Tom Gilson

Does God Care, Even When We’re Suffering?

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Does God Care?

Series: Does God Care?

We’ve been looking at the question, does God care? The apostle Paul looked at it, too, in the fifth chapter of Romans. He was faced with an apparent contradiction, you see. In chapter previous chapters he had explained that we’re all caught in rebellion against God, but that God had provided a way to make us right (justify) us with him through faith in Christ. Romans 5:1-2 summarizes it:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Hope, glory, peace–what a great promise! What a great experience, too–except for one thing: who’s experiencing it?

Hope, yes, we can all hope. Glory? That sounds a long way off. Peace with God? Look, if this is what life is like when we’re right with God, why doesn’t it feel more like things are right?

I think that was the question in Paul’s mind as he wrote the following (verses 3-5):

 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Things don’t feel right because God’s purposes go beyond making things okay. Peace with God is the essential starting point: it means we’re forgiven; we’re no longer in a state of hostility toward him. That’s huge! And yet it’s not all God has for us. He wants to increase our capacity. He wants to enlarge our souls.

There are times when I feel like I’ve been stretched large enough already, thank you very much; but then I read the life of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. I see his complete concern for others. I see his total trust in the Father. I see him sacrificing himself for us all. I see his joy even in pain. I see how small my own trust and love and joy are, and I cry out, “Oh, God, make me more like him!”

This was Paul’s cry, too, stated in other words in Phil. 3:7-14:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Do you feel Paul’s stretching, his yearning, his cry to God to enlarge his soul? Yes, in some ways he’s completely content, he tells us in Phil. 4:10-13, and he’s trusting in Christ. In that sense he’s completely okay, but he knows that “okay” is only the beginning. He’s content, but he’s not satisfied.

God won’t let his people be satisfied with being small. He wants us to grow in character, hope, love, and joy in him. There’s only one route to that result. It passes through suffering, and if we want to get there, we’d better pack our bags with faith in Christ for the trip.

A few weeks ago while I was in Texas I saw an old friend who was disappointed to see I was still suffering from my foot injury. He said, “Well, Tom, there’s this old saying that applies more to you than most people I know: ‘Never trust a leader without a limp.'”

Never trust a leader, in other words, who hasn’t felt his own pain, experienced his own loss, and made it through (by the way) with some sign of hope, love, and joy, not turning inward or bitter. He’s too small.

The same principle applies to us all, not just leaders. God wants to enlarge our souls. He wants it because he cares.

Series Navigation (Does God Care?):<<< Does God Care? He Proved It!
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5 thoughts on “Does God Care, Even When We’re Suffering?

  1. “God won’t let his people be satisfied with being small. He wants us to grow in character, hope, love, and joy in him. There’s only one route to that result. It passes through suffering, and if we want to get there, we’d better pack our bags with faith in Christ for the trip.”

    How true this is. I hate it because it hurts and I love it because I grow. When we suffer together we can grow closer together – and to Christ. Why did God create things this way? I don’t really know, but knowing that there is a divine purpose for suffering helps get you through it. It’s not for nothing.

    As a marathon runner I think about this often. It’s perhaps the main reason I like running that distance – because it reminds me of my life in Christ. I hate mile 22. It hurts a lot and I just want to quit, but I love crossing the finish line so I push on and endure the suffering. I know that when I get to the finish I will celebrate and find rest.

  2. As a marathon runner I think about this often.

    I’m also a marathon runner, and I’ve never thought about this – but I will next time!

    I sympathise with you on your foot injury Tom – mine sounds minor in comparison, but it kept me from running for months, and forced me out of the London marathon this year. I had never given my feet a moment’s thought until I injured my foot. Fortunately, I’ve been back running now for a month, but I have a glimmer of understanding now of what it’s like to have pain even while walking.

  3. @SteveK:

    Why did God create things this way? I don’t really know, but knowing that there is a divine purpose for suffering helps get you through it. It’s not for nothing.

    While as you point out we (including you) do not know the full answer to this most vexing of all the vexing questions, we do know a few things that bear repetition.

    (1) Evil is not a created reality, but a lack of a due perfection (e.g. all those atheists that ‘lack belief’? They are Evil. Grin).

    (2) Everything that exists, insofar as it exists, participates in the Good of existence (e.g. even the Devil, the summit of corruption, partakes of this Goodness) and this Goodness, the Goodness of existence, is why Evil will never prevail and is God’s ultimate victory over it.

    (3) Every Evil has a purpose, and as grasped by rational minds a meaning, not as an end in itself, and not as merely instrumental for something else (e.g. I am *NOT* trying to justify and excuse God’s ways to men), but as having a place in God’s providential plan. There is no existent or possible Evil that God’s power cannot overturn and direct to His purposes.

    (4) With (3) branded by fire in one’s mind, it still behooves us to recognize that some Goods necessitate certain Evils. Justice and Mercy are Goods but they necessitate injustice and wrong-doing. Much ink has been spilled on the topic, and I do not wish to add my own ignorance to the voluminous literature, but St. Paul tells us in Heb. 5:8 that Christ learned obedience though suffering. Learning is a Good, and if it was Good for Christ, in his human nature, it must be a Good for us. Ergo, there is, or there can be, value in suffering. The obvious question is then why some people do *not* learn anything, but rather sink completely? Why some are lifted up while others sink down? Do not know; ask Him when and if you have the opportunity.

    (5) The most scandalous of all the scandals that God wrought upon this benighted Earth: God is Love and thus God loves each one of us, pathetic little things, filled with flaws and imperfections and vices of all sorts. And so He conjured a whole universe in existence so that I (and you, and Tom and everyone else that has ever existed or will ever exist) came into existence, so that even now, He sustains me in existence, so that the Son could incarnate and die for me and (possibly) my salvation. Could a different me have existed without my specific mixture of flaws and imperfections and sins and sufferings? Or could I have come into existence without the specific History paved with misery and suffering that bore me? But then how can we say that such a possible me really is me? This is an extremely vexing metaphysical question (where say, and just to give two examples, Aquinas would disagree with Scotus), but my answer would be no, that is, such possible me would not really be me. And if I am correct, to say that I, or anyone else one cares to name, ought to have been spared suffering (or at least some sufferings) is to say that God ought not have created me, or anyone else one cares to name, which is not only an absurdity, but possibly one of the most diabolically repugnant things to say. The obvious counter objection would be to say that my position seems to entail some form of modal collapse, which is, to say the least, a very unpalatable conclusion, and at any rate not one I wish to swallow. I think I can evade it, but as I said the question is extremely vexing, so I will let it stand unanswered.

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