. God did.The devil wasn’t coming to God to ask to torture Job. God brought up how great Job was and when the devil said it’s only because you bless Him God said “no it isn’t, I bet he’ll stand by me regardless of what happens to him” (in so many words)The story of Job is about God’s belief in a man to stand by Him. Not about the devils ability to convince God, nor about God’s desire to wanting destroy people’s lives.After that we have to remember that this is before the New Covenant, there was no grace for Job he was in “the fallen” state and therefore everything he had was in the devil’s hands already – I’m sure job sinned once or twice in his life, and even if he didn’t he was still sinful by nature. Just some thoughts to mull over. Job is not where we get our theology on healing from. Jesus who is the perfect representative of God is who we should get our theology on healing. We need to learn to read our Bibles backwards.Most people read God as an angry mean God who is schizophrenically loving and hating people at the same time. But if we read the nature of God from the most accurate representation we have of Him, Jesus, and then interpret the scriptures through the life of Jesus and what He has done for us it opens up these scriptures to reveal God’s master plan and purposes.We are 100% under Jesus’ blood now. We don’t EVER fear the devil because he no longer has any access into our life unless we give it to him.To say God could do what He “did” in the story of Job again is to completely misunderstand not just the story of Job but also the whole of the New Covenant. For us to experience any type of sickness, suffering, premature death etc is an injustice because Jesus paid for those things. Now does it still happen, definitely but a whole lot less when we start believing in the right direction.

          • A year on so I’m late to the party. Job’s sons, daughters and slaves were all killed in order to induce Job to curse God. Makes for a great narrative but what about all those lives? Aren’t they worth more than filler to provide a backstory for Job’s trials? Job is eventually vindicated and is given more children but I remain uncomfortable with the whole tawdry business. It’s an awful way to prove a cosmic point.

            Regarding your comments about children, cancer, families and closeness. Also please tell the other side of the equation, which is all too common with childhood cancer, where kids die under the most appalling circumstances and families fragment under the emotional load.

          • Absolutely Ian – far too common and far too frequent. But NEVER God’s will. Like I explained in depth in the article. Not everything that happens is God’s will, but He does turn it around ultimately for good.

            It’s never God’s will for kids to be eaten away by cancer and die in their parents arms. But does that mean that it will never happen. Unfortunately not, not until the whole world has come into alignment with Him, until the effects of the fall are no longer something mankind chooses to live under. Until we stop empowering a disempowered devil and embracing sickness and pain as God’s heart or desire.

            At the end of the day, all these things make us very uncomfortable that they happen, but blaming God shouldn’t make us feel better. In fact that makes me rather more uncomfortable… I’m not sure I want to spend eternity with the guy who might or might not just give me cancer for the sake of it.

            Sorry I don’t have answers to all the questions, if you find someone who does I’d love to meet them :) I just know I won’t allow my experience (or others people’s experiences – even Job) change what the Bible reveals very clearly to be the nature of God. Jesus was the perfect expression and image of God’s true nature that we for thousands of years completely misinterpreted. If it doesn’t look like Jesus then it isn’t God.

  5. Phil,
    This is completely, totally incredible and just smashes in with such TRUTH, how I felt so alienated in my beliefs… I shout from the roof tops of HIS GOODNESS,
    I’m putting my name at the top of the list for this book… thank you, thank you thank you… So sorry to hear about your mum… may she truly know the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living

    • So glad you enjoyed it Jacinta! I’m excited about the book coming out, I really believe it’s going to bring tonnes of freedom to many and hopefully challenge many more in how they see God and His will.

      Thanks so much for the prayer over my mum. She is an amazing woman and is doing amazing all the time but it’s definitely not the full health that Jesus paid for her to walk in :) We are all excited to see her walking in that!

  6. I am so excited!!! Your post is sooo aligned to
    scripture. I remember being taught the opposite, yet I was to believe what
    scripture says. LOL I remember my spirit not agreeing, but when daddy who was
    the pastor could explain something to sound right/logical, well I believed it.
    Praise God!! God is so faithful; He never gives up on us. It is so exciting
    when discovering the truth and then, well, God, what is the next truth I have
    not believed. He will reveal! And He does not get angry or upset because I have
    been slow at learning His truths.

