How can we believe God's promises when we see so much pain and suffering?

I believe Jesus is God's Son and I believe in the reason God sent Him. I believe that I am a sinner and have lived my life, and still do, in such a way that says to God I don't need Him. I also know where I'm headed if I don't do something about it. But one thing stumps me and I'm unable to get around it.

Throughout the Bible we're told we should trust God. And trust that He will provide.

Psalm 56:11; In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Psalm 91:2; I will say of the Lord , "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.".
Psalm 62:8; Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.
1 Chronicles 5:20; ... He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him.

Yet you only have to open the newspaper or switch on the news to hear of pain and suffering. People starving, being killed, homelessness, diseases etc. How has God provided for those people? I'm sure more than a few of them had placed their trust in God also.

I've been told that God only provides according to His will for us and that His will may not necessarily be what we have in mind for ourselves, but in that case wouldn't it be more accurate to say, "trust in Him and if He chooses, He'll provide?" Which isn't very tempting. I mean, what if it's in His will that I suffer a similar fate as those who died in the Holocaust, trusting Him.

I realize some things we can't know right now simply because we don't have the answers to everything. I'm not trying to understand God completely here, I'm just asking how Christians are able to get past this issue. The only way to get past it, that I can see, is to ignore it. But to me, that's no better than blind faith - surely.

Please understand, I'm not placing blame onto God for pain and suffering. I'm not saying He causes it. I understand what sin is and what it's capable of. However, He does allow it.

Take Matthew 6:25-34 for instance, all about having an eternal perspective right? Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and God will provide. The message (correct me if I'm wrong) is to not worry about earthly things but to trust God will provide them. Does life itself not contradict this particular passage? People who HAVE trusted God aren't always provided for. So this leaves one of two answers, either the passage is wrong (which then puts the accuracy of the whole Bible into question, no?) or God is selective. Neither of which, are very comforting.

So my question is, how do you explain it? I'd be interested to hear your take on it.

Thanks,

My response is in Green:

I think you have asked a great question and I will agree with you that on the surface there is a problem. I don't think there really is a problem, I think it is our perception that causes the problem. I will try to explain that. I also agree with you that if everything is done according to what God wants with no concern for us then that is not very comforting. I do think everything is done according to God's will, but I also believe that He has our best interest in mind and I think that our prayers do count for something, because His word tells us that they do.

That brings us back to the same seeming problem or contradiction. I am afraid my answer might be a bit disjointed because I have several things I want to cover and they may not flow together as well as I would like, so please bare with me.

Let me start by showing what I think is a problem with our perception. You quoted (Psalm 56:11 NIV) in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? So let's look at it. If I trust in God, what can man do to me? There is a long list of things of course; man can abuse me, take all my possessions, and even kill me. But let me ask the question again, what can man do to me? This time think not in terms of this life but in terms of me from this moment forward for eternity. I don't mean to make light of people's suffering in this life, but I want to give it perspective. In a child's life their first shot, or at least the first shot they are really aware of, is a very traumatic event. It it terrifying, it causes pain and suffering and fear of doctors, etc..., but when viewed at the age of 50 it is not even remembered. Now think of this life in relationship to eternity and you will see that the separation between the suffering in this life and eternity is much greater than the separation between a 4 year old's shot and a 50 year old's memories.

My point is this, man might be able to do lots of things to me including take my physical life. However, no man can take my spiritual life from me, nor can anyone take my promise of a resurrected body and eternal life. Look at this passage, which happens to be one of my hundred or so favorite passages: (Revelation 21:4 NIV) He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

At the moment that Jesus wipes all our tears away, the suffering and hardships we encountered in this life will mean nothing. Well, I might have actually stated that wrong and I will try to show you why I say that next. See suffering is part of being human and living in a fallen sinful world, but there is also more to it than that in a Christians life.

Look at this passage: (Hebrews 5:7-10 NIV) [7] During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. [8] Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered [9] and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him [10] and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Other translations actually say that Jesus was made perfect through His suffering. Now we know that Jesus was fully man and fully God. I say we know this, but it is a difficult concept for us to truly understand. What we do know is that God is perfect, so it had to be the human part of Jesus that was made perfect through suffering. We need to answer the question why. Why did the human side or part of Jesus need to learn obedience and be made perfect? I will be honest I am not sure I can answer that, but I would say it has to do with who we are as humans. I think we can at least get a few ideas from looking at Scripture.

Look at this: (Romans 5:1-5 NIV) [1] Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, [2] through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. [3] Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; [4] perseverance, character; and character, hope. [5] And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

This passage shows us that through suffering we learn to persevere and perseverance produces character and character hope. I won't tell you I like this particular passage, in fact it kind of bothers me, but you have to take God's word as a whole and not skip the parts you don't like or that make you uncomfortable.

