Many people today hold to a theological position that claims God often has nothing to do with the pain and suffering that we endure in this life. Those that hold to such a view claim that our pain, suffering, and trials are the byproduct of bad choices made by humans who misused their free will. This position claims that God often has nothing to do with such evil and suffering. While I can appreciate people who try to prevent anyone from accusing God of being the author of evil and sin, we must question the foundation of their argument by Holy Scripture alone. Are the trials and suffering of humans outside of God or does He rule over those problems to bring about His perfect will? What about missionaries who die for their faith? Is God sovereign over the pain and suffering we experience or do we walk through such trials outside of God’s sovereign rule as a byproduct of sin and the free will of man? Below are several examples from Holy Scripture that demonstrate the sovereign rule of our God over the pain and suffering we experience in this life.
I. Did God have anything to do with the pain and suffering of Job?
In the story of Job, found in the book that bears his name, we witness many horrible things that occur to this upright and Godly man. After all of the destruction of his wealth and family, Job makes a powerful statement. In Job 1:20-22 he says, “Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” It seems obvious that Job understood that God had “taken away.” Job didn’t give the credit to Satan, although he was certainly the one behind such evil. Job had solid theology that caused him to realize that God was actually in control – even in the midst of great suffering.
If we go back in the story, we see in the first chapter a conversation between God and Satan (Job 1:6-12). Satan accused Job before the LORD as a man who feared God because of his great blessings and wealth. The LORD allowed Satan to remove that wealth and those blessings in order to reveal the true faith of Job. The purpose ultimately was to glorify God. However, in that conversation, we see that God was the One in control – not Satan, circumstances, free will of man, or sin.
II. Did God have anything to do with the pain and suffering of Joseph?
In the story of Joseph found in the Old Testament book of Genesis, we see a clear reminder that evil does not rule God, but God rules over evil. In chapter 37 of Genesis, the brothers of Joseph were angered because he was their father’s favorite. They called him the dreamer (vs. 19) and conspired to kill him. However, because of Reuben’s plea, they did not kill him, but they did work together to sell him off into slavery (vs. 25-28). After Joseph was taken to Egypt as a slave, his brothers took his coat (which was given to him by his father) and covered it with the blood of a goat. They presented the coat to their father and told a horrible tale about their brother being attacked by a fierce animal and torn to pieces (vs. 29-33). This news brought great pain to the heart of their father.
As we look back at this story, we see that Joseph and his father undoubtedly experienced great pain and suffering as a result of the evil that his brothers did against him. Years later after spending time in slavery, being falsely accused, and being sent to a dungeon, Joseph was released and promoted to a powerful position in Egypt. During those days, a great famine was plaguing the land. Egypt had stored up food (Gen. 41:25-36) and people were coming from far away lands to buy food (Genesis 41:57). One day a group of men approached Joseph to buy grain. Joseph recognized these men to be his brothers, but he treated them as strangers at first (Genesis 42:6-7). After Joseph made known his identity, he made an extremely profound statement. He said, “I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. 5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. 6 For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”
The truth is clear from what Joseph said to his brothers. It was God who sent Him to Egypt. Although it was through the vehicle of slavery and lies from his brothers that resulted in him arriving in Egypt, it was the ultimate plan and design of God. In case it isn’t abundantly clear, when Joseph was reunited with his father after his death, he made another profound statement in Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” The point is absolutely clear! It was not the fallen condition of our sinful world that allowed the hardships of Joseph, but it was ultimately God that allowed it. God cannot be the author of the sin that his brothers committed, and they will give account for their sin, but He did use it for His ultimate purposes to be accomplished for His glory. Like in the case with Job, God was the One who allowed the evil brothers to commit their sin. They intended evil, but God was accomplishing good. He is the Sovereign King who rules over all things.
III. Did God have anything to do with the pain and suffering of Jesus?
As we read the Gospel, we often find ourselves angry at the wicked men who are killing the very Son of God. They brutally murdered Him on an instrument, known to us as a cross, used to execute the most horrific criminals of the day. They pain was horrible and the suffering was great. However, in light of this discussion, where was God the Father through all of this? Did He have anything to do with the suffering of Jesus?