    • Yes Dawn! That is so good! Isn’t He so wonderful in how He patiently waits for us to “get it” and is so able to meet us where we are at :)

      Our Father is ever so good! Glad you were encouraged by the post!

  7. Hey Phil! This is totally what I wanted and needed to read today. I was asked to translate for a conference in a baptist church and I prayed to God to not allow me translate if what those people wanted to say was gonna show a degenerated view on Him..because He already knew what they wanted to say and all that..and guess what..somehow..I got there really late and they found somebody else to translate for them..haha..and what they said..it was totally wrong..I think it hurts God a lot to hear people saying that He sends them diseases and bad stuff just so that He might be glorified through them..hmm..some people..just like to live on the wrong side of the cross. But..as I said..I did not get to translate..so I had plenty of time to pray and I received a word for an elder lady and I approached her at the end of the conference and she received all that and started crying..it was what she’s been praying for since she got saved ( which is ..a lifetime)..so it was really rad to see what He had in store for me.
    I’m gonna send a link to this post to all my baptist friends..bahaha!:D

    Blessings!

    Lory

    • Hey Lory, 
      Glad that the post was timely and that you were encouraged.

      That’s a really funny story about the translation, I’m not sure I would have wanted to translate something that I didn’t feel represented God in a good light. 

      God loves the baptist! I was one and my dad is a charismatic baptist pastor :)

      I hope your friends enjoy the article. Thanks for sharing it! 

  8. Dear Phil,

      I am a young
    missionary and have only spent about six months on the mission field. When God
    called me to serve here in Africa I was shocked. I had no plan to ever work
    here; I wanted so much to serve elsewhere. The year before I came, God was so
    faithful in restoring so many relationships. I grew closer to my family and
    friends than ever before, it was wonderful; yet it made leaving so much harder.
    In the past six months, my sister had her first child, two friends have passed
    and so much more of life has continued without me being “home”.  I kept saying to God, “okay, I’ll suffer the
    loss of missing these things because that is what you have asked of me.” I was
    shocked when while reading your thoughts God said, “I didn’t ask you to suffer
    those losses I asked you to rejoice in the things you have gained.” I am
    gaining an ever-clearer picture of a Father who has more love for me than I
    think I may have understood while staying where I was. Thank you so much for
    sharing. 

    • Bless you JC! Thanks for all you are doing to see Jesus get His full reward in Africa! 

      I declare that all that the enemy has taken from you will be turned around for good and that God’s best days for you are ahead of you. That’s so encouraging that God is speaking to you right now about rejoicing in what He’s doing and not what you feel you are missing out on! I feel that is going to be a huge strategy for you to experience breakthrough :)
      Bless you my friend! 

      • I am doing exceedingly well, in that I am unshakably bound in the love of Jesus and one of his favorite ways of reminding me of that is through my beautiful wife!

        Phil, really, thanks for writing this. I need this post. I think I’ve read it about five times now. For me, I don’t know of a more agonizingly essential issue for our understanding as the redeemed.
        I mean, just talking about this article with Aberlyn over a glass of wine last night started breaking things loose in both of us. It’s like, we’re told to open our hearts to God and trust him while we’re being taught that he’s going to treat us really badly and hurt us and punish us so that he can purify us and make us look like he wants; also, because it would give him glory to do so. Like some kind of holy sadomasochism.My heart aches over the damage done to and by God’s people with this distortion.

        Just imagine what will happen when people begin to really see Jesus for who He is. I’m about to laugh just thinking about it.

        love you, brother. I miss you and think of you fondly often.

        • Love you too Ethan! So glad you are doing so well! I’m delighted that you and Aberlyn have been blessed by the post. 

          Sarah and I need to figure out a trip out to Indiana so we can all hang out. Would be great to see you again! I miss you bro!

