This is the third and final installment of a blog series aimed to serve my Arminian brothers. As fellow Christians, we have responsibilities to care for the well being of all members of the body, regardless of our theological differences on secondary issues. For this reason, I am concluding this series with a discussion on suffering. Much of what I am writing I learned from John Piper’s book Spectacular Sins, which takes specific examples from the Bible where God is clearly in control over human suffering, even when that suffering came from human sinfulness.
During catastrophic suffering, the question that tends to come up is, “Did God cause this to happen?” The difficulty of this question compounds if the suffering is a direct consequence of sin. Typically, Calvinists and Arminians divide in the way we answer this question.
The question itself is a painful catch-22: if you say yes, you make God look mean, and if you say no then you make God look powerless. To make this question more concrete, lets use an example: a girl is raped by a man and is left questioning, “Where was God?” It should go without saying that were this to actually happen, the girl should be nurtured by her Christian friends and counseled by professionals and doctors, but from a theological perspective, here are two takes on it:
The Arminian: “God did not want for this to happen and is wrathfully angry against the rapist who chose to rape this girl, but he did not prevent it because that would violate human free will, and God does not violate free will.”
The Calvinist: “God did not want this to happen because he commands against it and he is wrathfully angry against the rapist who sinned due to his enslavement sinful flesh leading him to choose to sin, but he did sovereignly will that the event come to pass and will therefore redeem it for her good.”
You can see both dangers in these statements. The Arminian view envisions a God who must wring his hands powerlessly and refuse to step in to rescue his daughter due to a seemingly arbitrary love for free will. The Calvinist view can make God look like a sinner for willing that sin exist. Suffering is going to be with us until the new Heavens are created, so we should figure out where we stand and have a lot of Bible to back us up so that we can best serve our brothers and sisters while they are in need and endure our own suffering.
We can have the most feasible arguments in the world for what we believe about suffering, but without God’s revelation, they are worthless and cannot be trusted in. In the midst of suffering, to place your hope on a flimsy, plausible argument will not help you endure the pain. We need the rock solid promises of God to anchor us in the stormy gales of suffering.
1. God’s control over the mundane
Matthew 10:26-33. Here we see Jesus explaining that even tiny unimportant details, like the death of worthless birds and the number of hairs on a person’s head are under the direction of the Father.
2. Jesus’ control over the weather
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus rebukes a storm and causes it to calm. Here we see more evidence of God’s control over nature, but specifically in preventing destruction by calming a storm. Whenever natural disasters occur, we must know that God had the power to prevent it, but for some reason known only to him, he allowed it. Therefore there is design in suffering and where God designs, he designs for good.
3. Job’s crediting God for his suffering twice
When Job looses all of his children and all of his possessions he credits God with taking these things away in spite of the fact that it was God who gave Satan permission to do these things, yet Job did not sin in this statement nor charge God with any wrong. After God gives Satan new permission to afflict Job himself, and Job is covered in sores, his wife tells him to curse God and die, but Job replies again crediting the affliction to God, and yet again it reiterates that Job did not sin with his lips.
4. Jesus crucified by the will of God
To crucify an innocent man is sin. God does not sin. Yet the Father willed that innocent Jesus be crucified. Why is this not sin? Because he was doing the highest possible good with this activity: glorifying God. Those who physically crucified him were sinning: centurions, pharisees, Pontius Pilate, and Judas, yet God in his wisdom twisted their sinful hearts so that they would sin in such a way that would accomplish God’s larger purpose in glorifying himself and saving the world.
God has dominion over the realm of suffering, and God is good. That is tremendously comforting news. The only way it would not be comforting is if you didn’t know that God is good, or if you are outside of his covenant. If you are unsure about whether or not you are in his covenant, you need to consider Jesus. If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who lived a perfectly righteous life and died to pay the penalty for your sins, rose again to secure your justification, you have repented of your sins, received the Holy Spirit and await the final hope of eternity with with him, then you are inside the covenant. You should be baptized if you have not been already. If you do not fit into this description, you are not in the covenant, but it is not too late! Believe in Jesus, repenting of your sins. When you are in his covenant, you can know that God works all things together for your ultimate good. There will be suffering, you can be sure of that, but with a firm anchor on the sovereignty of God, you will never be hopeless.