I’ve written nine novels. Suppose you could interview characters from my books. If you asked them, “Would you like to suffer less?” I’m sure they’d answer, “Yes!”
I empathize with my characters. But as the author, I know that in the end all their suffering will be worth it, since it’s critical to their growth, and to the redemptive story.
God has written each of us into His story. We are part of something far greater than ourselves. God calls upon us to trust Him to weave that story together, so that, in the end that will never end, we will worship Him, slack-jawed at the sheer genius of His interwoven plot lines.
But like my fictional characters, who are clueless to my strategies, we lack the perspective to see how parts of our lives fit into God’s overall plan. Cancer, disabilities, accidents, and other losses and sorrows appear devastatingly pointless. However, just because we don’t see any point in suffering doesn’t prove there is no point.
Joni Eareckson Tada is celebrating her fiftieth year in a wheelchair. Does celebrating seem the wrong word? It certainly would have to Joni as a 17-year-old desperately wanting to end her life. Yet looking back, we see her exponential character growth and the countless lives — my family’s included — God has touched through Joni. Scripture teaches us that in our sovereign God’s loving hands, no suffering we face is ever purposeless, no matter how it seems at the moment.
How many times does God have a purpose in events that seem senseless when they happen?
Romans 8:28 is one of the most arresting statements in Scripture: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The context shows that in a groaning, heaving world, God’s concern is conforming His children to Christ’s image. And He works through the challenging circumstances of our lives to develop our Christlikeness.
In the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament, Joseph said to his brothers (who’d sold him into slavery), “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Genesis 50:20).
“God meant it for good” indicates God didn’t merely make the best of a bad situation; rather, fully aware of what Joseph’s brothers would do, and freely permitting their sin, God intended that the bad situation be used for good. He did so in accordance with His plan from eternity past. 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).
Nothing about God’s work in Joseph’s life suggests He works any differently in the lives of His other children. In fact, Romans 8:28 and Ephesians 1:11 are emphatic that He works the same way with us.
Do you believe the promise of Romans 8:28? Identify the worst things that have happened to you, and then ask yourself if you trust God to use those things for your good. The Bible asserts that He will.
If we foolishly assume that our Father has no right to our trust unless He makes His infinite wisdom completely understandable, we create an impossible situation — not because of His limitations, because of ours (see Isaiah 55:8–9).
Occasionally, like Joseph eventually experienced, God gives us glimpses of His rationale. Some time ago, a friend of mine endured a serious accident and a painful recovery. But it saved his life. Medical tests revealed an unrelated condition that needed immediate attention.
In that case, a compelling reason for the accident became clear. In other cases, we don’t know the reasons. But given all that we don’t know, why do we assume our ignorance of the reasons means there are no reasons? Only God is in the position to determine what is and isn’t pointless. (Didn’t the excruciating death of Jesus appear both gratuitous and pointless at the time?)
Given the option while facing his trials, I’m confident Joseph would have walked off the stage of God’s story. In the middle of Job’s story — with ten children dead, his body covered in boils, apparently abandoned by God — ask him if he wants out. I know his answer because in Job 3:11 he said, “Why did I not perish at birth?”
But that’s all over now. On the coming New Earth, sit by Job and Joseph and Jesus at a lavish banquet. Ask them, “Was it really worth it?”
“Absolutely,” Job says. Joseph nods emphatically. No need to wonder how Jesus will respond.
One day, we too will see in their larger context, with an eternal perspective, God’s severe mercies, some of which we never understood, and others we resented. We’ll wonder why we prayed to be more like Jesus but then begged God to remove what He sent to answer those prayers.
“Therefore we do not give up. . . . For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18, CSB).
Faith is believing today what one day, in retrospect, we will see to have been true all along.
Let’s not wait until five minutes after we die to trust that God always has a point. Let’s learn to do it here and now, eyes locked on our gracious, sovereign, and ever-purposeful Redeemer.
If you’d like to read more related to the subject of evil and suffering, see Randy’s book If God Is Good, as well as the devotional 90 Days of God’s Goodness and book The Goodness of God (a specially focused condensation of If God Is Good, which also includes additional material). Many people have also handed out the If God Is Good booklets.