Sunday we continued with our Defend the Kingdom series, wrestling with the tough questions of our faith so that we can better defend our God. Since last week's question (if God is all-powerful and all-loving, why is there evil in the world?) was such a doozy, we needed one more look at it from a different angle. Since our God is so good, He can actually use evil and suffering for good - but how? With starvation all over the planet, natural disasters that destroy cities, terrorism constantly in the headlines, disease, racism, murders, kidnappings, etc. etc… how can God use these situations for good?
Here's 6 prominent ways that God can work good in the midst of evil and suffering:
1. God uses suffering to advance the Gospel.
Paul is the prime example of this truth. In Philippians 1:12-13, he says, “But I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” Paul wrote these verses as he was unjustly suffering in a Roman prison. Also, in Galatians 4:3, Paul says that it was because of a bodily illness that caused him to stop in Galatia, which then led to him preaching the Gospel. Had he not suffered that illness, who knows when/if Galatia would have heard the Gospel. Paul went through so much suffering in his time of ministry, and his advancement of the Gospel is second to none.
2. God uses suffering to draw people back to Himself.
Pain has a good way of waking people up, like ice water to a person deep in slumber. In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son, who ran away from home. But once money ran out, times were tough, and he started eating pig food - the son returned back home to his father. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret.” It is important to note that not all suffering and pain is a result of turning from God and in need of repentance. But afflictions can definitely come from disobedience in some circumstances, and it’s can serve as a wake up call for Christians to come back to their Father.
3. God allows suffering to train you to live a righteous life.
Suffering as a result of sinful behavior is something that God can use to train us to live more righteously. Here’s the example I used on Sunday: let’s say a student wanted to ride his bike at night, but his mother said no - and he disobeyed and went anyways, and he got clipped by a car. He went to the hospital with two broken legs. When the student recovers and wants to ride his bike at night again, he’ll think twice about disobeying his mother when she says “no” again. Psalm 119:67, 71 says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word… It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees.”
4. God uses suffering to humble the proud.
We all know that pride is the root of many sins. It is dangerous to think that we ‘got it,’ that we know everything, and that we don’t need anyone. Again, we look to Paul as a great example in 2 Corinthians 12:7. He said, “to keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Paul goes on to say how he boasts in his weaknesses because God is made all the more strong. To keep us from our prideful thinking, God can allow suffering to keep us humble so we remain reliant on Him, and not our own strength.
5. Suffering develops you into a more godly person.
Perseverance, godly character, and hope are all virtuous things that we should all have, and suffering helps us develop in these areas. Romans 5:3-4 says, “we also rejoice in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” As you endure difficulties in life, you are trained to persevere, your character is shaped, and your hope and confidence in God is strengthened. God is more interested in you knowing Him than you being comfortable. The goal on the Christian life is not happiness and freedom from pain, but it is to know God and to be like Jesus.
Suffering also helps critically develop traits like compassion, kindness, and sympathy for others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 encourages us that just how God comforts us in affliction, "we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction…” Growing up, there were times of difficulties and family dysfunction. At the time, it was hard to get through. But now that I am working with youth, I have a genuine compassion towards those who have family dysfunction and I can help in those areas better.
6. Suffering can help bring praise and glory to God.
John 9:1-3 tells the story of a man who was born blind, but Jesus healed him from his suffering. When he was healed, the formerly blind man told many people about the miracle that God had done. It was not because of any sin that he was afflicted, but it was so that he could experience God’s miracle and tell the world about it. Any type of suffering you for through can give you opportunity for God to do an amazing work in and through it, ultimately bringing glory to God.
To finish, something that I believe is far overlooked in this conversation about evil and suffering. The greatest example of God working good through evil and suffering is Jesus Christ. He was an innocent man that was arrested, mistreated, mocked, and was put to excruciating death. Not to mention that fact that He was separated from His Father for a time that He carried the weight of all our sin. This was the greatest moment of suffering in the history of the human race.
And yet, the greatest moment of suffering in history produced the greatest good of all-time.
Only because of the extreme suffering that God went through, we are forgiven and gifted with eternal life!