Why is there Suffering?

This is a sermon I gave at a cell cluster meeting. It is a very personal story and written as someone in it rather than looking in. It is as much aimed at me as anyone who reads it. It is a heart laid bare and vulnerable. Yes it is quite dark and probably depressing but hey, it’s real life. Enjoy is probably the wrong word!!


Good evening everyone. Before I start please open Romans 8.

Tonight the title of my talk is Suffering, Sovereignty and Security in Christ. In order to give you an understanding of why I chose to talk on this difficult topic I would like to share some events that happened in my life that are relevant to my journey with suffering.
To balance what I am about to share there have been wonderfully joyful and blessed times as well. It isn’t all doom and gloom.
  • My dad left when I was 12 years old to live with another woman.
  • At secondary school I suffered 3 years of persistent emotional bullying up to and including my O level year.
  • At age 16 I developed severe acne which meant I had open weeping sores on my face and back for over a year.
  • By the time I was 17 I was depressed, face down and alone with the feeling no one, apart from one or two very good friends, cared.
  • Two weeks before my 18th Birthday God sovereignly stepped into my life and saved me.(Click here for that Story).
  • (Edit from Original) The intervening 21 years filled with various trials and personal struggles. Some too recent and personal to share on a public forum such as this.
I say none of this for sympathy or to claim I have a monopoly on suffering. I don’t! There are people who have gone through far deeper suffering than I have and I am sure some of you are in this room tonight. I tell you this simply to say I have grappled with the question of why suffering exists and what is its purpose?

This is such a huge topic and I cannot hope to tackle the subject in any depth and I don’t have all the answers. What I offer is where I stand today in my walk with God and the questions I have wrestled with in the past few weeks.
The heart of the issue is this:
Do I believe that God is good and just and that I can trust him with my heart in the face of what life throws at me or am I better off on my own protecting myself?
It’s a question everyone asks at some point. It is at the heart of the fall and at the heart of the very core of sin.... Pride!!
But let’s step back and take a few minutes to look at why there is suffering in this world. I then want to look briefly at the Sovereignty of God in suffering and finally to approach that question and look at how we can be Secure in our hope in Christ during times of trial. All in 25 minutes, or maybe 3 hours!

Why is there Suffering in this World?

When faced with a world filled with the horror of both Natural and Moral evil, we need a firm foundation on which to stand or when suffering hits us, which it will, we will choose that latter option in the question and decide God can’t be trusted.
Turn on the news to hear stories of Natural disasters and the death and suffering that ensues, like the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti recently. Then there is the Staggering evil that humans are capable of doing to one another and on and on it goes. Is it any wonder that you so often hear the cry ‘If God is good, why is there all this suffering in the world?’ You may have asked that?
So let’s bring some biblical context to the existence of suffering.
Romans 8:18-25 gives us an idea of why suffering exists.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.
There are a few things to point out here:
· The whole of Creation, not just man, is in bondage to corruption and is subjected to futility and this covers the majority of History.
· There was a point when it wasn’t like it. In Genesis 1-2 creation was called Very Good by God. No death, suffering etc... So something happened to change Very Good to death, decay, disease, global disasters and suffering etc...
· v20 says that creation was subjected to futility by someone, it didn’t just happen by itself. It was good then it wasn’t. Who did that? God did it, God subjected. God is the ‘him’ of verse 20.
You see, Adam and Eve had committed an act of Cosmic Treason against God and as Sovereign Judge and creator He had to pass sentence.

The sentence passed could seem like a staggering overreaction and totally unfair.
But if you take an infinitely Holy, Glorious and Just God in one hand and the Sin of Adam and Eve let alone the entire world in the other, the scales of justice balance towards Him. God was right and appropriate in His sentence.

We are called to Love God 100%, with all our heart (Matthew 22:37). First Commandment! I’ve failed in that every minute of this day let alone my whole life, a sin no less grievous than eating the apple which brought down the entire universe. Every one of us stands in rebellion to God. No one is innocent and it is only by Gods Grace that there is any good in the world.

Romans 6:23 states the punishment for sin is death. Everyone will die! With the when and how decided by God!

All Suffering, not just ours is designed to point us to the Horror, outrage and seriousness of moral evil before an infinitely Holy God. We should be broken in repentance when we see suffering and staggered by Gods unmerited Grace.

In Luke 13 Jesus is asked, if the people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them were more sinful than others. He indicated that WE should have been under that tower. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
All suffering in the world has its ultimate root as a direct result of Sin.
That gives a brief overview of the Global Picture of Suffering from a Biblical perspective. It gives us a framework within which to shape our view suffering. Now I want to zoom in on God’s Sovereignty in and over our suffering.

