Perhaps the suffering most difficult to understand is that which seems to come out of nowhere and for no discernible reason. We must realize that individual tragedies may occur over which we have no control and that are impossible for us to foresee. In such instances the Scriptures encourage us to pray, asking God to remove or relieve the problem or help us deal with the difficulty and learn from it.
Our Creator in His wisdom doesn’t always give us the answer we want. Rarely does He reveal the specific reason for the decision He makes. Yet He always has a good reason.
For example, God delivered the apostle Paul from many trials, but in at least one He declined to intervene in spite of Paul’s fervent prayers (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8 For this thing I sought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
American King James Version×). On this occasion the response to Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
In this instance, strengthening an aspect of Paul’s spiritual perspective or character was ultimately more important than his personal comfort.
This example should help us understand that God’s perspective is different from ours (see Isaiah 55:8-9 Isaiah 55:8-9 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
American King James Version×; 2 Peter 3:8 2 Peter 3:8But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
American King James Version×). He sometimes places the character lessons we should learn in difficult circumstances above our physical and mental comfort. At such times we may think God doesn’t hear our prayers, but He does. It’s just that we often don’t want to accept that His answer is “no” or “not yet”—or, as in the case of the apostle Paul, “I have something better in mind for you.”
We need to be aware of God’s promise never to test us beyond our ability to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13 1 Corinthians 10:13There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
American King James Version×). Paul set a wonderful example. He simply trusted God’s wisdom and determined to continue doing the work God had called him to do.
If we are ever burdened with suffering that God does not soon reverse—especially if it is caused by circumstances beyond our control—we should follow this sound biblical advice from Peter: “Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good” (1 Peter 4:19 1 Peter 4:19Why let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as to a faithful Creator.
American King James Version×, New Revised Standard Version).
Notice the particular area of suffering Peter had in mind: “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name” (1 Peter 4:14-16 1 Peter 4:14-16 14 If you be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you; for the spirit of glory and of God rests on you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.
16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
American King James Version×, NRSV).
If each individual’s suffering could be traced directly to his own transgression of a specific law, it would be easier to understand and accept as a just consequence. But it is rarely that simple.
In giving us freedom to choose, God has given us room to accept or reject His guidance, to choose rebellion or submission, to make foolish decisions or wise ones. In doing so He has given each of us an undetermined future.
We are free to drive carelessly or after drinking too much, free to dump toxins into our environment, free to eat unwisely. Each of us has that freedom, as do our neighbors and everyone else around us. All of our actions—and theirs—bring consequences. Sometimes we suffer because of our own decisions—and sometimes because of our neighbor’s decisions. The reverse is also true. Freedom to choose is a wonderful gift, but we have seldom handled this responsibility well, as evidenced by our sorrowful, suffering world.
This gives us some understanding of why the innocent, including little children, at times suffer as a result of the poor choices of others. It is during these times that we most need the comforting help of a loving God and support of family and friends.
None of us is immune to the consequences of actions—ours or others’. The person who develops a disease that is not traceable to his specific personal behavior and the infant born with a congenital birth defect both suffer, though not necessarily because of anything they did.
Those who are injured or killed in accidents or natural disasters are often innocent victims too. Not all suffering is the result of personal disobedience or irresponsible behavior by the one who suffers. Even in the Ten Commandments God reminds us that the consequences of wrong actions can affect one’s descendants for several generations (Exodus 20:5 Exodus 20:5You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
American King James Version×).
Often the specific cause of instances of suffering simply cannot be precisely explained—at least not in this lifetime. Sometimes the best we can do is to accept it as explainable only by what the Bible calls “time and chance” (Ecclesiastes 9:11 Ecclesiastes 9:11I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.
American King James Version×). Although God does not cause accidents, neither does He micromanage the lives of every human being to prevent them all. Paul tells us that in this life we see through “a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12 1 Corinthians 13:12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
American King James Version×, KJV). We will never fully understand some things during this life, but we will in the world to come.
We should realize that even suffering that is a result of time and chance is not causeless. If it cannot be connected to a specific behavior, it is often nevertheless a consequence of one or more behavioral patterns followed by the human race since creation.
Adam chose, by sinning, to turn away from God. The rest of mankind has taken the same path: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, … death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12 Romans 5:12Why, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned:
American King James Version×).
One of the consequences of humanity’s decision to live contrary to God’s instruction is a world subject to the capriciousness and vagaries of “time and chance” and the actions of others. This pattern will prevail until Christ returns to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. The entire world will then be filled with the knowledge of God and His righteous laws (Isaiah 11:9 Isaiah 11:9They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
American King James Version×). All of humanity finally will thrive in a world that is just and fair.