Suffering Salvation: Why Do Believing Christians Suffer?
One of the notorious arguments against the existence of God employed by popular atheists such as Richard Dawkins, is the reductio argument offered in philosophical argumentation which proposes the following, “If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.”
Multitudes throughout the centuries of time have proposed the infamous question, why do good people suffer? Even further, many believing Christians have found themselves startled as they have been astounded by the common pain of enduring suffering trials and bad circumstances in life. Over and over believers find themselves ringing their hands toward God asking why do believing Christians suffer?
As a young pastor in 2010, my wife and I experienced our first engagement with this emotionally extensive question; our first pregnancy did not end well. Following the roller coaster of emotions upon the surprising realization that our first baby was on the way, complications placed us at the dawn of a morning in a labor and delivery room 17 weeks into the pregnancy consulting with the area’s leading OBGYN expert in pregnancy crisis. In summation, the doctor declared with raw facts void of emotion that he was 99.9 percent certain that our baby boy would be dead in less than 24 hours.
Shaken, startled, and suffocated with grief we began to pray. We came into agreement with other believers, we taped anointed prayer clothes on her belly, we spoke faith and life, we rebuked the enemy, and we had full faith that this would be a miraculous turnaround. Meanwhile, we did exceed the 24-hour window; nine days later my wife was still in the hospital and our boy was growing and responding well to the complications of the pregnancy. Still yet, on December 20th, 2010 his funeral was conducted on a cold snowy day with Christmas looming in the background.
Have you ever wrestled with a sickness or hardship that left you asking the question, why do good people suffer? Why? Why would a good God that is omnipotent seemingly hide in the stillness allowing women to be raped, heart attacks to unfold, murders to be committed, babies to die, cancers to grow, and children to be abused? These are real questions that many honest believers ask on a regular basis.
My own personal struggle with the loss of our baby, as well as with other trials and hardships within life, propelled me to the scriptures to discover an answer to this infamous question. Overall, I had to know why God allows evil and suffering. Moreover, as a pastor I knew that I had to be equipped with some answers in my arsenal, in order to be able to help other believers in their times of suffering salvation.
My journey into the Word of God, and in prayer, to obtain an answer to why good believers suffer was enlightening; what I found is that God offers no singular easy answer. Absent in the Bible is a one-line zinger to the problem of trials and suffering. In contrast, God revealed to me through the Word that the answer to suffering truly depends on the situation at hand. In other words, the answer to why good believers experience bad situations is as follows: it depends.
To my surprise, the Bible, which is God’s own self-disclosure, reveals to us a display of various different examples of suffering and trials, which were permitted for multiple different reasons. In this article, I will share six diverse explanations as to why believers suffer. Each explanation can be applied to numerous different situations in life:
- Free-will. One reason why good believers often suffer is due to free-will. In short, God allows us to make our own choices (Josh 24:15; John 1:12-13). We must accept that fact that some suffering is the direct result of someone’s free-will choices in life. If God, for example, prevented all heart attacks, humans then would be free to eat unhealthy absent of any concern. Actions have consequences. A forty-year faithful smoker cannot blame God for lung cancer. Further, if God intervened and stopped every murder, God then would be willfully ceasing free-will. While it would be celebrated if God stopped every murder or evil action in this world, doing so would handcuff free-will; if God intervened and stopped every evil action, God then would then be stripping humanity of the free choice to do good or evil. In order for free-will to be free-will in actuality and not in just theory, God must willingly allow actions that are heartbreaking to both him and others. Some suffering is the larger result of free-will.
- When Jesus was attacked in the garden, this did not make sense to Peter; he took control of the seemingly senseless situation and cut an ear off in defense, only to then find Jesus rebuking him for not understanding the moment (John 18:10-12). We are not divine. We do not know the end from the beginning. We are limited in our understanding and knowledge of all things. We must confess that the omniscient (all-knowing) God of the universe knows more about the actions and interactions of divine assistance than we do. Simply put, God at times does not do what we think God should do, because God knows more than we do. God knows all possibilities, complexities, and all results of actions as well as all potential results of his interactions (Isa 46:10; Isa 55:8-13). Imagine the mindset of a baby on vaccine day; he or she is carried into a bright room and is stripped down to the diaper. Mom or dad then lays the baby on a cold table, and a large stranger comes into the room and stabs the him or her with a needle. The baby screams in pain. Would it be fair to propose that the baby could be thinking, why is mom or dad allowing this mean stranger to stab me? Of course, the rhetorical answer lies in the fact that mom or dad knows what is best, even though the baby does not understand. Well, sometimes in life we are the baby and God simply knows more than we do. Some suffering is the result of fallible limited humans not comprehending what the infallible, unlimited, all-knowing God understands.
- Spiritual Warfare. Have you ever read about a man named Job? He did nothing wrong, yet all of hell befell him. No sin of his own was committed. No disobedience was offered. No lack of faith was displayed. Simply, God allowed the enemy to test him with trials and suffering. In as much, his troubles were due to spiritual warfare. We see a similar situation with Daniel as he prayed for helped, and the answer was sent 21 days before the arrival; the explanation offered was delay and interruption due to spiritual warfare (Dan 10:13). Our battle is not physical (Eph 6:12), and Peter reminds us that the enemy seeks to devour us (1 Pet 5:8). Some suffering is the direct result of spiritual warfare. We do have a waring enemy whether our theology recognizes it or not.
- The Faith Issue. A lack of faith can produce of lack of God intervening in our lives. There, I said it. The cat is out of the preverbal bag. It is true, faith matters. Jesus himself was limited when there was a lack of faith, “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matt 13:58). Jesus rebuked people for having a lack of faith (Mark 4:35-41), and he taught that we are to have faith in order to see miraculous divine interaction in our lives (Mark 11:24-25; Mark 9:23). Every suffering situation is not a lack of faith; just ask Job about faith and trials. However, some situations of suffering and pain are, in fact, the result of our own lack of faith.
- The Winepress. Trials and suffering make us stronger. Period. Suffering builds our resolve. The Bible says that it is the trying of our faith that produces patience (James 1:3). Peter says that fiery trials are more precious to us than gold, “Your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet 1:7). God often allows difficult trials and pain in our lives, in order to strengthen us and build our faith. Difficulties define us. It is through trials and tough moments in life that we build muscle and mature. If God coddled all believers and shielded us from all forms of suffering, we would be spineless and spoiled people. Do we like it? No. Yet, some suffering is allowed for our own benefit.
- Last and most likely least embraced, God at times allows suffering as a form of correction to his own who choose disobedience, “Because the LORD disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children” (Heb 12:6-8). Enough said. God will, as the perfect loving father, allow correction through trials when we choose to disobey and ignore him. Are all suffering and hard times the result of chastisement? No. Nonetheless, in some situations the Bible says it can be the source of the circumstance.
God is not evil neither can God do evil things (James 1:13). On the other hand, God does
in certain situations, allow suffering and trials in the lives of believers. Why does God allow suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do believers experience suffering salvation? The Bible offers an answer: it depends.
Pastor Toney Cox
 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The Problem of Evil,” 3 March 2015, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/.