The Sovereignty of God and Our Suffering

The following article is an excerpt from "A Book of Bible Study"

by Joseph F. Harwood.


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God, according to His sovereign plan for each of His people, will sometimes allow suffering and a severe trial of our faith to touch our lives. He allowed such a trial of faith into the life of Job, to the point where he finally cried out against God in his anger and misery. As the losses that Job experienced began to weigh upon him, losses that included the death of all of his children, the loss of his material wealth and the affliction of his physical health, he came to the point where he complained bitterly to his three friends. He angrily charged God with wrongdoing when he said: 


“Know then that God has wronged me
And has closed His net around me.

 “Behold, I cry, ‘Violence!’ but I get no answer;
I shout for help, but there is no justice.” (Job 19:6-7)


Job knew that he had done nothing wrong to bring all of this suffering and loss upon himself, and at this point he felt that he had been wronged by God, even abandoned by Him. The feeling of abandonment that Job experienced brings to mind Jesus’ loud cry from the cross, “…My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). 


Job also, as one of God’s people, was enduring a share in this aspect of the sufferings of Christ long before the actual events occurred in the life of Jesus during His time on earth. By suffering through no fault or wrongdoing of his own (Job 1:1, 1:8, 2:3), and enduring the desolate feeling that he had been abandoned by God during this time of tremendous adversity, Job was enduring in some small measure a share in the undeserved suffering that Jesus experienced as He hung on Calvary’s cross. 


Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, God referred to Job as being one of His most exemplary servants, along with Daniel and Noah (Ezekiel 14:12-20). These men also suffered great trials in their lives according to the will of God. When we consider the undeserved suffering in the lives of many of God’s servants as recorded in the Scriptures, we might conclude that those individuals whom God has set apart as His most exemplary servants are the ones who are called upon to endure such tremendous suffering and loss. 


Many times great harm comes into the lives of believers through the sin of an unbeliever. In such cases it may help with forgiving the person through whom the sin comes when we understand that an unbeliever is a slave of sin, and he can do no better than to sin. Unregenerate men are powerless to escape the sin which ensnares and enslaves them (Romans 6:16-18, 2 Timothy 2:26). On the other hand as believers, God has chosen us for something far better. We have been chosen to receive a share in the glory of His Son Jesus Christ and eternity with Him in Heaven.                        


We can take comfort in knowing that we do not have to be concerned about obtaining justice for ourselves when we have suffered some great offense, because our God has promised to avenge us of any wrongdoing that we may suffer as a result of the actions of evil men. In Romans 12, Paul used quotations from Deuteronomy 32:35 and Proverbs 25:21-22 to convey his exhortation in this matter: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19). 


Paul exhorted us not to seek our own vengeance for wrongs done to us, but to “leave room for the wrath of God”. God is able to inflict far greater vengeance upon those who have wronged us than we can, and vengeance belongs to Him. He has promised us that He will repay our enemies for the evil they have done to us. 


Jesus warned of the punishment coming to those of the world who sin against those who believe in Him, causing them to stumble and sin. In Matthew 18 we read: “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18:6-7). 


In reading this passage believers can be comforted and encouraged, knowing that our God will repay those who of the world have sinned against us, perhaps causing us to stumble into sin. At the same time, we might wonder why Jesus taught that “it is inevitable” that these stumbling blocks, or temptations to sin, will come into our lives. 


These things that can cause us to stumble must and will come into our lives because God has ordained that all of us who serve Christ must follow Him, experiencing a share in His sufferings (John 12:24-26, Romans 8:17). Jesus suffered temptation (Hebrews 2:18), and He also suffered as a result of the wrongdoing of others. God has ordained that we will all experience reflections of Jesus’ sufferings in our own lives in some measure, in order that we may also share in His eternal glory.  


Jesus taught us in Matthew 10:29 that not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of our Father. From Jesus’ teaching here we learn that nothing in God’s creation happens apart from His knowledge and His will, not even an event as insignificant as the death of one sparrow. Nothing touches our lives apart from the will of our sovereign God and Father, who sometimes allows suffering and loss to come into our lives through the sins of others. 


When we endure unjust suffering because of the transgressions of others, whether the offense comes through an unbeliever or through another believer, such sufferings are for us a share in the sufferings of Christ. He suffered at the hands of evil men, though He had done nothing to deserve it. He also suffered as a consequence of the sins of those who would be reconciled to God through His suffering and death. Jesus’ sufferings occurred according to the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God our Father (Acts 2:23-24), as do the sufferings of every one of us who is called to follow Him. 


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