Understanding Suffering (Part 3)

Suffering in Light of God’s Sovereignty

Paul’s testimony in the thorn-in-the-flesh passage–along with other passages–introduces the truth that no suffering is able to reach us apart from it being the will of God. In some Christian circles the theme of God’s sovereignty is much discussed. Controversies rage, for example, over the theme of our election to salvation. Yet, for some reason, the theme of God’s sovereignty in the details of individual Christian lives has received scant attention.

We need to be cautioned that there is a difference between our inner and outer lives. Within our own hearts we may choose to live outside the will of God. Our outer circumstances, though, are completely under the control of God.

When we speak of God’s sovereignty, we mean His absolute control of all things. Nothing can reach us except it be His will for us. If God is not sovereign in all our circumstances, why does the apostle Paul admonish us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in all things? Why would the Holy Spirit lead us to be “giving thanks always for all things” as expressed in Ephesians 5:20? We can be thankful in all things only because the “all things” are from the Lord and for the purpose of blessing.[1]

Earlier it was mentioned that there will be an outbreak of hate toward us when Christ lives through us. It is difficult to believe that it could be the will of God for us to suffer at the hands of Satan and evil men. Does the Bible teach this? It does.

On the day of Pentecost in his explanation of the meaning of all the supernatural events that were taking place, Simon Peter proclaimed: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). Jesus was crucified by wicked hands. He was murdered by sinful men. Murder is sin. On the cross, however, our Lord was in the center of the will of the Father. From eternity, the Father had planned the crucifixion of our Lord. We are incapable of comprehending such thoughts. We accept them by faith.

Suffering may intensify once we begin to experience our union with Christ, because when we choose that life, the Lord now has the expression of our own heart that we desire a life of total dependence on Him. We should not believe God sends suffering to enjoy watching us suffer. Suffering is a method used by God to free us from our know-it-all attitude in order that we might live by faith in Him. This is not a suggestion that all suffering is only for the purpose of breaking our faith in ourselves. All sin brings suffering.

Suffering is God’s way of bringing us eternal glory according to Romans 8:17: “…[Believers are] heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with [Him], that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us..” Yet all suffering does–regardless of other factors involved–turn us to faith in God.

All suffering should be faced with the belief that it may be for only a season and the Lord may choose to take it away. Paul prayed for the removal of the thorn in the flesh. We should take every burden to the Lord for an interpretation of His will in the matter. He may or may not want to take the burden away. Possessing the knowledge that our circumstances are completely under the control of our all-loving, all-wise and all-powerful God will carry us over many painful experiences in life.

“I have been helping my brothers and sisters through all this,” a lady cheerfully said to her pastor. Then with victory in her voice and on her countenance she added, “Before you became my pastor, it would have been the other way around. My brothers and sisters would have been ministering to me.” Along with her brothers and sisters, on the previous Sunday she had buried her father. They had buried their mother a year earlier. The family was unusually close. Both she and the pastor knew that her comment about his ministry centered in one thing: he had taught the sovereignty of God in our daily circumstances.

Let us obey Paul’s admonition recorded in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in all things. Many have had their circumstances changed by doing so; many have found peace in the midst of their trying circumstances by doing so. Try it!

Part 3 of 3

[1] God causes or permits affliction. It is always overruled for the believer’s ultimate good (Rom. 8:28,29). – JBW

David Kuykendall, Our Oneness With Christ: A Study in Living by Grace Through Faith, Revided edition, ch. 16, David Kuykendall Ministries
Dallas, Texas Copyright 2006. Used with permission. Available as en e-book at http://livingbygrace.org/

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