  9. Thanks for this, it’s helpful to me, particularly the point about God being in charge but not a controlling micro-manager.  That helps me to unpick one of my mental blocks regarding suffering and faith. 
    Regarding things to address in a book, for me there is still a question over why God allows certain things, given that He is able to intervene and sometimes does.  So it’s not about attributing suffering to God, but questioning why does He not step in sometimes – for example in the stillbirth of my baby nephew who had been much prayed for, and the subsequent still birth of a cousin’s child who had been perhaps more prayed for, including on the night before the subsequent stillbirth.  Although God may not be the source of suffering, His lack of intervention at times like that can feel just as bad as if He was the source.

    • Thanks Alastair – I’m so glad it was helpful and a blessing.

      That’s great feedback as well for rounding the message and covering some of the countless facets of this topic! I totally agree that at times a lack of intervention can feel crushing, especially with things like stillbirths!
      Thanks again for the feedback. Praying blessing upon you and your family in these times of suffering! Thankful that you can be a great source of encouragement and joy in the midst of incredibly hard times and for a peace that transcends understanding.

  10. Hi Phil.  This is beautiful, thank you for posting.  I have an idea for you that could possibly rock your world — it will take some time to dig into, but what a gold mine if you do — I found a site with a free audio series that expounds on this very topic, full of amazing revelation.  I’m sure it will help you as you write your book. Find the ten sessions here (scroll down and you’ll see the link to them): http://www.thegoodnessofgod.com/ This is awesome stuff. Bless you!

  11. The spiritual conundrum I confront often about suffering is being around people who focus so much on what they “confess” that their intentional positivity comes across as invalidation to those who are really suffering. Taken to an extreme, it can even make those suffering feel that they are at fault for their situation. I could be wrong…but I believe that though Jesus does not intend or cause suffering, He is well able to have compassion for the sufferer even though He can help (weeping over the mourners for Lazurus comes to mind). Any thoughts?

    • Absolutely my friend,

      We are called to mourn with those who mourn. We aren’t called to celebrate suffering and suffering is suffering. However we do live from a higher perspective. Our job is to come down to where people are at and take them somewhere higher.
      That ultimately was what Jesus did – He came down to our level and in the midst of our suffering, suffering with and for us and making sure that we would be seated with Him in Heavenly places.
      There is no excuse for those who refuse to acknowledge that those who are suffering is suffering. That’s just stupid. The point is that we don’t start trying to make everyone feel better by staying it’s God’s will or that He orchestrated it to teach them a lesson or something of that matter.
      That’s when we end up doing God and the person in question a big disservice.

    • What does the Bible tell us that God has done about evil? It tells us that he sent his son Jesus to die for our sins and to deliver us from pain and suffering. Ultimately, God is allowing evil in the world for a purpose, otherwise, he would not let it exist. Therefore, we must trust Him that He knows what He is doing.

      • Hey Dean, I think it depends on perspective… who allows evil? God or us?

        God has dealt with evil and has given mankind the keys to the Earth, He has given us authority and what have we done? We’ve handed those keys over to the enemy.

        Our job is to step up and walk in the authority and power given to us by Jesus.

        Why does evil exist? Because WE allow it, not because God allows it.

        He put that choice in our hands right at the beginning.

        • Did Job allow calamity to fall on him or did God allow Satan to bring tragedy on Job?According to your post Phil it was Job who allowed it. Thoughts?

          • Hi Dean – I answered with my thoughts regarding Job in the comments above.

            Here is what I said again:

            Here is a VERY brief summary of some thoughts on Job I sent to a friend who asked the same question… I could talk about it for an extended period of time but I’m in the middle of a lot right now and planning to take a team to Germany in a few days :)

