Why Does God Allow Suffering?

A Message from Pastor Adam Hamilton

In my life I have experienced things that are hard and difficult and I've learned over time to give thanks to God. As Paul says, give thanks in all circumstances, give thanks to God in the midst of that by faith.

I don't feel grateful, I don't feel joy at the painful thing I may be going through, but I trust that God is going to force something good from it.

God Doesn’t Cause Our Pain, He Works Through it

I remember years ago was a very hard time in my life, in my ministry. My life, my ministry, just emotionally, I was deeply depressed for a bit about 15 or 20 years ago. And I remember in the midst of that pain,knowing this thing that I know about how God works, I would take long walks and I just say God, “I don't know what you’re going to do with this, but I'm giving it to you and I'm praying that you'll take and bring something good from it. And because of that, I'm going to give you thanks for it. I'm thanking you in advance for what I know you will do.”

And I think that's what this is when he says, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials, or when you experience trials, of many kinds.” The considering pure joy is an act of faith, saying, “I know that God can do something remarkable with this. I'm counting on the fact that you're going to do that, oh God. I'm going to give thanks in all circumstances.”

All right, so when I think about this, I think, it's not that we feel joy for the bad thing that happens or we're giving thanks for the bad thing that happens in itself. Jesus, at the end the night that he was arrested before he was crucified, he prays In the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but thy will be done.”

He didn’t want to experience the suffering he was about to endure, but he also knew that God could take whatever that suffering was and do something productive with it.

Pain, Suffering, and Happiness

And it’s interesting, the psychologists today are figuring out what James was talking about two thousand years ago. So, this week, I was reading a couple of articles in Frontiers and Psychology and one of them entitled A New Science of Suffering said, “everyone wants happiness and to avoid pain, but until we can overcome or transform suffering, happiness will continue to elude us. Pain or suffering is an inescapable part of life.”

How We Respond to Pain

So knowing that it's inescapable, how are we going to deal with it? What James says is that when you face it, when you're walking through it, rejoice! Maybe not with your feelings or emotions, but to be able to look at this and say,

“I wonder what God is going to do with this. I wonder how God can use this. God, I’m entrusting this to your care. Please rescue me. Please help me. But also please take and make something good and beautiful come from this pain.”

I'm thinking about another article that talked about the importance of finding meaning in your suffering. There is another psychological study that said that people who survive and persevere through suffering find meaning in their suffering in advance. It's not that God made this happen for this other thing to happen – it's that I know that God is able to redeem the suffering that I'm experiencing.

And so I know, as Paul says in Romans 8:28, “that in all things, God works together for good, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”

And if I believe that, that I can give thanks for it in advance. I may not feel it but I can choose to believe it. I can choose to trust that. So I can rejoice in every circumstance.

Paul Writing to the Philippians

Paul in the writing of the epistle to the Philippians, the epistle of joy, says “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” And you might say, well yeah, that's easy for you to say, Paul, you're the Apostle Paul. You've had a charmed life. Well no, he didn’t have a charmed life. He’d been shipwrecked and beaten and imprisoned multiple times. And when he's writing the epistles to the Phillippians, only four chapters long, he writes this Epistle of Joy from a prison cell where he's trying to figure out if he's going to be executed or released. Right?

And then I love this, he starts looking for things to be grateful for, in the midst of the suffering. He starts off in chapter one and he says, “I'm really grateful and I rejoice because if I wasn't in prison right now, how would I have had the opportunity to preach to the prison guards the good news of Jesus? I mean, it's just remarkable this choice of finding meaning in the suffering, looking to see how can God use me here or use this set of circumstances in my life today?

I remember some years ago, I was going to visit a woman who couldn't speak anymore and she couldn't walk and she was at KU Med Center. When I went to see her, her husband said, “She understands everything you're going to say and she talks with her eyes by blinking.” And he said “what’s really remarkable is that every time that there is a helicopter landing in the helipad, she stops to pray. And right now, that's where she's finding meaning in her life. She's experiencing this terrible trial, she's not going to survive it, but every time she hears a helicopter land on the helipad, she pauses, closes her eyes, and I can tell she's praying for them because that is her mission now. She can't walk and she can't talk, but she can pray.”

In everything give thanks. Paul says, and James tells us to consider it pure joy. when you face trials of many kinds.