Why do bad things happen to God’s people? Why does God allow those whom he loves to suffer egregiously?
There once lived a pastor named Thomas Boston who wrote about the common lot of loss and pain we experience in this life. In his book, The Crook in the Lot, Boston provides several reasons why God sometimes allows his children to suffer.
1. God lets us suffer to help us see if we are really trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
Job was afflicted with trials in order to test the quality of his faith. Did he really love God for God, or did he love the things God gave him more than he loved God? Our own painful experiences may have the same purpose: to reveal whether or not we will trust God for God, or whether we trust in ourselves, people, or things more than we trust in God.
2. God lets us suffer to turn us away from the world toward greater hope in the life to come.
Our suffering prepares us for the weight of glory. Suffering can be a part of our journey, leading us where we need to go. The Prodigal Son didn’t come back to his father until after he lost everything. If something bad has happened to you, remember that one day God is going to make every crooked thing straight again.
3. God lets us suffer to convict us of our sins.
Sin has ravaged God’s beautiful world. Death marks his whole creation, and things are not the way they should be. God might use a bad experience to remind us of a particular sin that we need to confess before him or before others. We may need to repent for something that we have left unconfessed for many years. Suffering can bring us closer to God when we confess our sin in repentance and cling to Jesus by faith.
4. God lets us suffer to correct us as a result of our sins.
Sometimes God uses suffering as an instrument of his own justice. After David slept with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah, God promised that the sword would never leave David’s own household (2 Sam 12:10). We might suffer because, as a consequence of a sin, we fall under the discipline of the Lord. As the author of Hebrews says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
We may not think of it as very loving, but if God catches us in the thick of our sin, he may be preserving us (or others) from even greater harm. In his sovereign good pleasure, his correction is good for us.
Living with Your Suffering
There are potentially hundreds of other reasons why God lets us suffer. This list is not exhaustive, but it should remind us that none of our suffering will ever be wasted. Our suffering cannot be pointless, useless, or wasteful because we are in the hands of a faithful Father who cares for us.
Faith in Jesus Christ allows us to look beyond our present pain to purposes and plans that are far greater than what we can see, experience, or imagine. By trusting in God’s sovereign good will toward us, we can accept all the crooked things that happen in our lives until God decides to make them straight again. He may do it quickly and swiftly, or he may wait to make everything straight again when we are with him in glory.
Whether we live or die, we live and we die trusting in the God who made us, redeems us, disciplines us, and blesses us. The Lord gives and takes away and—in both cases—everything we receive is from the Lord’s hand. It’s all a gift from the Father’s hand. The good news is that he’s a good father, so we can trust that whatever he brings us is for our good and his glory.