Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?This question stumps the strongest believers and causes the skeptical to move toward unbelief. For many people, it is the deciding factor of their faith. There is no way for them to reconcile a loving God who allows pure horror, in some cases, in the lives of people He created. Not to mention a God who goes so far as to promise suffering - “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
So how do we reconcile Jesus’ promise of suffering in John 16:33 to his nature of love? Can it be reconciled?
Some people accept suffering easier than others. I’m one of those people. I don’t struggle with the questions above. Suffering doesn’t surprise me. That doesn’t mean I like it and I don’t try to avoid it. And it doesn’t mean I always handle it well. But as I learned more about my personality, I realized this is how I was made. My Enneagram 4, Myers-Briggs INFJ, and melancholic temperament make suffering more tolerable. These characteristics help me make sense of suffering and give it a context.
The Secret to Accepting Suffering: Anticipating Eternity
However, it’s not just my personality that helps me with suffering. There’s another secret in dealing with suffering that I believe anyone can benefit from, regardless of their personality. The secret is anticipating eternity.
For someone who does not have my personality, this secret might really bum them out. How depressing to think about eternity, which inevitably comes after death? Even though it seems twisted, in God’s upside-down economy, focusing on eternity brings great peace. It also gives suffering purpose and even makes it good.
The Suffering (and Peace) of Jesus
When we think of suffering, we think of a spectrum from the loss of a job to horrific abuse to global atrocities. We read stories of people who live through such pain and somehow maintain peacefulness and come out stronger.
As Christians, our model of suffering is Jesus’ death on the cross. Despite his perfection, our Lord Jesus Christ experienced unimaginable suffering. Yet, he did so with remarkable peace. With chaos around him, Jesus stayed united with His Father. He asked God to take the cup of suffering from him, but he did not fight God’s will. Jesus kept his focus on his Father - his obedience to God, his joy in serving God, and his love for God. Remaining in him is what brought peace.
What Does it Mean to Have Peace in Jesus While We Suffer?
This, too, is where we get our peace. In John 16:33, Jesus promises us suffering, but he also promises us peace in him. What does it mean to have peace in Jesus? C.S. Lewis wrote, “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” Peace apart from Jesus does not exist. Yes, of course people who do not know Jesus experience some sort of “peace” or calmness in their lives. However, this is not the supernatural peace that Jesus is talking about in John 16:33. In this verse, Jesus is talking about peace that comes from the power of being in him - being his child.
Supernatural peace gives us the ability to say that no matter what happens, even the worst circumstance on earth, I am God’s child and I will spend eternity in heaven (John 3:16). With a more global perspective, it’s knowing that no matter how bad life gets on earth, Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33) and he is coming back to take us home. Having this eternal perspective lessens the burden of today’s suffering.
Does God Cause Suffering?
One of the mistakes many Christians make as they read the Bible is that they read it in segments or parts. They read it as 66 individual stories instead of a big book telling one story. However, when we read the Bible as a whole, we begin to understand what God is doing.
It’s important to understand that God does not cause suffering. He never has and he never will. He is a good God who loves every person on earth and his children whom he has adopted - those of us who are his followers.
Where Does Our Suffering Come From?
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” – Genesis 3:1
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… - Romans 5:12
Satan is the author of suffering as is told to us in Genesis, when sin entered the world. At that point, all of creation began to suffer and die. And yes, God allows this. Why? Because God is a good and loving God, he did not create us to be his puppets. He gave us free will.
True love is never controlled, so God does not want to control us into loving him. Also, who wants to be controlled by someone, anyone, even God? Free will is a gift God gives us out of his love for us. However, in order for him to give us that gift, he also had to give us the responsibility to choose obedience. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, did not do that and brought sin into the world.
The Purpose of Our Suffering
Suffering became inevitable. But the Bible tells us in Romans 8:28 that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” All things, including suffering. God takes suffering, which will be here until Jesus returns, and uses it to show us his glory. He makes sure that suffering doesn’t result in vanity or purposelessness.
God gives it an eternal purpose - for people to experience him in the midst of their suffering, to turn to Him, and be saved.
There Is Goodness in Suffering
Finally, anticipating eternity in light of suffering brings us goodness. Romans 5:3 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Rejoicing in suffering sounds like the most twisted idea of all. Who in their right mind would rejoice in suffering?
However, with an eternal perspective, we understand that we are to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The word “perfect” in this verse means complete. We are to strive for completeness like God is complete.
But what is the purpose of building our completeness like God’s - our endurance and character - on an earth that’s corrupt and filled with suffering? Romans 5:3 ends with the answer - to produce hope. The hope of an eternal life where there is great reward.
In 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, Paul explains this reward. He wrote, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
In Our Suffering, We Experience More of Jesus and Become More Like Him
Anticipating eternity helps us continue to run the race with perseverance (Hebrews 12:1) knowing that our reward is in heaven. The more we allow suffering to make us like Jesus, the more we’ll be rewarded in heaven. Our suffering has eternal value.
My secret to suffering is anticipating eternity, staying focused on it, and seeing my life in this world through the lens of a short mission trip but not my home. This perspective has given me supernatural peace, purpose for my suffering, and goodness for growing more like Jesus knowing that I’m building an eternal legacy. When we see the world with this view, Jesus’ promise of suffering doesn’t burden us but gives us hope.
Image Credit: @Unsplash/jordan-bauer
Brenda Rodgers considers herself a “recovering single” after years as a single woman chasing after marriage instead of chasing after Jesus. Now her passion is to mentor young women to live purposefully and grow in their relationship with God and others. Brenda has been married for five years to a heart transplant hero and is the mom of a toddler girl miracle. She is also the author of the eBook Fall for Him: 25 Challenges from a Recovering Single. You can also read more on Brenda’s blog, www.TripleBraidedLife.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.