            If you read Job again and look for this point I think it will shed the book in a new light for you…The devil did not mention Job. God did.The devil wasn’t coming to God to ask to torture Job. God brought up how great Job was and when the devil said it’s only because you bless Him God said “no it isn’t, I bet he’ll stand by me regardless of what happens to him” (in so many words)The story of Job is about God’s belief in a man to stand by Him. Not about the devils ability to convince God, nor about God’s desire to wanting destroy people’s lives.After that we have to remember that this is before the New Covenant, there was no grace for Job he was in “the fallen” state and therefore everything he had was in the devil’s hands already – I’m sure job sinned once or twice in his life, and even if he didn’t he was still sinful by nature. Just some thoughts to mull over. Job is not where we get our theology on healing from. Jesus who is the perfect representative of God is who we should get our theology on healing. We need to learn to read our Bibles backwards.Most people read God as an angry mean God who is schizophrenically loving and hating people at the same time. But if we read the nature of God from the most accurate representation we have of Him, Jesus, and then interpret the scriptures through the life of Jesus and what He has done for us it opens up these scriptures to reveal God’s master plan and purposes.We are 100% under Jesus’ blood now. We don’t EVER fear the devil because he no longer has any access into our life unless we give it to him.To say God could do what He “did” in the story of Job again is to completely misunderstand not just the story of Job but also the whole of the New Covenant. For us to experience any type of sickness, suffering, premature death etc is an injustice because Jesus paid for those things. Now does it still happen, definitely but a whole lot less when we start believing in the right direction.

  12. I was going to say how timely about your post but I see it was quite some time ago, so I’ll say, how timely you linked it on Facebook today.
    Don’t get me going on Paul’s thorn or suffering caused by God, but I found your bit on the sovereignty of God addressing a vague discomfort in my thinking. That He is in charge but not in control makes great sense. I am surrounded by folks who somehow see everything that happens as CAUSED by God and part of His grand design for everything, while my thinking on free will starts to line up with Greg Boyd’s that God cannot know the future where it depends on man’s choices… but he can know all the infinite number of possible futures and make contingency plans for all of them. Bad things happen, but God can use even them for good.

    • God knew exactly what he was doing having you read it when you did Thomas :) He’s so good at that, isn’t He?

      I don’t know if I’m quite there with open theism that Greg teaches, I’ve honestly not studied it enough to say either way but its certainly something a lot of people I love and respect are teaching these days so who knows what I’ll find when I look into that rabbit hole! :)

      • I’m surely not as far as ‘teaching’ it, but it has made me pause. I like the feel of it better than believing that the nasty convoluted stuff in the world is somehow planned by God… especially if it requires me to imagine God has somehow caused and is getting ultimate good out of things that are, by all reasonable definitions, bad. You know, “That child died because God needed another angel.” God is certainly greater than my thoughts, but for some reason He gave me a brain… I like to think it was to use it.

  13. I really appreciated this topic. You hear a lot that you should stop blaming the devil for your suffering, because God wants you to suffer to teach you a lesson!!! Thank-You for writing about this subject and unpacking this. Looking forward to reading your book. I got freed today, and so many others will too.

    • Yes – it’s very sad to see so many blame God for stuff that He isn’t doing. Glad it blessed you :) Don’t hold your breath for that book as I’m not the quickest writer :)

  14. Hey Phil,

    Haven’t gone through all the responses so I don’t know if this has already been mentioned. And full disclaimer, I only scanned your article–in a bit of a hurry today. So I’ll only mention one item I did note fairly well. Your use of Romans 8:28.

    You dealt with context well in the earlier discussion regarding suffering and God’s will. However, you missed the main point of Romans 8:28 in context. Specifically the very next verse.

    “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

    Just what is the “good” that all things work together for in our lives? To be conformed into the image of Jesus (which does include suffering, but again does not mean only those who suffer are in God’s will). So God’s ultimate will is that his children be conformed/transformed into the image of Jesus–in character, thinking, actions, and ultimately through the resurrection.

    Does God want his children healthy? Ultimately through the resurrection, yes. Certainly the healing ministry of Jesus was a demonstration of what kingdom would be about: blind see, deaf, hear, lame walk–people would be restored to function the way they were created to function (which does include physical, mental, relational, and emotional health). But his greater goal is not that we necessarily experience health and prosperity in our present circumstances. He wants us to continue the demonstration of his will (restoration of relationships, restoration of wholeness and health, etc.) and to become more and more like the Son.

