Why we experience hardship and why God allows suffering is one of the toughest issues Christians and non-Christians have to deal with. After all, if God is good, why is there so much suffering and pain in the world? If God is omnipotent, why does He allow all the bad things in the world to happen?
Because most people don’t know the answers to life’s toughest questions, we are often taught not to question God and rather accept things in ‘blind faith’. However, I believe God actually wants us to ask the tough questions. The problem is not whether we ask tough questions, but rather the attitude with which the tough questions are being asked.
If we question God from a place where we want to play judge over Him, we might never come to a biblically sound conclusion at all. Rather, we should attempt to find answers to these questions in humility, as the Bible says that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Before we attempt to understand why we experience hardship, we must first understand what the purpose of man’s existence is. Without a solid understanding of our purpose, the issue of hardship will never truly make sense.
Creation & Sin
In Genesis we read how God created Adam and Eve in His own image and likeness. God blessed them to be fruitful and to multiply, and to subdue the earth. Adam and Eve were blessed to populate the earth with people in their image and likeness, which was in the image and likeness of God.
We also see how God had habitual fellowship with them, and that there was nothing standing between man and God.
So while man was created for God’s glory, man was also created to be part of God’s eternal family.
Unfortunately, Adam and Eve were enticed to sin by Satan. When they disobeyed God they became separated from God as they died a spiritual death. We understand the reason for this separation better when we discover another characteristic of God, which is His holiness (see 1 Peter 1:15-16).
Because God is holy and has no sin in Him, Adam and Eve could no longer be in His presence. Instead of obeying God they obeyed Satan, and Romans 6:16 says, “Do you not know that if you continually surrender yourselves to anyone to do his will, you are the slaves of him whom you obey, whether that be to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness (right doing and right standing with God)?”
Genesis 5:3 says Adam had a son in his own likeness. However, this was after Adam had sinned, and because of sin Adam’s image no longer looked like God’s.
Before Adam and Eve sinned, God warned that they would die in the day of sin. Therefore, instead of populating the earth with God’s image and glory, they were now tragically populating the earth with a spiritually dead image, which looked like the image of the one they had bowed their knee to – Satan’s image.
This is why David said in Psalm 51:5, “I was brought forth in [a state of] wickedness; In sin my mother conceived me [and from my beginning I, too, was sinful].”
We don’t like to think of ourselves as evil or wicked. Instead, most people like to think of themselves as good. In fact, ask anyone if they believe they are a good person, and more than nine out of ten times you will get a resounding yes.
This should not come as a surprise. Proverbs 20:6 says, “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty and goodness, But who can find a faithful and trustworthy man?”
While we may think of ourselves as good people, it is only when we compare ourselves to the holiness of God that we see how big the gap between man and God really is.
Think about it in this way: David said he was sinful, even from the day he was born (from his beginning)… The same sinful nature is evident in us today. Nobody needs to teach a child how to lie. Lying comes naturally to us all, and we have to teach a child not to lie instead. The same goes for the rest of God’s moral law.
How many lies have you told in your life? What about theft? Have you ever stolen something, regardless of the value of the item that was stolen?
Furthermore, while most of us don’t think of ourselves as murderers, the Bible declares that when you hate someone you commit murder in your heart.
The same goes for sexual sin. Even if you have never committed adultery, God’s standard supersedes even our thought-life. Jesus said in Matthew 5 that if we look with lust, we commit adultery in our hearts.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that we are not good people after all, especially when compared to God’s standard of holiness. We delved into this topic in more detail in the post, Where Did All The Good People Go?
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit we are all liars, thieves, adulterers and murderers, even if it is just at heart. We are all guilty of violating God’s moral law at one point or another.
Our guilt before a holy and morally perfect God is the evidence that we were born in sin and in need of a Saviour.
It is also only in light of our guilt before God that we can truly understand why Jesus said in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and it is your will to practice the desires [which are characteristic] of your father.”
Jesus continued by saying of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks what is natural to him, for he is a liar and the father of lies and half-truths.”
We, in turn, are guilty of breaking God’s moral law while doing what comes naturally to us as well. This brings us face to face with our next problem, which happened to be another characteristic of God. In addition to being holy and morally perfect, the Bible tells us that God is also a righteous judge, and that the wages for sin is death.
To be more specific, the Bible says that all liars, thieves, adulterers and murderers (just to name a few), cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven and they will have their part in the Lake of Fire (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Revelation 21:8).
However, even before God created man He already knew what dilemma we were going to face. Because He already knew this was going to happen, He also had a plan for how He was going to restore us back to Him.
Since God is a good and fair judge who cannot be bribed by our ‘good deeds’, He had to find a way so He could still legally forgive us our sins without making us personally pay for them.
He did this by paying the fine on our behalf. Ray Comfort summed it up perfectly when he said, this payment for our sin is the only grounds God has whereby He can legally dismiss our case.
