How to Make Sense Out of Suffering—Part 1
Are You Dealing with Life’s Hardest Questions?
Are you experiencing sorrow, suffering, pain, disappointment? Fear, frustration, confusion? If not, just wait a while. You can’t escape. We live in an age filled with these. Man longs for a better day and it gets worse. His golden dream turns to rust. The new millennium has turned to pandemonium. If you don’t get things in perspective in this upside-down world, you may move into doubt or rebellion.
When tragedy hits, when things don’t work out the way you think they should, when that person who is dearest on earth to you is being consumed by disease, you may lift a clenched fist in the face of God and accuse Him of unfairness or lack of love.
Or you may be filled with doubt and say, “Where is God? If He cares, doesn’t He have any power to do anything about it? Or could it be that He has the power and He really doesn’t care? Or could it be that there is no God at all?”
You—or a friend—may be facing these questions. How are you going to deal with this? What does the Bible have to say about it all?
By divine inspiration the apostle Paul has dealt with it to help us.
First, Paul did some divine calculation. The majority of our study will be in Romans 8.
1. Turn to Romans 8:18. What is that missing word (as the King James version translates it)?
For I _____________ that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared…
We learn by reading other translations that in this word “reckon” in today’s language means “consider, believe, deem, be sure, know.” Literally, to add things up like a bookkeeper adds columns of figures and comes to a conclusion.
Paul is comparing two things:
1. the _________________________________________________________(v. 18)
2. the _____________________________________________________(also v. 18)
When Paul adds everything up, he comes to this conclusion:
“I’m not in the red. I’m in the black.”
2. Verse 20-21:
20 For the creature, [the creation, everything God made], was made subject to vanity [senselessness, futility, that which does not seem to add up], not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21 Because the creature [creation—all that God created] itself shall be delivered from the ________________ of corruption into the glorious __________________ of the _______________ of God.
We’re going to need help deciphering this passage! The Amplified Bible reads:
20 For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty (to futility, condemned to frustration), not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him Who so subjected it—[yet] with the hope
21 That nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.
Here is how Phillips provides clarity:
The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!
Now it’s becoming clearer. God, who made it all, where it seems to be filled with confusion, yet is giving us hope, because “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.”
3. Looking ahead to v. 24, what are we saved by?
For we are saved by _________: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
In your Bible, circle these 3 words in these passages: Bondage. Liberty. Hope. Keep them in mind as we seek to understand about suffering and make sense out of it. You’ll find there is a God, and this God is a good God.
The “bondage” Paul is talking about in v. 21 deals with yesterday’s curse, the curse that began with Adam’s fall. Looking around us, we see something desperately wrong in our world. Paul is saying that everything God made, His entire creation, became subject to senselessness and futility.
A CLOSER LOOK AT “THE BONDAGE OF CORRUPTION
How did “the bondage of corruption” come about? What causes all this confusion, disease, war, strife and suffering? Because of a curse on mankind. It’s here because of sin. You can’t give it any other word than that one three-letter word, sin. God made a perfect world, but sin entered into that world. When Adam sinned, he dragged all of creation down with him.
Why does today’s newspaper reads like it does? Something happened to creation. A curse came upon everything, animal, vegetable and mineral.
4. Leave Romans for a moment and turn back to Genesis 3:14:
a. There is a curse on the animal kingdom.
“And the Lord God said unto the serpent, ‘Because thou hast done this, thou art ____________, ___________ _______ ____________.’”
Not only was the serpent cursed, but the cattle, the animal kingdom, is cursed. What some call “survival of the fittest” is really just creation groaning under the curse. When God put the animals in the Garden of Eden, it was not with the law of tooth and claw. That’s the result of the curse of sin.
b. There is a curse on the mineral kingdom—the earth itself.
Go a few verses down to v. 17:
And unto Adam He said, “Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying, ‘Thou shalt not eat of it:’ cursed is the ____________ for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.”
At Creation, earth flourished as a garden. With the fall of Adam, we see the ecological problems, the drought, the desert, the waste places, the barren land.
c. There is a curse on the vegetable kingdom—plants and vegetation. See v. 18.
“_______________ also and ______________ shall it bring forth unto thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.”
All the world was intended to be like the Garden of Eden, but it has become a garden of weeds. Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to grow weeds than vegetables?
5. There is a curse upon the human kingdom, mankind. Man was meant to have dominion upon this earth.
a. See verse 26:
“And God said, ‘Let us make man in _____ image, after _____ likeness: and let them have __________________ ______ the fish of the sea, and _______ the fowl of the air, and _______ the cattle, and over all the earth, and ______ every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’”
But man doesn’t have dominion today because of sin. Man is morally depraved. His mind, like the earth, has become a garden of weeds. His imagination is evil. In Genesis 6:5, just before the Flood, God said, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Look at the newsstands. Man is emotionally disturbed morally depraved, physically diseased.
b. Why do our bodies wear out? Turn back to Romans chapter 5, verse 12:
Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world, and __________ by sin.
