Suffering in this life is the heritage of the bad person, of the remorseful and penitent person, and was, most importantly, the heritage and raison d’être of the Son of God while he tabernacled amongst us. In plain English, suffering comes to us all in one way or another. The suffering of the Godless should lead them to the cross of Christ. The suffering of the Godly should be because they have been to the cross of Christ. The eternal purpose of God for mankind is hinged and pivoted in the very cross of Christ and what Jesus accomplished whilst He was there at the place called Golgotha, suffering. The bad thief is crucified, the penitent thief is crucified, and the Son of God is crucified. Each one ended the days of their mortal coil, on a cross.
By this biblical fact and symbol we see and understand the widespread heritage of suffering that is universal to the existence of mankind. Whoever you are, wherever you have been in life, if you can tell me that you have never suffered in anyway, I would be bold enough to call you a liar. Some of us have suffered to near death, some of us have suffered by merely experiencing some unjust judgement or accusation, but life is a forum for suffering somewhere along the line, Christian or not. Jesus Christ did not suffer because it was the godly thing to do. He suffered because there was no other way the rampage of suffering and sin could be halted. Because of what He suffered, a day is definitely coming, right here on planet earth when there will be no more suffering at all.
We live in a world where pain and suffering are commonplace and, “normal.” Any discussion of how pain and suffering fit into God’s scheme ultimately leads back to the cross where Jesus Christ died, the most vital moment of history, revealing what life and the cosmos is all about. The evil of men’s hearts brings suffering. That same evil brings death. That is the ultimate suffering for those bereaved. But we can never lose sight of the fact that Christ conquered sin, sickness, death, the devil and the grave, and all the suffering that goes with those things – and then He rose again. We cannot lose our grasp on the fact that He now lives in the power of an indestructible life, a life that we are partakers of through faith in Him.
Our faith is our connection. However, having said all this, and believing it with all our hearts, still, the biggest challenge to faith and understanding, of course, is when the meek, the mild and the godly, seem to suffer horrendously more than the wicked and evil manipulators of this world do. How perplexing! People of the world struggle and kill to be “top dog” and the “innocent” get trampled on and starved in the process of their ascent, suffering as they are trodden on. Oh the challenge to the human understanding of the realities of this fallen world!
Take note of this, also: When we are talking of “suffering” per se, we are definitely not talking about sickness and the accompanying pain and suffering that accompanies it. Don’t get me wrong. I fully acknowledge that some would argue that the pain caused by sickness is the largest source of suffering on the planet – and those that say such things may very well be correct. Sickness, after all, is nothing but insipient death, whether the sickness is terminal or not. This challenge that the scripture makes to the commonly held status quo of millions of Christian believers, however, has more obviously stated factual material to assist us with the required paradigm change, than the spiky issue of, “Why do the righteous suffer?.”
God heals the sick, Christ commanded the apostles to lay hands on people allowing Him to remove that kind of suffering. But he actually promised them suffering by persecution that could not be removed. Let me explain by shocking some. When Paul writes things like, “You know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel to you,” Paul was not stating that he was sick whilst preaching. When he says, “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” He was not telling us that his thorn in the flesh, his weakness, was a sickness. The case for “proving” Paul was ill is made by the cessationists combining all the similar scriptures of Paul concerning his personal state, piling on other verses such as, “Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities,” and, “I take pleasure in infirmities.” Then they conclude their interpretation by explaining the modern English word that we often use for being ill, i.e. “infirmity.” Voile! There you have it. Their conclusion is that Paul was ill most of his adult life. This writer believes that this is error of the most deceptive kind. This word, “infirmity,” is translated from the same Greek word (Asthenia – mostly translated as infirmity, or weakness) that Paul used when he wrote: “Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us.” It is also the same word used in the letter to the Hebrews which says that the prophets, “Out of weakness were made strong.” It is even used to clarify the manner in which Christ was crucified: “For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he lives by the power of God.” The word weak (or weakness) in these scriptures is always the same word used when Paul said: “When I am weak, then am I strong.” If the word weak meant he was sick, then the word strong would logically mean that he was well. To use the word thinking it refers to sickness strains the straightforward obvious meaning to breaking point. These words translated “infirmities” and “weakness,” with reference to Paul’s life, were never intended to mean sickness or disease.
When Paul speaks of his weakness before the church, he is expressing his nothingness in his own strength and his dependence upon the Spirit and power of God: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of people, but in the power of God.