    If that includes suffering, so be it. If not, again, so be it. But in every case we are to keep a positive hope and trust in him that includes vibrant joy throughout our lives, but without living in denial of pain or suffering. (Note: I’m not suggesting you are in such denial–just making the general statement).

    Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks for sharing this Darryl, it’s well thought out and argued. I agree… His will is that we look like who we really are. His image and likeness.

  15. Pingback: When God Doesn't Appear To Answer | Ray Edwards

    • Not sure I understand your question exactly Andrea. Sorry in advance if my answer doesn’t exactly help.

      Romans 8:17 says that we share Christ’s sufferings. That’s something I say multiple times in this article, that we will suffer.

      The point of the article was not to say we wouldn’t suffer but that it was not God’s desire for us to suffer. Remember this is the immediate context for Paul then talking about suffering being nothing compared to what is in us and that all things will be turned around for good.

  16. Hi Phil!

    I’m still trying to understand all of this and so I have a few questions!

    Like 1.) how does sanctification work with this finished work theology? I get that God works even our hard times for good by sanctifying us, does He not in iut wisdom discipline us and refine us to look more like Jesus and grow in holiness?

    2.) how does this work with the time that Jesus asked the Father to “take the cup” if that was His will?

    3.) So even if we pray for healing during sickness and God doesn’t do it, what does that indicate?

    • Hi Sanny,

      Great questions – it sounds like you are new here so I’d encourage you to read around the blog more as a lt of your answers will be found on here.

      Regarding growing in holiness I recommend – http://phildrysdale.wpengine.com/2013/02/the-christian-life-is-not-about-becoming-more-holy/

      For sanctification I recommend – http://phildrysdale.wpengine.com/2011/11/romans-7-did-paul-struggle-with-a-sinful-nature/

      Regarding your second question – it had always been Jesus and the Father’s will for Him to be crucified… Even before the foundations of the Earth according to Peter.

      For sickness there are lots of things going on… We need to remember a lot of them and at the end of the day be willing to not know and live in mystery. The temptation is to start reading our experience into the bible a rather holding firm to what the scriptures say and allowing that to shape our experience. God’s will is always for us to be well… It doesn’t happen all the time though. As I explained in this whole article. There are lots of things that go on, we can be a factor, our situations can be a factor, the people around us and the forces of darkness often play a part.

      The key is not to play the blame game…. Not of God, not of ourselves or even of others. We are to hold the to what God has declared as true and trust that if we have to do something to shift things then God will say so :)

      Hope those answers helped somewhat :) bless you my friend.

  17. Hi phil, great post, I am not a theologian but may I make some comment on Job?

    It is right to place Job in the context of post fall (of course) probably pre law but he does have a concept of Gods plan for redemption. I will apologise in advance for the length of this post but it deserves some attention due to the fact that scriptures here are taken out of context and have bound Gods people up with lies.

    My first point is to say that not all scripture reads as the truth when someone in scripture makes a statement regarding their picture of God; it is sometimes just their perspective at the time. The entire book of Job cannot be preached as everybody’s perspective being correct. Before I lose everyone please allow me to illustrate. Allegedly the book is written by Moses but is certainly not written by Job himself. The narrative is brought of things that Job could not know were happening in heavenly realms.

    We have to note that that is happening in heaven to understand that that is happening on earth (the same is true today-thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven) In the garden Adam and Eve forfited their sovereign authority on earth to satan who deceived man into giving satan his dominion. Satan was prowling to and frow on the earth and from walking up and down upon it. Much like we were tasked to subdue the earth and fill it with beings created in the very likeness of God so to satan wants to fill the earth with his own image. Abraham was told God would give him everywhere he set his feet, we are the same; as we go fourth in the world as we set our feet there the darkness is pushed back (dominion) I think I am digressing. So satan comes in his authority as a rebel against God and is allowed into heaven in the very place that once was rightfully ours until we legally forfited it. God says of us that we were created that we might be a display of his goodness in heavenly places. So God is rightfully showing off what happens when He is just good to Job. Satan rightfully points out that it is because God has put a fence around him.