We are all dying; we all have a terminal disease. We all have a terminal disease, death caused by sin, and none of us is immune.
6. Back now to where we began our study, in Romans 8, picking up with v. 23.
And not only they, [the creatures], but _________________ also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, ______ _____ _________________ groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body.
My spirit is saved, but my body is not yet saved. It is not yet redeemed. Neither is yours. We’re waiting for that. I have the firstfruit of the Spirit in my heart. When I received Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit came into me. And so do you, if you have received Jesus Christ. But I live in a body that groans, and so do you.
To reiterate: There is a curse on the animal kingdom, the vegetable kingdom, the mineral kingdom, and the human kingdom. The Bible calls this curse “the bondage of corruption,” yesterday’s curse that happened in the Garden of Eden. We are reaping the bitter fruit of it today.
CONSIDERING LIFE’S MOST PROFOUND QUESTIONS
“Well then,” people say, “If God is a good God, why doesn’t He do something about this? “Before God, there was nothing. Now there’s evil, pain, and woe. All things have come from God. God made everything, right? Sin is something. Then it must’ve come from God. God is the author of everything, and suffering is something, so God is the author of suffering. Sin has come from God. How could a good God allow such things?”
You see how our minds work? When we say that, we get ourselves into a problem. But let’s be honest. Isn’t that a hard question? We need to think deeply about this. Why did God allow it? If God is a good God, why did God allow Adam to sin? Why did God create even the potential, the possibility, of sin? This is what the apostle Paul is dealing with here, so that we can make sense out of suffering.
God is the author of everything. God did make everything, and when God made everything, God made it absolutely perfect. He made a perfect man, a perfect woman, put them in a perfect environment, and the perfect God gave to man and woman perfect freedom.
Why did He make man perfectly free?
Because love is the highest good. God is a God of love. What good is love if there’s nobody to love, no love to give, and no love to receive? God created two creatures, Adam and Eve, that He could love and they could love Him. God make them free because forced love is not love. Forced love is a contradiction in terms. God has to give us freedom so that we can love. In order to choose good, we have to have the freedom to choose evil. If we don’t, the choice to choose good is not a choice at all.
Perfect man in a perfect environment, given perfect freedom and the ability to choose, chose sin. Adam and Eve chose to follow their desires and disobey God. When they did, all of creation fell into what the Bible calls “the bondage of corruption.” When Adam sinned, he took creation down with him. The entire creation has now the curse of sin on it.
But why doesn’t God do something now? Why doesn’t He step in, kill the devil, and destroy evil? After all, if He’s God, He could.”
Think carefully. God could not destroy evil without destroying freedom. For God to destroy evil would be evil, because God would be destroying the capability for the highest good: for His creatures to choose to love Him and serve Him.
If we’re not free to choose good, then we’re not free. And if God destroyed freedom, God would destroy love. If God destroyed love, God would destroy the highest good. Therefore, there must be the ability to choose evil.
Well then, what is God going to do about evil and suffering?
God is not going to destroy it. God is going to defeat it. You see, there were two gardens: the Garden of Eden and the first Adam, then the Garden of Gethsemane and the second Adam. The the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, took sin upon Himself and carried sin to a cross, and on that cross died for it. Therefore ultimately God, through Christ and amazing grace, will triumph over it all. I’m reminded of the words from two hymns:
“Amazing love, and can it be,
That thou my God shouldst die for me?”
“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought:
My sin, not in part but the whole
Has been nailed to the Cross, and I bear it ho more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
God does not destroy evil, God defeats evil.
7. Look again at verses 21 through 23: What are we waiting for?
There is a better day coming. All creation is moaning and groaning, sighing, pressed down with grief and distress. To try to save this old world with ecology and politics would be like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But when Jesus comes, He is going to change it. Creation is waiting with outstretched arms. It is called: “The earnestexpectation of the creation.” When Jesus comes, every curse upon the animal, vegetable, mineral and human kingdoms will be broken.
|A CLOSER LOOK AT EARNEST EXPECTATION
In C. S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (part of The Chronicles of Narnia series), there comes a time when the long curse over Narnia is broken. The scene is bleak. Everything is frozen in winter, the land covered with blankets of ice and snow. Creatures were frozen in place, hard as statues. In fact, coming upon them, Edmund at first thinks they are statues. Narnia was under a curse.
Then Aslan, the lion who represents Christ, lays down His life for Edmund, a rebellious son of Adam. Aslan then rises to life. He breathes upon the creation…and the creatures begin to break free. The curse begins to melt—not just off the people and animals, but everything—trees, brooks, flowers. Narnia comes to life again. Narnia comes into springtime. This is a beautiful picture of what it will be like for all creation when Christ returns and the curse of sin and its hold over every kingdom is broken—“the earnest expectation of creation.”
9. The animal kingdom will be set free from the curse.
a. Turn to Isaiah 11:6-7
6 The ______ also shall dwell with the lamb, and the ______________ shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a ___________ _________ shall lead them.