1. Notice the plan of the cross before time.
Revelation 13:8 – And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
1 Peter 1:20 – Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.
Acts 2:22-24 – Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: 23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24 Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
1. Determinate Counsel = Definite plan.
2. Foreknowledge of God = (πρόγνωσις) Prearranged plan of God to bring about His perfect will. It should be noted here that “foreknowledge” in this verse and other places that reference God’s foreknowledge, refers to more than God seeing into the future. If foreknowledge (πρόγνωσις), as used here, refers to God seeing into the future, how would foresight into the future be able to secure a definite plan? Foresight would not secure anything. Therefore, God’s foreknowledge refers to a prearranged and definite plan. That is abundantly clear in this passage.
In these three passages, we see that the brutal and bloody cross of Jesus Christ was actually no accident at all. It is clear that God ordained it before time was created by God. The cross of Christ was not the result of evil. The cross of Christ was not the outplaying of bad choices made by the free will of intelligent human beings. The cross of Christ was the predetermined plan whereby wicked men intended evil, but God intended salvation.
2. Notice the words of Jesus.
Luke 22:42 – Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
John 19:30 – When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
It is clear from these two verses that something more than a betrayal of Judas was being played out in the death of Jesus. The plan referenced by Jesus when He cried out, “It is finished” was not some horrible mistake brought to pass by sin. Rather, it is the predetermined plan of Jesus’ suffering and pain that led to His brutal death. That horrific scene of Calvary’s hill with the blood of Jesus saturating the foot of the cross resulted in the salvation of many (Hebrews 9:24-28).
While a crowd of angry people insisted that Jesus be executed on a wooden cross, it was the merciful and loving plan of God that brought it to pass. Jesus came to earth to die. Although the wicked sinners intended evil, God intended the Gospel. Did God have anything to do with the suffering and pain of Jesus? Was His death a mere byproduct of bad choices and a fallen world? It is absolutely clear that Jesus suffered at the hands of wicked men, but God was accomplishing His divine will.
IV. Did God have anything to do with the pain and suffering of Paul?
Paul was, in my opinion, the greatest Christian to ever live on planet earth. He suffered and eventually died for the Christ he once labored to destroy.
1. Paul suffered greatly.
Notice 2 Corinthians 11:24-26
– Five times he received 39 stripes.
– Three times he was beaten with rods.
– Once he was stoned.
– Three times he experienced a shipwreck at sea.
– Dangers from the waters.
– Dangers from the robbers.
– Dangers from his own countrymen – the Jews.
– Dangers from the heathen.
– Dangers in the city.
– Danger in the wilderness.
– Danger in the sea.
– Danger from false converts.
2. Paul understood his suffering was God’s plan.
Colossians 1:24-25 – Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: 25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God;
It is absolutely clear, Paul understood that his sufferings were not due to a byproduct of bad choices. He understood that the sufferings he endured were for a greater cause outside of the fulfillment of sinful and fleshly purposes of sin. Paul understood that his suffering and pain was the divine will and plan of God. Did God have anything to do with Paul’s suffering? Was his pain the byproduct of man’s abused free will? Absolutely not! Man intended evil against Paul, but as he acted, it was the fulfillment of God’s divine and perfect will.
Many other examples exist within the history of the church related to the suffering of God’s people. Missionaries have suffered and died for their faith. Was that an accident? Was it the byproduct of bad choices? As we see that God is absolutely sovereign and in control of all things – including suffering – we have increased confidence in our God. If God was unable to control the calamities, disasters, mudslides, earthquakes, tornadoes, heart attacks, cancer, and even the horrific murders that take place – life would be a living nightmare and prayer would be worthless! If God was merely the One who responds to our trials as the minister of love and healing, how could we pray for safety? The truth of the matter is, we have a God who loves us and is sovereignly ruling the world. He rules over nature and all created beings – even Satan. With that truth settled in our hearts, we can serve boldly, have confidence in our God, and know that the One who hears our prayers is capable of providing healing from disasters and safety from future problems that linger on the horizon. The truth of God’s absolute sovereignty provides us peace during the sunny days and the stormy trials of life.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul
Horatio G. Spafford – after the death of his four daughters at sea.
Pastor Josh Buice