Recently I’ve watched a few videos about children and families that have been driven from their homes by ISIS in fear of their lives. In the process they have lost everything of value, seen many of their friends and family killed, and they are left destitute, homeless, and nationless with only a refugee tent to shelter them. Yet there is one question that I’ve never seen anyone on these videos ask.
There are a small number of passages in the Bible where people have asked God, Why did you do this? God’s answer to them is that he is sovereign. That’s not an emotionally fulfilling answer to the one suffering. But it may be the best answer a suffering person can grapple with.
While contemplating this issue something struck me. In all of the years I’ve heard people ask this question I’ve never heard a comforting answer given that ended up leading someone to faith in Christ. Now, perhaps you have seen such a thing. If so, wonderful! But I’m willing to bet that the answer that helps draw people to Christ isn’t the comforting answer. Rather, it may be the hard answer. When we begin to see God for who he really is, especially in light of his sovereignty, his total control over all things, that’s the time when we recognize our own sinfulness and the human heart bows in submission to the rule of Christ. Only then, in that submission, does true comfort really come.
When people are suffering we should seek to give them comfort in any way we can. I’m not advocating that we should not comfort people. That would be stupid. But, let us recognize that most people who receive comfort don’t necessarily come to faith in Christ. It’s like healing. How many accounts of healing in the New Testament lead to new faith in Christ? Only a small portion, compared to all who were healed. The same is true with the other miracle accounts in the Bible. After feeding the 5,000 Jesus told the crowds seeking him that they sought him simply because he fed them. They didn’t contemplate what the miracle actually said about Christ (John 6:26).
God giving us what we want doesn’t necessarily give us what we need. Remember, after healing ten, nine never went back to Jesus to thank him for their healing (Luke 17:17).
How are you suffering? Not knowing you, I probably can’t give you an emotionally satisfying answer about what you may be suffering. But I can offer you God’s answer. He is sovereign. He is in control, even in the worst of times. And if we will try to look past our suffering to see a sovereign God at work we can come to grips with just how righteous, and true, and faithful, and loving he really is, regardless of our suffering.
Job suffered greatly. When he confronted God about his suffering, God, essentially, put him in his place and then Job’s response was, “I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). At that moment Job entered into a new relationship with God unlike what he knew before.
Remember Mary and Martha? Lazarus died and Jesus purposely stayed away long enough so that he died, instead of going to heal him. Martha confronted him and said, “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus responded, not with comfort, but with sovereignty. “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:1-44).
Remember the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43). There was no comfort for him on the cross. But when he recognized Jesus for who he really was, only then did he come to faith in Jesus and enter into eternity with him.
Who else but Jesus offers the ultimate picture of suffering and salvation. When crucified he received no comfort, but acknowledged God’s sovereignty as he hung on the cross.
Yes, we should comfort the suffering at every opportunity. But, if we ultimately want to see the suffering come to saving faith in Jesus, the message of God’s sovereignty, through Christ, is the message that will bring true and lasting salvation, and it will be the basis for all future comfort.