Gods Sovereignty in and over Suffering

So what do I mean by God’s Sovereignty. There are various views on this in the Christian church. Ranging from a liberal fairly powerless ‘Sovereignty’ to Sovereign authority deferring to mans absolute Free Will. My working definition is this:
· God is absolute Sovereign over the entire Universe and nothing, Nothing happens in the Universe without God’s ultimate permission.
Each view, whichever you have, creates a whole host of theological questions if you follow their respective logic. I’ll briefly detail two biblical examples to lend some support to my view.
Take the story of Job! He was a man of great wealth, with 7 sons, 3 daughters, many servants and livestock. In one day Job lost all his children and property in 2 natural and 2 man made disasters.

Two reactions from Job point to God’s sovereignty. Job 1:20-22 reads:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
And Job 2:10: Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job held to God’s absolute providential will as primary cause and worshiped God.
Job never finds out why these things happened, but we do. Satan approached God and twice asked for permission to challenge Job’s Godly obedience. God first gives Satan permission to take Job’s wealth and family and then to take Job’s health, but not his life. It is hard teaching but we’ll see some of God’s providential purposes in it later.
I have three points to make about Gods sovereignty over suffering:
1. God is Sovereign over all things including Life & death, Natural and moral evil and over Satan. Things would be far worse without God graciously limiting Satan’s ferocious appetite for evil.
2. Satan clearly has a hand in all manner of suffering but is a secondary cause. He is the one that actually carries out and is therefore accountable for many evil acts and intends them for our harm, but God has a primary purpose in all things and uses what Satan means for evil for our Good and His Glory.

Another example is Joseph’s story! In Genesis 50:20 he says to his brothers “what you meant for harm God meant for good”

Here it can be said that Joseph’s brothers carried out an evil act and are entirely to be held accountable for it, yet at the same time, God had a plan in it to bring about a greater good through it.

God cannot be held responsible for Evil but does use and permit evil acts for his redeeming purposes and ultimately for His Glory! See James 1:13-14

Scripture clearly teaches that on the one hand God causes all things to happen but he does so in a way that somehow preserves our ability to make real choices that have real results and that we are fully accountable for. How God does this is not clear in scripture but the overwhelming evidence in scripture is that both are somehow true.
The ultimate demonstration of this sovereignty is the death and resurrection of Christ. Planned from the beginning of time. Not as plan B in response to the Fall but the centrepiece to the demonstration of Gods Glory, Justice, Love, Grace and Mercy and absolute ruling authority over all of history.
3. This brings me to my final point about Sovereignty. If we are not careful we could end up viewing God in His sovereignty one the one hand as being like an uncaring capricious father who does what he wants for no rhyme or reason or on the other as mere robotic Fatalism? But they both totally miss the meaning of Gods Sovereignty.
Spurgeon commented:
What is fate? Fate is this – whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, whatever God ordains must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that.... There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with a good eye and a blind man.
God works all things according to the counsel of his will! Ephesians 1:11
We can take great comfort in Gods sovereign purposes even when we cannot see the whole picture.

Eternal Security and our Sanctification in Christ

So Suffering is in the world on account of Sin and all things are governed by Gods Sovereign Providence, including our suffering.
So what do we do with all of this? How does it help when the storm strikes?
The logical conclusion of my expressed view is that it was God’s will that my Dad left home, that I was bullied and had acne; and God has some great purpose in it. On the one hand those things are abhorrent to God from his revealed word yet at the same time in God’s providence He willed they should happen. As much as that is a hugely difficult concept to grasp I believe it absolutely biblical.
How you deal with suffering entirely depends on your view of God. To go back to my original question:
Do I believe that God is good and just and that I can trust him with my heart in the face of what life throws at me or am I better off on my own protecting myself?
I have five observations I would like to make about coping with the storms of life, in order to help answer that question?
1. It is ok to feel pain. If we take Job 1:20, which we often overlook for verses 21 and 22:
20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 “Naked I came etc...”

There is deep pain in that verse; he mourned his loss to the core. His 10 children were dead, what deeper pain can there be than that for a dad? For seven days he sat silent as did his friends with him. The only thing they got right. Yet in his pain he acknowledged and found security in Gods sovereignty and gave God glory. Not singing a happy clappy praise song or quoting “greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world”.

Trusting God doesn’t anaesthetize pain. It is true we should never despair as we are not without hope but don’t ever pretend that God desires some stoic self resolve to carry on as normal. Pain is meant to disrupt and be felt.

Western Christianity seems to avoid the problem of pain. Some even claiming that it is never God’s will for us to feel pain or suffer if we are saved. They’ve clearly never read Paul. We’re uncomfortable around those who are in pain. Maybe it’s just me but we instinctively feel that we shouldn’t feel pain as joy filled evangelicals. We can feel we’re somehow failing God because we don’t feel better and aren’t full of joy. We’re allowed a week maybe, but then we feel we should be better and it’s back on with the mask of: “How are you?”, “I’m fine”! Afraid to reveal our weakness.