7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
b. See Isaiah 11:8-9
8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den.
More clearly, even snakes will not hurt people. Babies will be able to play near a cobra’s hole and put their hands into the nest of a poisonous snake.
c. 9 They [poisonous snakes] shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as waters that cover the sea.
What do you see being restored here?
10. The mineral kingdom will be changed.
a. Turn to Isaiah 55:12a
For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the ______________ and the ___________ shall break forth before you into singing…
b. Isaiah 35 verse 1:
The _______________ and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the ____________ shall rejoice, and blossom as a rose.
11. The vegetable kingdom will be changed.
Back at Isaiah 55:12b-13, continuing:
…and all the _________ of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the _________ shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the __________ shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, and for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Remember Genesis 3:18? “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth….” Now, that curse is broken.
12. The human kingdom is going to be changed. Our bodies will be redeemed. Dr. Vance Havner said, “You’re not going be towed into Heaven by a wrecking crew. You are going to have a body like unto His glorious body.”
a. This is why Romans 8:18 says:
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the ______ which shall be revealed in us.”
b. This is why the psalmist could say (turn to Psalm 17:15)
“I shall be satisfied when I awaken ____ ______ _______________.”
When we die—or if Jesus returns first—we’re going to be like Him. And our great God who has redeemed us is going to turn every hurt to a hallelujah, every tear to a pearl, every Calvary to an Easter, and every sunset to a sunrise when Jesus comes. This is why we must be praying, longing for, looking for, Romans 8:19, “waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.”
The groans we endure are temporary; the glory we expect is eternal. That’s why Paul can say “I’ve been figuring that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
You are predestined for glory.
13. Now look at verse 28. We have arrived at one of the most treasured, richest verses in all the Bible. Complete this verse by writing it out:
“And we know,” K-N-O-W, “that all things _____________________________
________________________________________________, who are the _______
_____________________________________________________ His purpose.”
a. Who is Paul describing here?
b. Continue, v. 29:
For whom He did know [that’s us, all believers] , He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His son, that He [God’s Son,] might be the firstborn among many _____________________.”
You see, God had a Son that He loved so much, He said, “I’m going to make a lot more like Him. A lot. I’m going to make a family in His image. I’m going to take those people, and I have determined it, I have predestined it, that they’re going to be like Jesus.”
Every blood-bought child of God will one day be like Jesus. I’m going to be like Jesus. You’re going to be like Jesus. All Hell can’t stop it, because it is predestined. The pain, the anguish, the sorrow, the disease, the heartbreak you’re experiencing right now—all that will be gone, and you’re going to be like Jesus.
c. In verses 28 and 29, is Paul speaking of these things in the present tense or the past tense?
14. Now look at verse 30:
Whom He did predestinate, them He also called, and whom He called, them He also justified, and whom He justified, them He also glorified.”
a. Past tense? Present tense? Or future tense?
You say, “Now wait a minute. I thought you said the glory that will be revealed.”
Yes, but God says, “It’s as good as done. In My mind, in My heart, I don’t speak of it as something going to happen. It already has. It is done. It is finished.” God has predestined it. And what has been decreed in Heaven cannot be annulled by Hell. It is done.
You are preserved for glory.
15. Continue to verses 31 and following:
“What shall we say to these things? [groaning, pain, suffering] I’ll tell you what we’ll say to them: “If _______ be for us, who can be ______________ us? He that spared _____ His own _____, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not ________ _______ also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also,” along with the Spirit, “maketh intercession for us.”
We are predestined for glory. We are preserved for glory. No fault can condemn us, no foe can destroy us.
a. Think about the sufferings in v. 35. Paul doesn’t deny them; he faced them all:
And who shall _________________ us from the love of Christ? Shall ____________________, or __________________, or ________________, or ____________, or _____________________, or _____________, or ______________?
Have any of us faced anything worse than these? Some of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East have. They have faced all of these.
b. As it is written, For Thy sake we are ______________ all the day long: we are accounted as ______________ for the ___________________.
We are considered by our enemies nothing better than animals lined up for the slaughterhouse.But Paul doesn’t stop there. 37“Nay, in all of these things, we are _________ than conquerors.”
c. Does this indicate we are guaranteed to escape from them?
“More than conquerors” doesn’t mean that we kick a field goal the last three seconds. It literally means we are super-conquerors.
16. 37 In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am __________________ that neither _________, nor _______, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor ____ ______ ______________, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul left nothing off the list—nothing can separate us from the love of God. Even in our pain, our questions, and our disappointment.
God doesn’t say you will not suffer. He says you are predestined for glory, you are preserved for glory, and the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Hope—that is today’s comfort. We know that we know that nothing can separate us from His great love. Hallelujah.
This is a subject too extensive to cover in one study.
Next time, we are going to examine carefully how we are going to endure.
What are our choices?
What can we do?
What does God expect of us?
What does He hope to see in us?
If this subject has touched you, be sure to check back in for “the rest of the story.” There is more to come, more help on the way!