Thus, by paying our penalty on our behalf, God made sure that we would still be able to realise the purpose for our existence. Therefore, Ephesians 1:5 says, “For He foreordained us (destined us, planned in love for us) to be adopted (revealed) as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will [because it pleased Him and was His kind intent].”
God also wasn’t about to let His plan of populating the earth with His image be thwarted, and Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew [of whom He was aware and loved beforehand], He also destined from the beginning [foreordaining them] to be moulded into the image of His Son [and share inwardly His likeness], that He might become the firstborn among many brethren.”
This is How God made a way for us to be restored back to Him and to continue with the original plan of populating the earth with His image.
Those who humble themselves, repent from their sin and receive forgiveness because of what Jesus did on the cross, become born-again as they are adopted into God’s family and reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ.We delved into more detail on this topic in another post called God’s Plan Of Redemption.
We then, in turn, have the mandate to populate the earth with God’s image through the ministry of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s sins against them [but cancelling them]. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation [that is, restoration to favor with God].”
This ministry of reconciliation which we have been entrusted with is the reason why Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you;”
In the post called True Faith we saw in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing, and specifically hearing the truth concerning the message of Jesus Christ.
We also saw that faith is a channel through which we receive our salvation. Furthermore, we saw that faith that is alive (like a mustard seed), is only truly alive when aligned with the will of God. As we align our lives with the will of God to take up our mandate to preach the gospel so others can hear the message of reconciliation, our faith becomes the channel through which God accomplishes His purposes on the earth as more people turn to Him for salvation.
The fact that we see suffering and hardship all around us is not evidence of a God who is cruel for allowing suffering. Rather, it is evidence that the fall of man, as described in Genesis, is true. It is also evidence of the sinful nature we are born with. Everything that we experience in life revolves around this truth of the Gospel. When we don’t have a proper understanding of this truth, we will always fail to find satisfying answers to the tough questions in life.Before we continue, you may also want to read the post in our Biblical Success Secrets series called Understand Your Purpose.
The Purpose For Hardship
C.S. Lewis said, ‘Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.’
God has an extraordinary destiny for every person. This destiny is to be in a relationship with God for all eternity. Because of this destiny, God’s priority for our lives is to be first and foremost adopted as sons into God’s Kingdom.
2 Peter 3:9 says that God is “…not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Secondly, as discussed earlier, God wants every person who has been adopted into His family to partake in the Great Commission. This Great Commission can also be described as the ministry of reconciling those who are still lost, back to God as well. While it is God who saves a person and restores a person back to Him, He has thought it good to enlist us as ambassadors who will bring the Good News to those who are still unsaved.
Therefore, when we encounter hardship it is always for the purposes of salvation, whether it be directly or indirectly.
Notwithstanding the fact that humans are guilty of neglecting to bring relief in a world that is suffering (especially those who are in a position to do so), any hardship that you and I experience is ultimately designed to save us from damnation, or to save others from damnation. This is a preposterous statement, and I will try my best to explain.
The Plan In Action
In John 5:17 Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now [He has never ceased working], and I too am working.”
This work is the work of completing the plan for our salvation. In Genesis 3 God made a promise by means of a prophecy, that He would make a way for us to be restored back to Him.
Genesis 3:15 says, “And I will put enmity (open hostility) Between you and the woman, And between your seed (offspring) and her Seed; He shall [fatally] bruise your head, And you shall [only] bruise His heel.”
Throughout the Old Testament we see the progression of God’s plan, all the way to the cross. In the New Testament we see the fulfilment of God’s plan and promise when Jesus paid our fine, in full, on the cross.
Finally, the New Testament concludes this plan with “…a vast multitude which no one could count, [gathered] from every nation and from all the tribes and peoples and languages [of the earth], standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Christ), dressed in white robes…” (see Revelation 7:9).
There can be no doubt that God’s priority is the salvation of mankind. God is omnipotent, sovereign and omniscient, together with all His other characteristics (see the post on Trusting God In The Hardest Times).
There is nothing that He doesn’t know, and there is nothing that He cannot do. Therefore, in light of who God is, together with God’s priority for all mankind, we cannot help but to view hardship in light of God’s plan of redemption.
Hardship is something God uses to accomplish His purposes for our lives, as well as for all mankind.
Hardship is also not necessarily always what God intended, but He is certainly at liberty to allow it in our lives if it will accomplish His purpose for our lives.
When we allow hardship to do a good work in us, it will bring people to the point where they are adopted into God’s family for all eternity. Then, if allowed, it will also shape us and mould us into the image of Jesus Christ, for the glory of God.
When we embrace the work God is doing instead of opposing it, we can say with confidence like the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:6 (KJV), “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”In this post we looked at the purpose for hardship. In the next post we will look at how hardship is different for people who are lost, and for people who are already saved.