The song stained Glass Masquerade by Casting Crowns, sums that up perfectly:

With walls around our weakness, And smiles to hide our pain. The performance is convincing, And we know every line by heart, Only when no one is watching, Can we really fall apart. But would it set me free, If I dared to let you see, The truth behind the person That you imagine me to be? Would your arms be open? Or would you walk away? Would the love of Jesus Be enough to make you stay? ((c) Casting Crowns, Written by Mark Hall)

Please don’t go paddling up that river in Egypt! Denial is dangerous to the heart and body. Repressed Pain will work its way out in other ways. Addictions, compulsive disorders, cynicism, angry outbursts from nowhere, bitterness to others, or escapist pursuits designed to anaesthetise painful emotions. Ultimately long term denial of pain leads to a dead heart unable to feel Joy, happiness even Love. Repressing –ve emotions leads to ALL emotions being taken down and ultimately depression. Trust me!

But Read Psalm 88! It is a psalm that is so dark and desperate and uniquely has no happy ending. It is there to tell us it is ok to feel pain. To cry out to God when we don’t feel He is there.
There is a time to weep and mourn. You must work it through and let God bring Grace in it and eventually healing. If not now, fully in heaven.

We will groan inwardly in this life as Paul says in Romans 8:23, and outwardly because we are only sojourners in this world, it is not our home. This is only temporary. This leads me to the second point.

2. We do Have Glorious HOPE! Hope deferred makes the heart sick, Proverbs 13:12. God knows we need hope to survive. In Jesus’ resurrection we find our ultimate hope for new life. But that’s another sermon!

Going back to Romans 8:18-25, it is full of glorious hope:

V18 Jesus will return and we will see a beauty so Glorious and all satisfying, finally seeing Him as He really is.

V19 & 23 We will be transformed. These bodies of ours, with all their disease, sin, suffering will be changed into His likeness, fully redeemed. Glorified bodies, able to enjoy God and creation the way we were meant to. No more tears or suffering!

But not only our bodies the entirety of creation is transformed, like nothing we have ever imagined.

Suffering and death holds out no hope for a non Christian but for those who are in Christ it is no longer a curse. Death has lost its sting and is redeemed. It is a passageway to Glory. We have hope!

But if our heart is not set on Jesus and this future hope, we will set our hope in what we can see and control. In an endless list of idols like TV, sex, drugs, comfort, Church, family, house, job, spouse, holidays. See Jeremiah 2:13

Do we Settle for muddy cess pits now, or look to our future all satisfying eternal hope in Christ.
Future hope helps us see our suffering in the perspective of Gods eternal plans.

3. Three Observations about the purpose of Suffering for a Christian.

a. Firstly Suffering is never futile for a Christian.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

No amount of good theology is able to take the pain out of suffering. However it does give hope and enable us to suffer well and persevere.

We sometimes do not know the purpose for our suffering and we will wrestle with questions like: Why me? Why now? What’s the point? How does this help? But we must remember we don’t have the whole picture, as Job didn’t.

Asking why is not wrong but the truth is, we may never see what the purpose was this side of heaven.

Corrie ten Boom, who suffered much during World War II when she was imprisoned for helping Jews said:

‘the suffering of the world is like looking at the bottom of a tapestry. God is weaving it from the top down, and he sees the picture developing. We're looking at it from the bottom up, and we're seeing all of these tangled threads. It doesn't look like it's making any sense at all, but it's the same tapestry’.
b. Secondly Suffering is for our Sanctification

In the absolute darkest moments we cling to God because there isn’t anything else to cling to. We know nothing else brings us any true hope at all. Ultimately that is Gods good purpose. Suffering is permitted and used by God to graciously wean us off of dependence on ourselves and onto trusting fully in Him. Away from idolatry to true worship. It’s all about sanctification.

This was God’s purpose with Job. Satan’s goal was to show that Job would disown God if he didn’t have his wealth, family and health. That Job only loved God because of the blessings he had received and if he lost it all he would disown God. It was a challenge to God’s goodness and infinite worth.

This is always Satan’s goal in blessing or suffering. To challenge our need of God in plenty or our faith that God is good and trustworthy in suffering.

Either way, in suffering or blessing, to draw us away from holding God as the highest treasure in our lives and to take away our Joy in Him.

God’s purposes are the exact opposite. (James 5:11. Romans 5:3-4)

In losing his health and prosperity God demonstrated both that Job held God as all sufficient and also revealed the lurking pride in his heart.

When things go wrong God is not punishing you if you are a believer, it is not punitive. It may be discipline if you are suffering because of your own sin. But either way it’s the Grace of a loving father going to any length to restore his children to wholeness!

