What’s the best scripture for thinking correctly about God’s will and our suffering? Someone has expressed concern that it seems like “God is toying with us.”
BM From California
Suffering's work (Part 1)
There are really two separate issues in your question (suffering’s purpose and God toying with us) but in the mind of the “someone” who expressed the concern they are linked together. First let me pull them apart. What is the best scripture for thinking correctly about God’s will and our suffering? There are many I could use because examples of suffering abound in both the Old and New Testaments.
This is the one I am drawn to for giving the most complete explanation: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:16-18)
In these three verses we are told some important things. Suffering is our destiny if we are children of God. Suffering identifies us with Christ because he suffered more than any of us. Suffering has a purpose that is not yet revealed: somehow it is tied up with being glorified with him. Does this mean now or in eternity? Probably both but whichever way we look at it, it is a mystery.
I could tell you that suffering can bear very good fruit. It can. It reveals our character so that the character of Christ can be worked in us. It produces endurance in us so that we “may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4) It humbles us and gives us compassion and identity with the sufferings of others. It develops our faith muscles and equips us for spiritual warfare. All of that can help us cope with the inevitable suffering which comes our way in life. But we still don’t like it, do we?
Now how does suffering fit in with the “toying” thing?
Does God toy with us? (Part 2)
God does not toy with us. He loves us more deeply and passionately than we can possibly imagine but I think I understand where the concerned person is coming from. While God sees the whole picture and the end product, we see only partly and even in that, dimly. We deal all the time with what looks to us like random acts. We have little control in many areas of our life.
Two women get pregnant and one miscarries and the other delivers a perfect baby. Why? One person gets sick and is prayed for and is healed and another gets sick and is prayed for but still dies. We can’t figure it out. I like what Solomon says about the way life works in Ecclesiastes 7:14. “In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider—God has made the one as well as the other.”
How do we then think about this seeming randomness so we don’t feel like rats in a maze? We do two things. The first is that we go back to God’s character as revealed in his Word. Over and over in scriptures he reveals himself as our loving compassionate heavenly Father. He has no evil thoughts toward us, only good thoughts. Every word in the Bible is there for us to believe and cling to even when we don’t understand some particular circumstance.
The second thing we do is to acknowledge the mystery built into life by God himself. I have a favorite passage that has personally helped me enormously with this. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
There it is. He has told us a lot but he deliberately keeps some things secret. I imagine that when we are “glorified with Him” we will know some more of those secret things. For sure we will understand the ultimate purpose of our suffering and from the perspective of eternity we will be thankful for his marvelous plan. Until then, TRUST!