    Stop here and consider; but for the dominion of darkness the natural way for man to go is that God just blesses his socks off.

    Now when God shows Job off , satan challenges him back with our physical circumstances. Job is completely unaware if this conversation! But what happens next is that God is asked to remove the fence effectively. And God says he is in your hands. It does not say that he never was in satans hands. Job lives in a fallen world. Interestingly in the list of things that Job does for his family it never mentions that Job sacrificed for his own sins but that he was upright in all his ways .

    So all these events conspire against Job and his family. As we know now today that none is righteous no not one. Now Job makes the statement that The Lord gives and The Lord takes away which we now sing in great songs believing that is actually what happens. But this is not the truth; it is just Jobs perspective at the time. The scripture is clear that it was satan that took away. Satan himself confesses that he had what he originally had because of Gods goodness to Job.

    So what follows is Jobs mates coming in trying to explain from their perspective why Job is suffering, the sad part is that for the most part the church of today agree with them. It was your sin etc.

    But Job meets God and afterward in Job 40:4,5 essentially says that He had spoken foolishly and would not answer. Also again in 42:3 that he uttered things that he understood not , things too wonderful that he knew not. What Job is saying is that His perspective was wrong . God does not give and take away. Stop saying it , stop believing it Christian ; it is a lie that comes from the depths of hell. Just because you can quote a scripture like that does not mean it is giving you truth and bringing you freedom.

    God himself says in Job 38:2 who is this who darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge . He says this of Job so don’t get the perspective that everything Job says is kosher. But God does declare him righteous. He commands all of Jobs friends except Elihu to come and sacrifice to God that for their folly. We can know then that the things Jobs friends said were not an accurate representation of why Job was suffering. It was only Elihu that was not rebuked by God. Interestingly it is at this point that Job had everything restored to him; the moment he prayed to his friends. ( there is more in this verse about how Job should be read due to the progress of restoration)

    You know one of my favourite verses in the bible is ; surely His goodness and mercy pursue me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of The Lord forever . David says it right there. This man was living in a cave, surrounded by the misfits of society, Pursued by mad king that is well resourced and bent on his destruction. Never it may have seemed that the all of God could have been further from his current experience of reality yet he can say that surely His goodness and mercy not just emphericaly were for him in some distant concept of Gods goodness but were actively running him down until they overwhelmed him. You have to believe and confess Gods goodness to you even in your darkest hours to see it . Never never never give up. (I know; Winston Churchill, but I digress)

    So lets fast forward a few thousand years. Because of the cross we know now that satan is defeated. This Job experience cannot happen today, he no longer has dominion of the earth , that has been given back to man because it was via the one man; Jesus Christ that he established covenant between man and God. And He lives in us and has made us to be a kingdom of Kings and priests . Now a priest is one who represents man to God and a king is one who has authority in a dominion. Now satan does not accuse us to God, he no longer has access to the throne because it was brought back and given to the one man Jesus Christ . Now all he can do is accuse you to you and try and make you believe that God is still counting your sins against you. Don’t believe him, you were made to reign and you are now reigning with him. Your words have power and you are a king and a priest and you have been given this ministry of grace where God is no longer imputing your sins too you. Bless you Phil and everyone . I hope I have been coherent and that people will receive the truth and the (whole) truth will set us free.

    • Wonderful thoughts Michael – thanks so much for taking the time to type up such a detailed explanation of Job. Very impressive for a message typed on an iPhone! More coherent than most of my actual articles! haha

  18. Not sure if it all makes sense, I did it on my iphone late at night in a hotel room so my apologies if it rambles abit. :) I was also wanting to talk about Job knowing his redeemer lives.

    • great debate i am a born again charismatic i attended a glory church meeting 6 months ago a lady called me out and said she had a word for me and that god was removing his hedge of protection from me as in job 2 days later i had a stroke and am now disabled and in pain …..