To reiterate, God’s purposes when times of suffering come are to graciously reveal sinful pride in our own hearts and draw us to dependence on Him.

But in order to understand what God would teach us we need to examine our heart and souls response to suffering. How does your heart respond to suffering? Ask yourself that question when things go wrong. It is a great gauge to how much you trust God with your heart.

1 Peter 1:6-7: In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

When faced with suffering we have a choice! Get angry with God, wave our fist and choose option two of my question; ‘If that’s the way you treat me I’m better off alone!’ or engage with your heart and realise that what God is doing in our suffering is to refine and purify us. To remove the dross in the furnace of suffering like a surgeon targeting and cutting out the disease; yes it hurts, but the result is greater wholeness and ability to draw near to God.

Let us not be afraid of searching our hearts, scared that we are becoming too self preoccupied. There is a big difference between looking inward, being brutally honest and wrestling with God about how you feel than to navel gazing for self pity’s sake. One is self centred the other is for the sake of learning what God would teach you about Him and about yourself in the midst of suffering. It requires humility and results in repentance.

Don’t waste the opportunity trials bring for you to learn and be further transformed into the likeness of Christ.
c. Thirdly Suffering for the purpose of Helping others and to Glorify God

2 Corinthians 1:4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

The final thing I want to say about the purpose of suffering is that when we are suffering and if/when we are through it we are enabled to help others and Glorify God in the process. I can testify to God using my story to enable me to come alongside those with similar history.

James Tiberius Kirk once said ‘How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life’. (Yes that is a Star Trek reference)

How we approach suffering and ultimately death says much about who it is we place our hope and trust in. When the world sees us honestly wrestling with suffering of any sort and not losing hope that is one of the greatest pointers to our Saviour we can make.

4. We must never take Grace for Granted or put God on Trial.

When things go wrong, I think it fair to say, we tend to presume upon His Grace instead of being amazed by it and we forget he is Just in everything He does.

We put God in the dock when things go wrong; we put Him on Trial as Job did! I look back over my Christian life and can see several times when I have set myself as Judge over what God has allowed to happen, even small things. “What are you doing God? That’s not the way to deal with that person. That will just turn them away from you, if you just did this and that”.

Or we wave a fist shouting “That’s not fare!” demanding that God give an account of himself to explain his treatment of us. Stamping our feet like spoilt children. Can you hear the arrogance in that? This highlights the core of what God wants to reveal and remove in our Sanctification, Pride!

We are not the centre of the universe. God is not a Genie to be called upon to make us comfortable.

Romans 11:33-34 says: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

Go back to what I said about the correlation with Suffering and Sin. When we see or experience suffering we must remember the outrageousness of sin not the injustice of God.

Eternity in hell is fair. Death is fair. Jesus nailed to a cross..... that’s undeserved Grace.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!
5. God is not indifferent to our suffering. We are fully Secure in Him!

1 Peter 4:19 - Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Hebrews 4:15-16 - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus went through more suffering than we can ever imagine. Take the enormity and outrage of the Sin committed against God that I have tried to communicate and remember that on the cross Jesus took the punishment that was deservedly ours upon Himself.

Multiply the sin of Adam and Eve by the thousands that we have committed then by the whole number of the human race and know, that Jesus’ suffering and death matched every one of those universe crushing sins, demonstrating His infinite love and worth in the process.

Though God may seem so silent and so distant in our darkest times He is 100% for us. The Cross shouts that to us.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? ...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword...

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord
. Romans 8:31-39


Hopefully I haven’t depressed you all. I pray that you hear God’s heart for you. We all have seasons of plenty and blessing as well as seasons of sorrow, sometimes all mixed up. How we respond and let God shape and change our hearts in both seasons is of equal importance. It is all part of the journey of Sanctification we are all on. Your willingness to engage with that determines how much God is glorified and you are sanctified.
So Do I believe that God is good and just and that I can trust him with my heart in the face of what life throws at me?
In all honesty, Yes... and No. We have fickle hearts. Just a few years ago I would have reacted very differently, “It’s so unfair” would have been my cry! But because of how I now view God’s sovereignty and because last year in my search for understanding what Joy in God meant I was challenged by and took to heart Matthew 13:44

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

God is the ultimate Treasure in the universe and source of Joy! It is Him we must cling to when the storms come. If I reject God there is nothing else. There is no one who truly understands us, enters our suffering and who will never leave or forsake us.

Who will walk through the valley of the shadow of death and give us hope and a future, Jesus will. God is in absolute sovereign control of all things. We can trust Him with our hearts! We can trust in his perfect justice! We can trust in His glorious undeserved Grace and Mercy. He sent Jesus. He IS Good!

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2
Thank you for listening!