Question of the Week: Does God ever use things like sickness, mental disorders, or pain to strengthen our relationship with Him?
When discussing the reasons why pain takes place in the life of a Christian, we need to tread carefully lest we come to conclusions that the Bible simply doesn’t support. For example, God using pain doesn’t mean God caused the pain. God allowing pain doesn’t mean He is the reason the pain is there in the first place. God not taking pain away doesn’t mean that He’s to blame for your suffering. These are conclusions that our emotions can lead us or others into if we try to explain too much. The reality is that there is pain. The question is who God is and what He’s doing in the midst of that pain.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
Psalm 119:67 (NKJV)
This first example of how God works through pain was an observation made by King David in relation to his love for the word of God. In the text, we need to recognize what is said and what isn’t being said. David only acknowledges an affliction took place. His response to that affliction was to now keep God’s word. The only time God is mentioned as a part of David’s affliction was who he turned to after the affliction ended. God allowed David to experience affliction. This hard lesson taught David that keeping God’s word was a better option than the things that caused his affliction. He bears responsibility for the affliction in this context. Then he goes on to share what he learned from the experience. A lack of keeping God’s word caused affliction. Now that he’s keeping God’s word, he’s no longer being afflicted in the way he was. That was the conclusion he came to and should be the same we should as well. To read into the passage a precedent that God inflicts pain to teach us to keep His word is inaccurate. The only conclusion he comes to and the only statements he makes are a contrast between him living life according to the world’s word and living life according to God’s word.
You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord, according to Your word. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, For I believe Your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. You are good, and do good; Teach me Your statutes. The proud have forged a lie against me, But I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart. Their heart is as fat as grease, But I delight in Your law. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes. The law of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of coins of gold and silver.
Psalm 119:65-72 (NKJV)
The second example of how God works through pain is taken from Paul the Apostle’s observation about an affliction he was dealing with that God did not take away. Just like David’s observation before him, it is important to note that God isn’t given credit for giving him the thorn in the flesh. If anything, the credit is given to the enemy since this thorn in the flesh is only described as a messenger of Satan. Instead of removing the pain, Paul is comforted and strengthened with the ability to endure it and see it as a reminder of God’s grace. God was seen as his greatest comfort in the midst of his pain. Not the reason for it.
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV)
The third and key example of how God works through pain is also an observation from Paul in the same book he describes his response to his own pain.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NKJV)
Notice that God is never credited for those tribulations. His only participation in that process is one of comfort. The reason for that comfort is explained. We are comforted so we can comfort others. It is also noted that the sufferings of Christ are the kind of pain we are enduring. Jesus is the model for how we handle pain. The reason the pain is happening is never mentioned, and therefore shouldn’t be assumed.
These passages and others form the framework for a biblical understanding of pain. To blame God for the text is an assumption made outside the text rather than within in. The examples given of Jeremiah, Job, and others being afflicted by God ignore the context of each historical example.
Jeremiah voices his feelings about his circumstances and blames God for deceiving him into believing something He never actually said. Jeremiah 20:7-18 details the poor response on the part of Israel to the things God was telling him to say. The people causing his suffering had many names, but none of them were God. People rejecting the truth and hating him for sharing God’s word was something Jesus warned us would happen. Not because He would cause it, but because people don’t like to hear things they don’t want to. John 15:18-25 details the proper perspective we are to have in that context.
Job is also a poor example of God causing someone to experience pain because Job 1-2 both detail that every loss and hardship Job endures in that book came from Satan, his wife, and his friends. None of those people were God. God allowed the suffering to take place, but his only action in this book was the restoration of everything Job lost at the end of the book once Job’s character had been fully demonstrated.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NKJV)
The point is hopefully clear. If I assume something about God that the text doesn’t say, I’m either attributing motive or making a false accusation. The Bible doesn’t say that God causes those who love Him to suffer. The world does. The enemy does. Our sinful nature does. God is only explained in the midst of these things to be our place of refuge, comfort, and hope. Blaming the solution for the problem isn’t productive.
A Reason For Hope is a ministry of Calvary Christian Fellowship of Tucson
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