WHY MUST I SUFFER?
FREDERICK A. TATFORD
The flash of an automobile, a piercing scream, the screech of brakes and the light of a home is extinguished.
Never again will that childish prattle and joyous laughter echo through the home.
Again, we stand beside the hospital bed of a young man whom God has used for His glory. A worth-while life was before him, but a slippery road and a careless driver have put a temporary end to activity. Why?
Surely it is not the divine will that sorrow should shadow every path, yet the experience of suffering runs right through nature. A beneficent Creator could disperse the clouds if He wished and brighten His creatures’ path. Is He unmoved by their tears and woes? Or is He perhaps restricted by the inexorable operation of laws He introduced and cannot revoke? If not, why does He permit sorrow and suffering for His people ?
The primary cause of human suffering is, of course, to be found in Adam's fall, for sin brought not only physical death (Rom. 5 :12), but every ill to which the flesh is heir. Had sin never entered the world, tribulation and trouble would never have been the experience of humanity. But the sin of our ancestor opened the floodgates of trial and sorrow for all his descendants.
Inherited sinfulness, however, is not the sole explanation. Suffering may also be the direct result of personal wrongdoing. Sin must be punished and, at times, God judicially inflicts sickness, disease and even death upon individuals as penalties for their sin (e.g.,1 Sam. 25 :39; 26: 10; 2 Kings 15 : 5; 2 Chron. 13: 20; Acts 12: 23). Though sin may be repented and God’s forgiveness given, punishment is not necessarily cancelled. Despite David’s contrition, the child of his adulterous union was taken from him (2 Sam. 12: 14-23).
There is a natural and inexorable law that what a man sows he will reap (Gal. 6 : 7). The sins of youth often bring forth their harvest in later years, and many an individual suffers physically and mentally from the results of early folly. Effects may sometimes be divinely counteracted, but early excesses normally take their toll in later life.
For the child of God, the subject is intensely personal. An earthly parent would be failing in his duty if he did not chastise an erring child* If the divine Father did not similarly punish His sinning children, He would be falling short in His parental responsibility. Such punishment is sometimes inflicted by the removal of some material benefit, but perhaps almost as frequently by physical trouble. “On this account,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “many among you are weak and infirm, and a good many are fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 11 : 30).
But suffering and adversity are not always the result of personal wrongdoing. “Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind” asked the disciples, but our Lord explained that sin was not the cause of the blind man’s infirmity (John 9 : 2, 3). In the case of Lazarus, He specifically stated that His friend’s sickness was that “the Son of God might be glorified” (John 11 : 4). Sin is by no means the only reason all suffer.
Trials to Teach
Trials are sometimes inflicted by God in order to teach His people their complete dependence upon Him. When days of prosperity are enjoyed, the consciousness of need of Him diminishes; but when adversity comes, the believer turns back to the Father for help.
Affliction is also employed by God for the testing of faith (1 Pet. 1 : 6, 7). In the hour of trial, the Christian’s faith rises above circumstances to the throne above. Consider Job, for example. When he had been stripped of everything, his faith in God remained steadfast: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away” (Job 1 : 21). Trust in Him is deepened as His hand is seen.
Such testing impresses the likeness of Christ more clearly upon the individual. God refines His people in the furnace of affliction (Zech. 13 : 9). In the heated crucible, the impurities in the gold rise to the surface and are carefully removed by the refiner until eventually he can see his face in the molten metal.
From the spices in the high priest’s golden censer, a sweet perfume used to arise to Jehovah; but crushing and burning the spices was necessary to make that lovely incense. In order that a fragrance may rise from our lives, the trials and the fires of affliction are divinely allowed.
Sufferings are sometimes sent for the benefit and inspiration of others, being imposed for the instruction of those around us or for the demonstration of divine laws and principles. The endurance of the great saints under the severest trials is itself an example to all who observe them.
Finally, the Christian should never forget that he is opposed in this world. By reason of his very association with Christ, he must anticipate trouble and trial. The world is naturally at enmity with him: those who hated his Master will hate him (John 15 : 8-20): and Paul declared that all who endeavor to “live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3 : 12). Notwithstanding, the true disciple regards it as his joy to suffer for Christ whether from persecution from the world or from the devil and those who are surrendered to him.
In all this, however, let us not forget that the shadows of life have their purpose and the dark hours of sorrow bear their own rich fruits. Especially is the one who has passed through trouble equipped by his own experience to sympathize with others who pass that way.
Let us take comfort in the fact that no trial is ever too great to bear. The One who permits it will provide the strength required in the time of testing (Heb. 4: 16). Moreover, in every hour of trial, there is the consciousness, not only of His sufficiency and sympathy, but also of His companionship and sharing of the trouble. “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isa. 63 : 9).
Our Lord Himself is the great Example in this matter. He was the “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53 : 3).
Rich may be the result of suffering where its lesson has been learned. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous,” says the inspired writer; “nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12 : 11). Trials will surely come to you, but if you are a child of God, they will bring eternal blessings.