From my mailbag – suffering

A good long-time friend wrote me after reading Paul’s post last week and asked, “Do you really think he has a purpose for allowing what we’re going through, even the incredibly hard things?”

Because I know what he’s walking through, it’s a very powerful question. Here’s part of my answer:


Let me answer with a couple of examples.

The people of Israel were in Babylon because they had rejected God. The result of that rejection was this exile. But God allowed the exile, knowing that there would be understanding, for at least a few, of what their rebellion caused and how much God still loved them. So we later find Daniel, in exile, confessing to God and asking for return. And we find Nehemiah confessing to God and asking for return. And for both of them, there is answer.

Jesus and those following him also have ended up in deep suffering and even death. Jesus, James, Peter, Paul, Stephen were all killed. Paul, Silas, were beaten. The church in Jerusalem was sent into exile FOR obeying in contrast to the Jews who had been sent into exile for DISobeying.

So deep suffering may be what God allows for a purpose.

That said, we want to know whether the purpose is worth it. I mean, if there is a noble purpose, we will risk greatly knowing that we may suffer greatly. That is what happens on every fire call, every emergency run. The noble purpose of giving life to others motivates many.

11212703_10153306440857008_7546892586348640606_oBut what if we cannot see the purpose? I mean, what if there is great pain and little recovery and as a result we are at the edge of ourselves and of our friends. What if we are watching someone with Alzheimer’s slipping away, forgetting who and where she is, and at time who and where God is. And we do not see the purpose or the reason or the value.

At that moment, I still trust that God is aware and can use this suffering to bring glory to himself. But I also still say that I do not understand.

All of 2 Corinthians 4 is about this, but it ends with

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Only Paul, who suffered much, could call the pain of being stoned, of being rejected, of living on the run, of being beaten, of being in prison “light and momentary troubles”.

But somehow he did. So though I don’t understand exactly how it is true, I try to. And though I cannot answer your question in ways that remove the uncertainty and pain, I ask God, somehow, for that inward renewal.



3 thoughts on “From my mailbag – suffering

  1. Rich Dixon

    This must be the most difficult question a pastor, or any other thinking follower, receives. I’m glad I don’t have to be the expert who’d supposed to answer for God in the hardest times of people’s lives.

    I imagine I’ve wrestled with this question as much as anyone and concluded that God did not cause my injury. He did not decide to toss me off a roof, making sure I landed awkwardly, to fulfill some grand purpose.

    I may be wrong, and I certainly won’t argue with someone who believes otherwise, but that’s the conclusion that clicks into place with what I know of Jesus.

    So…I do not believe God had a purpose for my injury, as such. However, I believe very much in Romans 8:28. I believe He will redeem every bit of pain and struggle and use it for good..
    The exile to me was a historic event clearly orchestrated by God to move the story of Israel forward to prepare for Jesus. When we draw parallels between God’s actions with Israel and our current personal circumstances, is it possible that we’re superimposing one story on another that isn’t quite the same shape?

    Wow, that’s pretty deep for me. You’re the chaplain; I just ride bikes.

    Would your audience benefit from some back-and forth on this? If so, I’m in.


    1. Jon Swanson

      I’m very much agreed that drawing parallels is dangerous. I give a couple of specific examples, historic events as you say, but I should go on to say that they are descriptive, not prescriptive.

      There is a difference between what God could do and has done, and what God usually does. So, for example, the number of times that people were struck down is much smaller than the number of times they could have been.

      And I am very comfortable with the idea of suffering being redeemed, of there being, perhaps purpose IN difficult circumstances rather than FOR circumstances. Does that make sense?

      Here’s what’s most challenging about this subject. When we are in the middle of it, reasons and explanations and promises from other people often are not helpful. We talk about the difference between what we believe to be true and what we feel in the moment.

      And so help me, if you keep doing that “You are a ___ and I’m just a ____” thing, we’re going to have to come out to Colorado and argue face to face.

      On Fri, Nov 13, 2015 at 12:25 PM, 300 words a day wrote:



    2. Rich Dixon

      If that’s what it takes to get you guys to visit, …:-)

      The difference between IN and FOR is huge and important. It’s where Jesus shows up.

      And you’re right…we should avoid at all costs the temptation to explain the reason for someone else’s pain. Makes me feel better, does terribl damage to the person who’s hurting.


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