  19. Hi Phil,

    Thank you for this article. Here’s some thoughts I hold in tension in my day to day life.

    However deep the suffering, God’s love is deeper. This means that unlike many people we can look horrendous suffering in the face without hiding, without being consumed by anger and bitterness. When I am faced with more horrific suffering and feel like I am falling off into unbelief I know I must dig deeper and allow Him to revel more of His massive, unending love. As you say, God does not want us to suffer, but does use it to reveal more of Him. He would still be able to reveal His love to us if suffering did not exist!

    Where I tend to struggle is not when children get cancer or someone is raped today, awful and heart breaking as I find them. It is the crushing weight of history that I struggle with – the fact that until a hundred and fifty years ago half of children under the age of 5 died and a fair number of mothers with them. People died young with no hope of cure from disease and, according to much Christian Theology without the hope of Jesus living in them if they lived preChrist or unreached.

    We then place this all weight of suffering and death on the Genesis story of the fall. 5.4 million people died in the 2nd Congo war ending in 2003 which we dismiss glibly as human nature after the fall. Earthquake killing tens of thousands? Nature fell as well at the fall. Pain in Childbirth? The Fall.

    I don’t know whether Eve picking the apple (literally or not) can bear that kind of weight. If each individual life is precious to God I don’t know how that squares with that weight of history.

    All I can conclude is
    1) boy, he must really really value our freedom (orthodox theology) and
    2) that God’s big narrative of redemption is more important vis a vis each life on earth than our individualistic western faith would let us believe. (way out there theology)

    Thank you – I really appreciate your open relaxed style and not being scared to ask the difficult questions because you know that God is good

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jonathan.

      Man I’m with you. That’s heavy stuff, right?

      I don’t know either honestly when it comes to stuff like this. I have a lot of thoughts but nothing I would say is a concrete fact you could hang your coat on :)

      I think ultimately we just have to keep trying to see God as good none-the-less – hoping that as we do so our understanding will expand, both of Him and His grand plan, as well as the individual one as well.

      Thanks again for sharing and for your kind words :)

      • Hi Phil:
        A friend of mine told me about you and this specific article. First off, you have a remarkable testimony and God’s glory is stamped all over it. I too have been delivered from a life of darkness and of pain. And in the words of the Apostle Paul “by the grace of God, I am what I am …” (1 Cor 15:10).
        There are several things that I need to point out that are problematic with your article. And perhaps the biggest is your view of God as being “in charge but not in control”. Due to the numerous amount of scripture that I can present, and the amount of space it would take, I am forced to pick out only a handful. Let’s begin with Genesis 20:1-6, and the brief story of Abraham and Abimelech. As you know, Abraham had lied about his relationship with Sarah being his wife and told Abimelech that she was his sister. God revealed the truth of Sarah’s true identity in Abimelech’s dream, and restrained him from sinning against Him by committing a sexual act with Sarah. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph states a startling truth to his brothers, that although they sinned against him and certainly meant it for evil, God meant it for good. When we jump ahead to the New Testament in the book of Acts 2:23 and 4:27-28, we are given another truth of God’s ultimate plan of Jesus’ death taking place by the hands of sinful men. God certainly is not the author of sin (James 1:13; 1 John 1:5), yet He in fact permits sin and uses the very sins of evil men to accomplish His purpose. Luke 22:22 gives a great truth that although the sin accomplishes His purpose, the sinner is nevertheless held responsible, (see also Isaiah 10:5-12, God’s use of Assyria as the rod of His anger, yet punishing them) . Daniel 4:35 makes a great statement about God’s sovereignty when Nebuchadnezar, humbled by God’s actions to him states that God performs His will in the army of heaven and also in the inhabitants of the earth and that none can stay His hand. Again there are many more passages, but due to time and space I will leave it at that concerning God indeed being in complete control.
        You mention an important fact about reading scripture in context. This is indeed a basic principle in hermeneutics or interpretation. You speak about 2 Peter 3:9 as being a proof of God not being in control, in that He is patient with regards to people’s salvation. Yet, when you begin the 3rd chapter, Peter mentions it being the second letter. The reason I bring this up is that when we go back to Peter’s first letter, we find out an important truth. These letters are written to God’s elect (1 Pet 1:1-2). They are written to believers, specifically believers who are scattered and suffering persecution, and this reveals a fact about God’s delay in judgement in 2 Peter 3:9. The very fact that there are some whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8, 21:27) are still unsaved. Whether we are comfortable with it or not, salvation is entirely a work of God, and Romans 9 reveals that the Potter does indeed have power over the clay. When a person is born of God, it is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13). We are all quite naturally dead in trespasses and sins and it is Him in the person of the Holy Spirit that quickens us (Eph 2:1; Col 2:13) . This is a truth that is laid out in the Old Testament Psalm 110:3 “they shall be willing in your day of power”. If we were left to ourselves, we would not even be capable of choosing God and salvation (Rom 3:11 and 8:7). Acts 13:48 tells us quite plainly that one is appointed unto eternal life, and in John 6:44 Jesus reveals that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws him. These are truths of scripture that may not sit well with us, but they are nonetheless evidence that God is indeed sovereign IN CONTROL of human affairs including salvation itself. We cannot paint a picture of God as being like ourselves (Psalm 50:21). His ways are not like ours (Is 55:8-9; Rom 11:33-34), and despite what might be in our hearts, His counsel will certainly stand (Prov 19:21) .
        Blessings Steve