Let me show you another passage: (2 Corinthians 1:8-11 NIV) [8] We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. [9] Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. [10] He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, [11] as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Here Paul explains that they suffered so much that they were at the point where they despaired even of life. That is pretty bad, but Paul goes on to tell us why this happened: "But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God..." Let me point out one other thing here. People will often say that God will never give us more than we can handle. I disagree and I think this passage proves that: "We were under pressure, far beyond our ability to endure..." Again I won't tell you that I am happy about that, but it says what it says. I think we can take from that statement that God will give us more than we can handle. It is important not to stop there however. It is important to see why. He gives us more than we can handle so that we won't try to rely on ourselves, but learn to trust and lean on Him. He will not leave us or forsake us, so we don't need to rely on ourselves.

Now let me try to try this back into our original discussion. If we had a friend named Paul who loved the Lord as much as the Apostle Paul did and who went through the things that the Apostle Paul went through, would we be tempted to say that God did not provide for our friend? I think the answer is a resounding yes. But since this is not our friend but instead the Apostle Paul, we know that God did indeed provide for him. My point is that we don't always see or understand what is happening, we only see one side and we form our opinions based on what we see.

Paul was in chains many times, he suffered many things in the Name of Christ, yet I believe that God did provide for him. In fact in one of his letters Paul goes so far as to say that if he could trade his eternal life for the lives of his fellow Jews he would gladly do so. I don't think that Paul felt unprovided for, he felt that what he had was so precious that he longed to provide it to his fellow Jews.

Peter was told by Jesus that he would be martyred. Peter acting very human then asked Jesus about John and Jesus told Peter basically that it was none of his concern. From that day on, Peter knew how he would die, yet we read things like this: (Acts 5:40-42 NIV) [40] His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
[41] The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. [42] Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

Even knowing that in the future he would be martyred Peter rejoiced that he had been counted worthy to suffer for Jesus Name. I will tell you that this passage makes me feel shameful and guilty, for my complaints of 'suffering' in this life. I long to have that kind of love for Christ and I ask Him often to help me obtain it.

Let me show you another passage that bothered me for a long time: (Mark 10:28-30 NIV) [28] Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"
[29] "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel [30] will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life."

Now this passage bothered me because I just could not see how it could be true. We have all known people or at least heard of people who have lost family and friends because they became Christians. It would not have bothered me if Jesus had said they would gain later, but He says "in this present age" not at some eternal rest stop later. I trusted Jesus and I trusted His word, so I figured I would just have to write this off as "I'll find out later what it meant." But then I was doing more study and came across something.

(Acts 2:38-40 NIV) [38] Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [39] The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call."
[40] With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."

That was the first part of the passage and now look at the second part: (Acts 2:42-47 NIV) [42] They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. [43] Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. [44] All the believers were together and had everything in common. [45] Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. [46] Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, [47] praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Here is my point. Peter gained about 3,000 brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers in one day. Then when you look at the second part you will see that he also gained homes, fields, etc... We as the body of Christ are to be just that, one body. I will admit that there are not many Acts 2 churches around these days, but there should be. What I mean by an Acts 2 church is a church which acts and functions like this one described for us in Acts chapter 2.

When God promises us hundred fold homes, fields, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers, He is not saying that we will have great riches such as BMW's or 5 million dollar mansions. He is saying that we will have a hundred fold return on what we lose because of His Name. The church should be like a big family, no one should be hungry, or homeless or in need of comfort or love. We are one and should act like it. What we have should be what each of our brothers and sisters has. I am not sure I am making my point clearly, but I found that what Jesus said was indeed true!! It was just not what I thought when I first read it.

Now this passage still bothers me a little bit, but now it is a different part of it. It is this part: "and with them, persecutions." Wow, that theme of persecutions and suffering for His Name keeps coming back.

You mentioned this passage: (Matthew 6:25-34 NIV) [25] "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? [26] Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? [27] Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
[28] "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. [29] Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. [30] If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' [32] For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. [33] But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. [34] Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

We need to be careful how we look at passages like this. Let me show you one verse out of what is commonly called the Lord's prayer, which is just a couple of verses above the passage we are looking at: (Matthew 6:11 NIV) Give us today our daily bread.

