I know many of you will instantly respond to this title by denying it. You sincerely believe that God does not make Christians suffer.
“God doesn’t give pain,” you say. “God is good so suffering must be the consequence of the fall, not His will; suffering must be an outgrowth of weak faith because we know that He only wants good things for his children … never a serpent!”
But there are plenty of other verses in the Bible in which God doesn’t just PERMIT suffering — a verbal sleight of hand — but CAUSES or CREATES suffering. He limits our suffering, however, to that what we can withstand. The problem here, as I see it, is that suffering builds character just as lifting weights builds muscle, and that once we have suffered, we have been strengthened and therefore can withstand even more suffering. God raises the bar. Our next trial will be more painful. It never seems to end.
Suffering is cyclical. It comes, wanes and comes again. Like a tide, it overwhelms the shore and then, without your conscious awareness, slowly recedes. God has purposes in our suffering though we may not ever know what those purposes are. Some people say that we can induce our own suffering by doing stupid things. I agree, but who would want that? Normal people try to avoid suffering. No one I have ever known enjoyed suffering.
I have been in a situation for about a month, now, in which my suffering has been particularly intense. It’s a circumstance I did not cause and do not deserve, but this matters not. What matters is that God has NOT taken me out of the crucible. I’m still there. Burning off dross. Building character. Begging to be delivered and for justice.
There’s no guarantee in the Bible that I’ll end life on a high note. The stoning of Stephen is instructive in this regard. Stephen was a good man, honest and trustworthy. which is why he was in charge of the social welfare programs of the church. He was the guy who took care of the elderly, orphans and widows and distributed food to those who were hungry. When he was dragged by the government to be persecuted and maligned in court, the Holy Spirit came powerfully upon him; he then spoke eloquently about apostates, the powerful and those who persecute others without remorse.
When he was done giving this fantastic speech, did the Spirit protect him from those who wanted to harm him? Were armies of angels charged with surrounding him and protecting him?
Stephen was murdered. Brutally stoned to death after being wrongly charged and unjustly condemned by the government.
Stephen prayed after his condemnation, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Then he fell on his knees and cried again, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.”
And then, he fell asleep.
So, God let a good man die at the hands of his persecutors. He sent the Spirit to give Stephen brilliant rhetoric, but didn’t save his life. He let Stephen suffer greatly and didn’t relieve that suffering until his death, that blessed and gentle death which shut his eyes forever.
Those of us who are suffering, then, should not expect God to rescue us even though we are innocent and undeserving of the hostility of our persecutors. God may treat us as He did Stephen, not as Paul whose chains dropped off his body as he was escorted out of prison. We don’t know what to expect — death or deliverance. It could be either. We pray and hope that God will rescue and deliver us, but there’s always that little voice in the back our our heads saying, “What if mine will be a Stephen moment?”
“When they bring you before … the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
But the Spirit spoke through Stephen. He taught Stephen what to say … before he died.
Help me Lord understand this!! Help me trust You and believe in Your deliverance!!
“The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians,” wrote Tertullian around 200 AD at a time when the early church was being brutally persecuted by the Roman government. Christians provided entertainment for those who did not believe. Pagans cheered as animals ripped Christian bodies apart. But something strange happened. The death of Christians prompted conversions. No one seems to have been dissuaded by the suffering these early Christians endured. The church grew rapidly, not in spite of the martyrs but because of them.
Jesus Himself was a prototype for early martyrs. Jesus willingly laid down his life not for good people, but for evil people who hated and then killed Him. There’s a principle here, one that frightens me but I’ll say it anyway. It is this: out of death comes life.
Jesus said: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
That’s exactly what happened. The suffering and deaths of the martyrs miraculously led to life. Eternal life. Many came to know God after observing the brutal deaths of early Christian martyrs.
Out of death came life.
Out of suffering came the Christian church.