“The problem with dogs is they do dog things.” This is a comical (and true!) saying from the father of one of my best friends. As a runner I’m not an overly huge fan of dogs and this statement perfectly sums up my thoughts regarding that species! Happily, on my morning run yesterday there were no barking or chasing dogs, only the quiet of the early hours and the rising of the sun. My mind was heavy not only with the recent events in the news but also with the burdens of people I love. As I thought about the overwhelming amount of suffering and injustice in the world I landed on this thought: The problem with the world is it does world things.
As Christians we know the problem of the world is the problem of sin. It is this sin which produces suffering. Consider these three points: 1) Because of the Fall (Genesis 3) our bodies are no longer perfect. Not only do they age, but now they are also subject to disease and deterioration. 2) We each have inherited a sin nature with desires that are contrary to holiness. While through Christ we are saved from the eternal consequences of our sin, our sinful actions still have consequences here on earth. As we all have experienced, these consequences include mental/emotional pain and broken relationships, among others. 3) We also experience the consequence of others’ sin. There is no way around this. We all are affected by the sinful choices of others. To be sure, some to a greater extent than others. Still, the reality remains: we cannot escape being hurt by others.
While there are good institutions to provide justice in the world, they are not perfect. And though some world/political/cultural leaders seek after God, the vast majority do not. 1 John makes it very clear that the world’s values are in opposition to those of God, and that we must choose whom we will serve. That the world and culture operates in a way contrary to God is of no surprise to us. That people hate us for speaking the truth isn’t shocking. Jesus told us to expect persecution. In light of all this, why should we think that we will not suffer? Why do we believe we will be unaffected by sin and the ways of the world? Though we all want to be the exception, this is an impossibility.
I am aware I’m only briefly touching on a weighty topic, but let me conclude with some thoughts regarding an appropriate response to suffering. Though these points could be books unto themselves, I pray these few words will spur us on to further reflection.
In respect to numbers 2 and 3 discussed above, let us daily examine our hearts and repent of the sin from which we need to repent; and when we have been wronged, let us seek to forgive others through the power of Christ. Repentance and forgiveness are the means by which we gain healing and are a demonstration of obedience to our sovereign heavenly Father. Which leads to my next and final point…
There is nothing in this universe that is not under the sovereignty of God (Isaiah 45:7-9, Matthew 10:29-31, Lamentations 3:37-39.) Although I nor anyone else can perfectly explain the reason for what God allows and does not allow, we trust in His holiness and goodness knowing that He is sovereign over every ounce of sin and suffering. Romans 8:28 assures us that the sovereignty of God works all things for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes. But dear friends, let us not make the mistake of misunderstanding what is meant by “good.” Our good here on earth is our sanctification- being conformed to the image of Christ. Though painful and tear wrought, suffering brings about our sanctification. Our response then is submission to the sovereignty and purposes of God knowing that His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9).
And yet our good continues, for our good goes beyond this earthly realm. Our good culminates in an eternal resting place with the triune God, living in perfect communion with Him. Our good is that every wrong will be made right and all of the effects of sin in our life will be completely and perfectly undone. Our good is that we will simultaneously bear witness to God’s incomprehensible mercy and His perfect justice. Indeed, we will be the recipients of the King’s promise that he will make all things new. This is the truth that gives way to hope and rejoicing in the midst of earthly suffering. As the Apostle Paul said, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Praise God that our sufferings produce something of infinite worth both here and in the age to come. And best of all, in all things God is and will be glorified. Our good. His glory. This is the assurance we possess as we live in a world that will only continue to do world things.