12th December 2016

If God Permits Suffering

If God permits suffering isn’t he then pro sickness?

Pete Kropman: This is a lot like saying “if God permits sin then isn’t He evil or pro sin?”. Or, “ifGod allowed His own Son to die a brutal death then isn’t He pro child abuse?”. I think the answerto this question is that God is more committed to our final sanctification than our temporalcomfort. So he’s not pro-sickness per se, but he is radically pro eventual holiness and completejoy. So he permits suffering (on its own, a bad thing) to achieve a far greater thing, eventualglory and holiness and pure joy. 2 Cor 4:17 makes this point: “For this slight momentary afflictionis preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” He also knows our natural

captivity to the things of this world, so suffering becomes a great tool to wean us off findingultimate satisfaction in the trivialities of this life, and make us long for the next. The cross as wellhelps us here. God not only permits, but is sovereign over (Acts 4:28) the death of Jesus, thegreatest sin in history, because the results of the atonement were worth it – great glory to Godfor His grace and the salvation of His elect. The horrors of the cross are outweighed by theeffects of it (Heb 12:2).Charles Whitehead: If God permits suffering isn’t He pro sickness? The premises of thisargument are:

  • God is omnipotent and nothing happens without His permission.
  • We experience sickness.
  • Therefore, God must be pro sickness.The argument can only be valid if the premises are true and the way of reasoning is sound. The way of reasoning behind this question is unsound. Sickness is part and parcel of our experiences in a broken world.This brokenness is the result of man’s disobedience to God. God did not give man permission (consent to) to be disobedient. This does not mean that God cannot use suffering to our advantage or to His Glory. He can and does. He ‘allows’ all kinds of suffering inHis righteousness.
  • It is proposed that Christ’s humanity enables his empathy toward the human cry. How does temptation alone qualify Christ to hear the human cry if he hasn’t experienced the failure of sinning?

    Pete Kropman: I would personally far rather have a mediator and example to follow who hadbeen subject to all the same trials as me, but who had successfully won through those trials andhadn’t fallen. This gives me great confidence in Him. A human analogy may help. A rugby teamis performing very poorly, only winning about 10% of their games. They’re looking for a newcoach. Would they prefer to hire a coach who himself has a terrible record, so that he couldsympathise with them, or would they prefer to hire a coach who’s got a great record of takingunderperforming teams and turning them around? Clearly it would be good for him tounderstand what it is like to deal with a losing team, but it wouldn’t make sense that he himselfhas a dismal record of performance. We don’t need our mediator to be both aware of thetemptations to failure and accustomed to failure Himself for Him to be able to sympathise andhelp. Aside from this, there are obviously also massive theological problems that would open upif Jesus had sinned – e.g. the atonement wouldn’t have been effectiveWhen is suffering from God, and when is it not?

    Charles Whitehead: It is not always clear. All I can say is that all things work together for thegood of those who fear God, even our sufferings, whether they were instigated or permitted byGod (e.g. he permitted Satan to bring suffering on Job).

    Pete Kropman: ‘Always’ in the sense that God is utterly sovereign over everything (Isa 45-5-7,Amos 3:6, Dan 4:35, Mt 10:29) – even down to the timing of the death of birds. However, Iguess what is confusing is that suffering often comes from the hand of Satan or his demons, notdirectly from God. However, as Job 1 proves, essentially Satan needs the go-ahead from God tobe permitted to inflict the righteous. So indirectly, God is still the one truly sovereign over the


    Knowing that God is always using every circumstance, including suffering, to work for thebeliever’s good (Gen 50:20, Rom 8:28, Jas 1:2, 1 Pet 1:6-7, Rom 5:3) is the source of great

    comfort to the Christian. I think we give up way too much by trying to “protect” God bysuggesting that He is not behind a certain type of horrific suffering – since we then, I wouldthink, have God losing control of the universe. Rather, knowing that all suffering ultimatelycomes from His hand, allows us to rejoice greatly in our trials, even though they may not makesense at the time – since God is doing something that is going to help our eventualsanctification. I like this quote from RC Sproul, with obvious implications for suffering, “If there isone maverick molecule in all the universe, then God is not sovereign. And if God is not sovereign,He is not God.”

    I read Job suffered for about 9 months. If so, why do some battle for decades withsickness?

    Pete Kropman: To paraphrase one of Job’s “friends”, it must be because they’re a worse sinnerthan everyone else! Just kidding. In seriousness, there are probably a number of answers to thisquestion.

    1. Job’s suffering was more intense than most people experience in a lifetime, so implyingthat he got it easy is pushing it a bit.

    2. It is possible that suffering can be prolonged through, for example, unconfessed sin ortreating holy things in a profane way (e.g. Ps 32:3, 1 Cor 11:30).

    3. God’s ways are inscrutable and beyond tracing out (Rom 11:33), so with things like this itis probably advisable, after making sure that we are not guilty of (2), to put our hands

    over our mouths (Rom 9:20) and trust him and his timing.

    4. God’s purposes with some lifetime suffering is surely so that those saints can proclaim withboldness to the world the surpassing riches of Christ and that their suffering is nothing

    compared to knowing Him (Phil 3:8). Joni Eareckson Tada is surely a good example of this.

    She claims that her quadriplegic disability is a gift from God. God’s worth is so magnified inhow she takes her suffering! Surely Paul’s example in 2 Cor 11:16 – 12:10 also strongly

    makes this point. It seems that God has a pattern of bringing serious affliction on His mosteminent saints, so that they may be given the opportunity to practically demonstrate the

    superior worth of knowing Christ.

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