        • Hi Steve,

          I’m afraid I really don’t have time to go into depth on all the different points you raised. Especially as you have mentioned so many scriptures.

          For me I think there are just as many random scriptures here and there (as you have grabbed yours) that support contrary to what you say. This is perhaps why this has been debated for a couple of thousand years!

          That’s actually why I don’t really feel the desire to get into this in great debate. The divide between free-will and “sovereignty” of God has existed for millennia and I doubt we’ll settle it here on a blog.

          I personally don’t really sit too strongly on either side, in fact I frequently frustrate both sides of the argument because I don’t particularly like picking one side. I think God is incredible at giving us free-will and freedom to do what we wish.

          However it is not unlike a kid running around a playground being able to do “anything” they want. The truth is that their parents have given them the illusion of free-will but odds are they aren’t going to let them run out the playground and onto the highway! There is a strong element of both that exists and this article describes one side of that coin. You describe another side, I can’t nearly go as far as you have personally as I think there are far too many issues with doing so, many of which I outline on this website.

          All that to say – I appreciate you taking the time to read the blog and consider what I said and offer your feedback. I don’t disagree with all your points and don’t feel that everything you have written is incorrect by any means however I would imagine we would disagree quite strongly over the context and interpretation of many of the passages you quoted. That is however something I have no real interest in doing and I’m sure you don’t want to do that either.

          Thanks again for sharing :)

        • Agree with Steve
          It will be impossible to understand the suffering on this planet unless you can see into the past of the universe and understand that what happenend here on earth with the fallen angels.God is defiantly in total control and working out a plan before the foundation of the earth.

  20. I appreciate the article was wondering if you could touch on these two scriptures -Hebrews 5:8 & Romans 8:17-18 ?

    thanks so much

  21. Phil, really fantastic article. Looking forward to reading the rest of your stuff.

    One question though. The man of John 9 born blind. Jesus said nobody sinned, but that the works of God be made manifest in him. This is a scripture I’ve personally used in the past to “defend” God for the suffering in the world. What is your take on that passage? Are some people afflicted only for the purpose of a future miracle? (I know it’s actually 2 questions)

  22. Dear Phil
    We must also look at scripture such as our fight is not against flesh and blood.we where made subject to vanity.It is impossible to come to Me unless the Father draws you to understand suffering.
    Regards
    Sarel

  23. Lam 3.33 says: ‘For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men’. Here we see that God causes suffering to humans against his will. This seems perverse but we do it all the time. When we discipline our children we may not want to cause them grief but we do it because we believe it right and ultimately good for them. Thus God may be the ultimate cause behind suffering but He may not be actively willing it.

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