Is Our Suffering Pointless? (And an Update on Nanci)

Perhaps the greatest test of whether we believe Romans 8:28—“In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”—is to identify the very worst things that have happened to us, then ask if we believe that in the end God will somehow use them for our good.

Fold a paper in half. Then write on the top half the worst things that have happened to you and on the bottom half the best.

Invariably, if you’ve lived long enough, if enough time has passed since some of those “worst things” happened to you, then you’ll almost certainly find an overlap. Experiences labeled as the worst things that ever happened, over time become some of the best. That’s because God uses the painful, difficult experiences of life for our ultimate good.

How is this possible? Because God is both loving and sovereign. Our lists provide persuasive proof that while evil and suffering are not good, God can use them to accomplish immeasurable good. This knowledge should give us great confidence that even when we don’t see any redemptive meaning in our suffering, God can see it—and one day we will too. Therefore, we need not run from suffering or lose hope if God doesn’t remove it. We can trust that God has a purpose for whatever He permits.

In this video, my friend Steve Keels and I answer the question, “Is my suffering pointless?”

I posted this on Nanci's Caring Bridge today:

Nanci may soon be with Jesus

After last Monday’s incredibly powerful day with Nanci and our whole family, I have been playing her praise music and reading to her from her journals, because I know nothing more full of God’s Word and great quotes from God’s people, including her. It is amazing to be encouraging both of us with words she has written out with her own hand. (I’ll include some of her journal writings at the end of this post, in fact the last 2/3 of it is from Nanci’s journal.) 

When Nanci poured herself out for her family last Monday, a week ago today, it was as if she exhausted her remaining energy. She’s gotten weaker nearly every day. Still, Nanci and I were having short but meaningful conversations until just a few days ago. Unfortunately, the last two days she has faded noticeably. 

Though we are keeping her comfortable, she’s no longer capable of communicating with her words. I still talk to her and read Scripture to her and play the praise music for her, but don’t know how much she is absorbing. (Since I don’t know, I talk to her assuming she can understand.) 

The hospice nurse thinks Nanci may have less than a week to live, maybe just a few days, though it’s impossible to be certain. 

I simultaneously don’t want her to go, yet with all my heart I DO want her to go into the arms of Jesus. 

I am grateful that with the meds that it’s not intense suffering as much as ongoing discomfort but still, even hearing her frequent cough that borders on choking sometimes is heart-breaking. We give her a continuous flow of oxygen, Nebulizer treatments, suction machine, mouth moisturizer, and lip balm in addition to morphine, and that’s not all. With the wonderful help of Hospice, we’re reaching for everything in the arsenal to make her a little more comfortable. Meanwhile God is has graciously prepared us to release her to Jesus. 

“To live is Christ and to die is gain…I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:21, 23). Better by far even than when we’re at our strongest in this world groaning under the Curse, and all the better when we’re at our weakest, and this is the weakest my Nanci has ever been. She has told me in tears that what she’s gone through these past months has been very hard. She has wanted either to get much better or to be with Jesus.

Being with Jesus and God’s family—including both of our moms and dads and many dear friends—in Heaven, awaiting the resurrection and the New Earth, free from pain and suffering and curse. What could be better for her? 

It seems like Nanci’s barely hanging on, and this evening I was kissing her forehead and whispering to her things like this: “Let go and be with the person you love the most and have always dreamed of meeting face to face. One day soon I’ll join you there and so will the people on earth that you love the most.”

Well done, good and faithful daughter of God. What a privilege, my Sweetheart, to have lived this life with you. I so look forward to the wonders and glories we will experience together in the world to come, where Joy will be the air we breathe.

Thanks so much for your ongoing prayers, especially for Nanci and also for me and our daughters, sons-in-law and grandsons, and Nanci’s special friends. (You know who you are, and we love you for loving her.)


Some excerpts from Nanci's journal:

1. John Newton: “We have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, his arm over us, his ear open to our prayer—his grace sufficient, his promise unchangeable.” 

Nanci: That promise, found in Romans 8:27–30, is:

               *The Holy Spirit prays for me according to the will of God

               *God always works to cause everything to result in my best interest

               *God works “everything” to conform me to the image of his son.

               *God called me; he justified me; and he will glorify me.

