Do you believe that God can author pain or suffering in your life for your good? Could affliction, from a larger, longer perspective, be a carefully, lovingly chosen method for blessing?
Some say absolutely not. If our heavenly Father brings pain, he would be an abusive parent. And so they are offended by statements like this:
Suffering is one of the great instruments in God’s hands to continue to reveal to us our dependence on him and our hope in him. God is good to give us the greatest gift he can give us, which is more of himself, and he’s good however he chooses to deliver that gift.
For some facing excruciating pain or loss, they’re some of the sweetest words they’ve ever heard. For others, the same vision of God makes them sick to their stomach.
At least part of the problem is how this vision of God’s goodness in bringing suffering is often presented. Sadly, some of us have been guilty of entering a painful situation, rattling off Romans 8:28, and expecting everyone to feel better. Romans 8:28 is a beautiful promise, but it can also feel like a blunt sledgehammer to people who are hurting and don’t yet understand quite what God is doing in their pain, even if they believe Romans 8:28 with all their hearts.
On the other hand, some will simply say that all Romans 8:28 means is that God will turn this evil thing, a thing that he could not help from happening, into some sort of good for us. They present a God suddenly sovereign enough to reverse the situation, a situation he wasn’t sovereign enough to stop in the first place.
With the first person, we are left wondering, “But what is the good in this situation, God? What is the good in this deep pain?” With the second, we have the nagging feeling that even though sin, Satan, and a fallen world have something to do with our pain, the all-sovereign God who loves us couldn’t stop it.
Two Layers of All Pain
A way forward lies in seeing the two-tiered reality of our pain. In all pain, there are always two sources or agents at work, but only one is ultimately ruling. One source is the reality of brokenness and sin. Because of the worldwide rebellion against God, Satan rules the current evil age. The other and ultimate source of every pain is God, who “declares the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10) and “does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 135:6).
In Job 2:5, Satan asks God for permission to afflict Job to prove that Job will turn his back on God. Satan does not get the final call. God grants him permission, and establishes rules (2:6). Satan afflicts him, sparing his life (2:7–8). Job’s wife comes and says, “Curse God and die,” because of the suffering (2:9). Job responds, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10).
God could have stopped it. Someone might protest and rebuke Job, “Job, don’t say that! God doesn’t bring pain. It was Satan!” However, the immediate context in Job says, “In all this, Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10). Job got it right. Later, his friends came to comfort and show sympathy for “the evil the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11).
Job’s experience sounds a lot like Amos 3:6, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?”