An Article from Pastor Paul Boutan
Someone once asked the late R.C. Sproul “why do bad things happen to good people?” His answer was classic. He said, “I haven’t met any good people yet, so I don’t know.” The truth of the matter is that we live in a sinful fallen world and as a result bad things happen to all people good, bad, or otherwise. I heard one guy say, “the only people who don’t have problems in this world are the ones buried six feet deep in the grave, and some of them have real problems.” In last week’s article I mentioned that often when you’re in the midst of suffering, someone with the best of intentions will say, “the Bible says, ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle.’” However, we discovered that the verse they’re referring to (1Corinthians 10:13), wasn’t talking about God giving you more suffering than you can handle. Rather, God was promising that He will not allow you to face more temptation than you can handle, and for every temptation, He has provided a way out.
However, just because 1Cor 10:13 does not apply to “suffering” that does not mean the Bible has nothing to say about it. So, in this article we will discuss, “Suffering, Pain and the Word of God.” There are three Biblical principles regarding trials, hardships, and distress I want to share with you. Those principles are:
1) Nothing touches your life, that has not first passed through your Heavenly Father’s hand.
2) What the enemy or the world intended for evil God can use for good.
3) When God has healed our pain, He can use us to heal others.
Nothing touches your life, that has not first passed through your Heavenly Father’s hand.
As believers in the Lord, we can trust that if some tragedy strikes, for whatever reason God in His sovereignty has allowed it. We may not know why this has happened. In fact, we may never find out the reason. But our pain and sufferings are not a surprise to Him, and He has a purpose for allowing it. Perhaps, it’s to build character (Romans 5:3-5). You can trust that long before it ever touched you, it passed through Him. We see this for example in Job chapter 2. The Bible says that Job (pronounced Jobe) was the most righteous and spiritual man of his day. In fact, behind the scenes God was having a conversation with Satan regarding the different people he was testing. God, then hand picks Job as a model of how faithful some people can be. The devil then protests saying, “the only reason Job is faithful to you at all is because you’ve blessed with so much! You’ve blessed him with a loving family, tremendous wealth, success and great health.” Then Satan, takes things to the next level and is like, “I bet you dollars to donuts” (I’m paraphrasing by the way), “that if you allow me to take all those things away, Job will deny you just like any other man would.” God, who knew Job, better than Job knew Job, took the bet. The next thing you know, all hell breaks out in Job’s life. He is hit by one trial after another. Thieves, wildfires, a huge windstorm decimate his family ranch and wipes out all his possessions. Worse than losing all his wealth, all ten of his children die. Only he and his wife remain, but she’s not exactly supportive during this time. After he contracts a mysterious, painful disease that causes him to break out with boils, his wife not so lovingly says, “Job, why don’t you just curse God and die!”
In the end Job proved to be faithful and did not deny God in his hardships. The story of Job’s life reminds us that ultimately, God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we can and cannot handle. The devil was able to test Job, but only with God’s permission. Therefore, whatever we face in this life, we know that it first had to pass through our Heavenly Father’s hand. If he’s allowing us to be tested, it’s because He already knows we will pass the test.
Like many of us, Job did not know the reasons for his suffering. Unlike us, Job did not have the opportunity to read the book of Job to discover how this would all work out. The Bible tells us that, “The LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before” (JOB 42:10 Amplified Bible). It also says, “the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (JOB 42:12). Job began as a godly man who was blessed by God. In the end after being tested by the Devil, Job was a man even more blessed and more godly. In the hand of God, the devil’s testing became a blessing. That brings up to our next principle.
What the enemy or the world meant for evil God can use for good.
“But as for you, you meant for evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” Genesis 50:20
Most of us know the backstory of this verse is a tale of sibling rivalry on steroids. Joseph, the son of Jacob had eleven brothers who despised him because he was their “daddy’s favorite.” They come up with a devious plan to get rid of him. They plotted his murder, but in the end, they settle for selling him into slavery. Afterward, they make up a story and tell their father that his favorite son died after being attacked by a wild lion. Over the next several years Joseph’s life’s story includes wrongfully being charged with the crime of rape and serving time in prison. By and by, through a turn of events you’ll have to read to believe (Gen 37-50), Joseph rises from the valley of imprisonment to the heights of ruling the kingdom of Egypt, second in command, second only to Pharaoh himself. He now gets the opportunity to look the same brothers who tried to ruin his life in the eye. They were fully expecting him to exact a pound of flesh as vengeance, only to hear Joseph say, “what you meant for evil, God used for good.”
When I first became a Christian as a teenager, I wrestled with this very subject. Early on in my walk, I remember asking how God could permit the things that took place in my childhood to happen in the first place? Questions like, “Why did He allow my dad to kill himself?” “Why did the teenage son of my babysitter molest me when I was a four-year-old boy?” likewise, “When I was four, why didn’t he stop the two teenagers who knifed me?” After 36 years of walking with Christ I have no more answers to those questions then I did when I first became a Christian.
However, what I do know is that God can take what was evil and make it good. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He makes everything beautiful in its time.” It does not say that “everything is beautiful.” Because everything is not always beautiful. If you lose a child that’s not beautiful, that’s tragic. If you suffer from a debilitating disease, that’s bad. Likewise, there was nothing good about Joseph’s brothers plotting his murder, then ultimately selling him into slavery. But God, in His sovereignty somehow takes the evil of this world, the horrific things that happen to us and makes them beautiful.
When God has healed our pain, He can use us to heal others.
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2Cor 1:4 NLT
In 1873 a Belgian priest by the name of Joseph Damien set out for a leper colony in Hawaii. He felt called to reach the outcasts who were shunned because of the dreaded disease once called “leprosy.” He built a chapel in the center of the colony and opened the doors inviting any and all, to come for church services. Week after week for the next 12 years no one came. After 12 long years of being rejected by the so-called outcasts who lived in this colony, Joseph Damien gave up. He packed his bags, went to the pier, and waited to board a ship that would take him back home. However, as he handed his ticket to the purser, Damien noticed a bright white spot on his hand. That spot could only mean one thing, LEPROSY! Instead of going home, he went back to the colony, but this time as a resident. The following Sunday, several hundred showed up for church at his chapel, because he was now one of them.
The story of Joseph Damien, illustrates that often the best person to comfort and minister to someone who’s suffering, is the one who walked in their shoes. Romans 8:28 states, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” The phrase “works together,” is the Greek term synergeō, we get the word synergy from it. It’s a term that portrays two things or two forces synergistically working together, cooperating with each other to achieve a common goal. In the case of Romans 8:28, the idea is that the evil thing that happened to you, and the amazing power of God synergistically work together and by God’s grace they are transformed into something good in your life.
Were it not for Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery, he would’ve never become Prime Minister of Egypt. He would have never been in a position to save thousands of people including his own brothers from severe famine. In the same way, I doubt I would be where I am today without the trauma of my childhood. Don’t get me wrong, I would not want to go back and relive those years. However, I wouldn’t change a single minute of my upbringing either. Those things that happened to me, shaped me, made me who I am and ultimately drove me to accept Jesus as my Savior. In His gracious hands the pain and suffering of the past have become the very things He uses in my life to comfort and reach others.
Let me leave you with this encouragement. Just as God did with Joseph in the Bible. Just as God did with Job. Just as God did with Joseph Damien in a Hawaiian Leper Colony. Just as God has done it in my life. He can do it for you. He can take the pain, suffering and the evil things that happened to you, and in His timing, He can transform them into something beautiful.
A great resource for anyone wanting to find God’s comfort in suffering is Where Is God When It Hurts? By Philip Yancey.