There Is No Pointless Suffering

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). By recognizing and believing in God’s sovereignty, even over Satan’s work, our perspective is transformed.

As a child, before my mom baked a cake, she’d lay the ingredients on the kitchen counter. One day I tasted each ingredient. Flour. Baking soda. Raw eggs. Vanilla extract. I discovered almost everything that goes into a cake tastes terrible. But a delicious metamorphosis took place when my mother skillfully mixed the ingredients in just the right amounts and baked them at the perfect temperature. The final product was great!

Similarly, the individual ingredients of trials and apparent tragedies taste bitter to us. No translation of Romans 8:28 says “each thing by itself is good,” but “all things work together for good,” and not on their own, but under God’s sovereign hand. I needn’t say, “It’s good,” if my house burns down, I’m robbed and beaten, or my child dies. But God, in His wisdom, measures and mixes our circumstances, then regulates the heat in order to produce something wonderful—Christlikeness—for his glory and our ultimate joy.

The Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament is Genesis 50:20. Joseph’s brothers betrayed him, selling him into slavery. Decades later Joseph told them, “As for you, you meant [plotted, pre-meditated] evil against me, but God meant [same word] it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (ESV).

God didn’t just make the best of a bad situation. Rather, he intended all along to use evil for ultimate good.  He did so as part of his eternal plan—for God’s children have “been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

Why isn’t Good Friday called Bad Friday? Because we see it in retrospect. Out of the appallingly bad came inexpressible good. Had Jesus been delivered from his suffering, he couldn’t deliver us from ours. If God brought the greatest good out of his Son’s suffering, can’t he also bring good out of ours? To imply otherwise, as prosperity theology does, is to undermine God’s truth and encourage loss of trust in God.

Corrie ten Boom, who survived a Nazi death camp, said “Every experience God gives us…is the perfect preparation for the future only He can see.”

You cannot have a Christian worldview unless you believe that God has a plan, the ability to carry it out, and the loving-kindness to do it not only for his glory but our good.

This means that for God’s child there is no pointless suffering. Of course, much of it may appear pointless, since finite fallen creatures are incapable of understanding the point. But God is all-wise and all-loving and never pointless nor off-point! That’s why Job could cry out in agony, “Though he slay me yet I will trust him.”

That’s the message in Shane and Shane’s song “Though He Slay Me,” featuring an excerpt from John Piper’s sermon, "The Glory of God in the Sight of Eternity."

Not only is your entire affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it's doing. Don’t look to what is seen. —John Piper

photo credit: high tide via photopin (license)

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries