Best of Daily Reflections: Why Does God Allow Suffering?
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus has been describing blessings that come to those who hand over the reins of life to his control. It’s certainly a demanding life, and sometimes we expect that those who live it would be rewarded with clear skies and smooth sailing. Not so. As the cynical old saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Jesus states and then restates a second time (in case you missed it the first time) that one reward of faithfulness is persecution. In other words, goodness will be rewarded with trouble.
This shouldn’t come as any surprise since wherever and whenever people take Jesus seriously conflict bubbles up about money, sex, power, and a thousand other things. The world is deeply hostile to the Jesus-life.
Victor Frankl was an Austrian Jew. With the exception of one sister, all of Frankl’s relatives died in the Holocaust. Frankl survived three years in Nazi concentration camps where he watched as some survived while others died. From his own suffering and the suffering of others he concluded that finding meaning was the key to survival. He condensed it down to this, that there must be meaning in suffering because if there is no meaning in suffering there is no meaning in life, because life is suffering.
Years ago I was working on a post-graduate degree, exploring the relationship between preaching and personality. My theory was that the personality of the preacher causes the preacher to return over and over again to a handful of the same themes. To test my hypothesis I read everything that St. Paul wrote and boiled it down to a few themes. When I presented my paper to Darrel Guder, my faculty advisor, he said, “I’m puzzled, why did you leave out the role of suffering in the believer’s life?”
He was right! How could I have missed it? Jesus and Paul are crystal clear on this: trouble and suffering will be our lifelong companions. But wait, there’s more. Be sure to notice how Jesus mentions trouble and heaven in the same breath. I only have time to describe heaven in two words—mystery and wonder. Theologians aren’t quite sure what heaven is, but the Bible reveals just enough for us to know it is a mysterious place full of wonders that words cannot describe.
We should not be afraid of the troubles that come our way. God embeds a fragment of heaven even in our suffering.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How does it change your perspective to accept that suffering is part of this life? Can you describe pieces of heaven that you have discovered in the midst of trouble?
PRAYER: Lord, we hate trouble. Some of us will do anything to avoid it or to mask it. Some of us revel in trouble, and we use it to excuse all sorts of addictions and self-indulgences. Please give us a healthy operating system to manage trouble when it comes. Stir up in us a holy blend of courage, tenacity, and joyful confidence as we manage the ups and downs of life. Amen.
Dave Peterson is an ordained pastor who is the Director of Community Outreach for The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and Scholarly Advisor for the H. E. Butt Family Foundation. He is the author of Receiving and Giving, Unleashing the Bless Challenge in Your Life. Dave and his wife, Terri, have four adult children and four grandchildren.
After we published a week of content with the theme heading Making Money, we received a message encouraging us to consider the flip side, as well. What about Christians who fail to pay well, who complain about leaving a tip or who balk at paying an honest rate, especially when doing business with other Christians? What does the Bible have to say about this, and what is fair to expect when doing business with Christians and non-Christians alike? Is there a difference? Should there be? What has been your experience? Join us for the series, Paying Well, as we consider personal stories and biblical instruction for leading well as Christians in the world, especially when it comes to determining what to pay.