The good of suffering

A central thesis in my forthcoming book on suffering is that certain good things in life are only possible through suffering. As I was reading Oswald Chambers on Monday (I’m having a tough time getting into his writing, but…) I read an entire devotional on one of the reasons God would allow suffering in the world.

He writes,

We will be scattered, not into service but into the emptiness of our lives where we will see ruin and barrenness, to know what internal death to God’s blessings means. Are we prepared for this? It is certainly not of our own choosing, but God engineers our circumstances to take us there.

Ruin. Barrenness. Internal death.

Where’s all that stuff about happy Jesus?

And what’s this about “God engineers our circumstances…” as if this could possibly be what God wants for our lives. Doesn’t he want unending blessing and happiness?

Maybe not. Chambers asks,

Are we prepared to be separated from the outward, evident blessings of God?

Separated from God’s blessings? Is he nuts? God is all about creature comforts, right?

Maybe not. Maybe suffering serves a specific purpose that God knows we need. Does suffering fit into our picture of God’s love for us? How is it possible for God to be a “good” God if he lets us suffer?

I know I wasn’t completely prepared for suffering. But having reflecting, at least a little bit, on a theology of suffering before it happened helped me to avoid at least a total lack of preparedness, even if I was not completely ready. And hopefully my book can sketch out some broad outlines of what a proper “theology of suffering” needs to look like. If you have the conceptual framework sorted out, then it’s a lot easier to walk through those circumstance that life – through God’s sovereignty – will throw at you.

And he will throw it at you.

Without a vaguely functional theology of suffering, the “inner emptiness” that Chambers describes can be overwhelming. It can drown us. And you will, eventually, experience it so you’d better be ready.

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3 thoughts on “The good of suffering

  1. Interesting perspective. My thinking is that we cannot talk of suffering without taking into account the evil forces at work……

  2. Irene, technically the problem of evil and the problem of suffering are not identical. Evil involves an act of will. Suffering does not necessarily require an act of will (though it often does). Cancer, for instance, is suffering, but it is not evil.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. I appreciate your perspective Paul. I would be very hesitant to say that cancer is not evil though. That would imply that sickness is not evil and therefore from God or God’s will. If sickness is from God then Jesus would have gone against the will of God when he healed the sick. I find it hard to believe that cancer exists to cause us suffering and that suffering as a result of sickness is God’s will. If we believe that God sends sickness then why would we pray for him to remove it? Wouldn’t that be going against his will? Jesus said to lay hands on the sick and they will recover proving that it’s God’s will for us to be healed and therefore his will for us not to be sick or have cancer. This is a tough topic and would love to discuss more. As you can see I am passionate about it. Looking forward to the book.

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