God is in control. I am not. God knows my future. I do not. God always has my best interest in mind. I can trust that.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”

 2. Yesterday I was mourning my summer. I was looking at pictures on my phone of last summer at the beach with Maggie and the boys; of Dodge Park; of doing things. I had tears of “what I had missed.” Now I’m missing the boys’ games, missing walking Maggie, the PAO conference, and doing many more things! Then one of my devotionals from Face to Face with Jesus talked about clinging to our own plans and desires instead of yielding to the path God has for you.

The path God laid out for me over the past 8 months did not provide me with many—if any—options wherein I could choose to follow my own plans and desires. Surgery and pain, radiation and chemo and pain and fatigue, more chemo with greater pain and fatigue. All these were unavoidable.

But the best that came my way in God’s sovereign plan over these months has been my heart yielding to God’s plan. I have sat reading books about God. I have sat reading God’s word. I have sat pouring my heart out to God and praising God, and coming to a new and greater belief in his love for me; a new and greater trust in his plans for me, a new and greater expectation of what my death will bring!

I would not trade a spring and summer filled with fun and projects needing to get done, over what God had planned. He knew what was in my best interest! He knew what would draw me to himself in ways I never anticipated. 

3. My Savior ministered to me greatly this morning with this truth: I will be ready to die when my time comes because my Shepherd will give me his joy, peace, and readiness. It will not be me working up enough faith and trust, my God will fight the battle for me! It will be his perfect ministering Spirit who will carry me peacefully–jubilantly into God’s arms. 

Spurgeon: “What if we should soon be called to the heavenly realm? Certainly, there would be nothing to deplore in such a summons, but everything to rejoice in. Living or dying we are the Lord’s. If we live, Jesus will be with us; if we die, we will be with Jesus.”

4. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me. I will be found by you says the LORD. Jer. 29:12–14

We know these days that God always listens to us because of his Son’s work on our behalf. When I pray I never worry about having God’s attention. I never need to plead for his ear, or his heart to take heed. 

God always listens to me.

The Holy Spirit gives me words to say.

Jesus advocates my prayers with God the Father

God wants me to pray to Him.

Even though God has already sovereignly determined the plans for my life, somehow my prayer requests play a solid role in it all. I do not need to understand how this fits; I do need to trust that God has declared to use my prayers. God wants to hear my prayers.

My prayers to God keep my spiritual life alive. I recognize God’s sovereignty and power when I pray. I feel his love, grace and faithfulness. Prayer helps me keep things in perspective. Nothing “just happens”. Everything is planned in love. Everything is carried out in wisdom, power and love.

Because I am not God, I should never question why things go the way they go. It is the height of foolishness to determine that my ways are preferable to God’s ways.

I am not omniscient, all–wise or totally just.

I don’t even love myself nearly as much as God loves me!!! 

So why would I ever second guess God? He always, always has my best interests in mind even when His way for me is painful, unclear, frightening, seemingly unfair, emotionally difficult, mentally challenging, et all…I need to trust, to believe that God does all things well.

5. And I pray that Christ will be more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. Eph. 3:17

Needing to trust in Christ and then choosing to do so, results in him making a home deeper in my heart. That bond which becomes more established between us comes from my recognition and acceptance of my need for him. It comes from placing my trust in him. It is lessened by my questioning and resentment of his ways. My trust allows my soul to continuously grow in the presence of God’s love for me which is a deep and marvelous love.

6. A prayer of Nanci’s:

Ancient of Days, 

You have shown yourself to me over these months. 

You have stayed by my side, of course, but you have allowed me to feel your presence. Thank you with all my heart.

You, in your wisdom, did not choose to remove all side effects, but you, in your mercy, did eliminate some and lighten others.

I pray that you will continue to teach me about your love, faithfulness and grace through pain, and uncertainty, and waiting—waiting—waiting.

I praise and thank you for your sovereign hand on my life. 

I truly trust you with my life.

I don’t want anything to happen (and it won’t) which is outside your will.

You know what is best. 

You are always working in my best interests.

Now, please, Heavenly Father, give me your strength, your courage, your perspective as I seek to accept with thanksgiving whatever you have for me. 

I still need your help to be able to say “I will accept with joy, praise, and thanksgiving anything and everything ahead.”

More pain. More fear. More uncertainty, more waiting. I need your sweet and powerful Holy Spirit to infuse my heart with your joy and thanksgiving. I’m bringing this request to your throne. Nanci

John Donne: “I shall…be united to the Ancient of Days, to God himself, who had no morning, never began…No man ever saw God and lived; and yet I shall not live till I see God; and when I have seen him I shall never die.” 

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

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