Notice Jesus taught them to pray for their daily needs, not weekly not yearly, just today. Now let me show you another of my favorite passages: (Proverbs 30:7-9 NIV) [7] "Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die:
[8] Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.
[9] Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

I love this passage because I see myself in it. I love the Lord, but if He were to give me too much, I know I would wander off. If He gives me too little I am weak and might dishonor His holy Name. If you are wondering what this has to do with Jesus' promise, I think it has everything to do with it. He is not promising us all that we want or all that we think we need, He is saying that we are never out of God's mind and we should not worry about whether He remembers us or cares for us or not. Yes life does show that there are problems, but again we have to keep these things in perspective. If we are in God's will doing His work and seeking His Kingdom first, then we need not worry about anything else. That does not mean that we might not suffer or go through hard times. As I have tried to show before there are other reasons for our suffering.

Let me show you another intriguing passage: (Isaiah 57:1-2 NIV) [1] The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. [2] Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.

I think this passage shows exactly what our problem is; we see things but can't comprehend all of what is happening. Notice this passage does not say that the righteous die peacefully in their sleep, it merely says they are taken away. It could be through an auto accident, cancer, or even murder. Now let me show you another one that is even more interesting: (Psalm 116:15 NIV) Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

Some people might be tempted to say that this proves God does not care about us, or that He is some kind of sadistic being who gets pleasure from our suffering. I on the other hand take great comfort from that verse. I believe God understands our struggle here in this life. He understands that we don't understand. He also knows what awaits us; things far beyond our ability to even imagine. He longs to comfort us and show us His love, without the influence of a fallen sinful world. He longs to free us from the corruption of our flesh and fallen nature. He longs for us to know Him on a level which is impossible in this life. When death comes to one of His saints He is able to do for them what He wants to do for all of us.

We cannot down play the fact that we live in a fallen world were there is evil all around us. Yes God is in control and can stop anything from happening to us at anytime, but He doesn't always do that. Let me give you just one example. The Christian church in China is thriving and growing despite all the efforts of the government to stop it. One old man was caught in a village and told to renounce Jesus Christ. He refused. They cut off his legs but he refused so they cut off his arms. As he lay there bleeding to death, he prayed out loud and asked God to use his death to reach others. He died, but hundreds of people who had watched his death were saved. They wanted what this man had. The human side of me recoils at that story, but my soul says, I too want what that man had! I would say that God looked after and provided for that man and I know he is in his Savior's arms now. The two sides of my feelings are hard to reconcile.

The Christian church in the US and Europe has been dying for a long time. The liberal wing of the church has pretty much taken over. If you look at the Barna reports you will see that many people who claim to be born again Christians believe that it is likely that Jesus sinned while on earth. (If He did, we are all lost in our sins with no hope.) That the Bible is full of errors. (If that is true, then we have no guide to know who God is or what He wants of us.) The list goes on and on. So why is the church in China thriving and the church in the US and Europe dying? What is the difference? The difference is persecution and suffering. The church in China has to lean on and trust God daily for their survival, but we in this country are fat and lazy and take everything for granted. We don't lean on God and often we don't even truly trust Him.

There is one final thing I want to address. There is much suffering and pain in this world and yes God could stop it any time He wanted to. That causes many people to wonder about God's nature. Is He truly all loving if He could stop the evil but doesn't? I think the answer is found in His other attributes. He is a just and fair judge, He is merciful and He is holy. So if He were to put an end to evil today, what would He do with all those who have practiced evil? In other words what about the sinners who have not come to know Jesus Christ? They are at least part of the origin of the evil in this world which He would have put an end to. His holy nature would not allow Him to over look sin, His just and merciful nature would not allow Him to just forgive and forget without payment for the transgressions. So if He ended sin and evil today, He would have to sentence all those who had not come to know Christ as their Savior to an eternity in Hell. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The answer is that God loves mankind enough to allow the evil to continue so that more people will be saved. Yes it is hard for us to fathom, but that is how deep God's love for us is. So, although we should hate and abhor the evil and sinfulness of this world, when we see it we should praise God because of His boundless love that allows it to continue. I praise Him that He did not do away with sin and evil before I came to Christ.

I will close (I know this has gotten to be very long) with just two more passages: (Job 13:15a NIV) Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him... Job does not understand what is going on, but he is willing to place his hope and faith in God.

(Job 19:25-27 NIV) [25] I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
[26] And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
[27] I myself will see him with my own eyes-I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

This is a beautiful promise and one that we should try to keep our focus on. One day we will see Jesus, even if it is after we are dead, we will see Him with our own eyes and in our own bodies. God created us as physical beings and we will live for eternity with Him as physical beings, but without the curse and the problems that sin has brought to this world. The journey might be rough, but the final destination will be well worth it.

We can stand on God's promises, even when we have to do so by faith, because we don't see or understand the whole picture.

I hope that was not too long or boring and that it answered your question.

Ralph

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