Suffering has a unique way of bringing questions about meaning and purpose to the forefront of our minds. In a fallen world, no one can avoid thinking deeply about the reality of suffering. Perhaps the chief question is, “Why does a good God allow his children to experience suffering and hardship?” I’m sure you’ve asked it. So how have you answered it?
Let’s consider the question of God’s goodness and explore a better definition that represents his good purposes for our lives.
Is God Actually Good?
For some, reconciling the tension between suffering and God’s goodness seems impossible. What are we to believe when everything we experience seems to point either to God’s inability to help or, worse, his lack of love for us? Part of the struggle we face is learning to see with the eyes of faith. Because we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), it’s imperative to train our spiritual eyes to see beyond our circumstances. Seeing God’s goodness requires spiritual discernment.
Consider how “eyes of faith” help us reconcile suffering and goodness in a non-spiritual situation. If you’ve ever received physical therapy, you understand what is painful isn’t always bad. You allow the therapist to subject you to pain because you believe she’s working for your good. You have faith in the process, even though it hurts. While you might be tempted to doubt the therapist’s intentions at the height of your discomfort and pain, you’d never judge her effectiveness based on how you feel during a session. You would, however, rejoice when the hours of grueling work cause the strength in your legs to return. You’d praise the therapist and tell others about her good work.
Defining Good Like God
What if our struggle to believe in God’s goodness has nothing to do with God or the circumstances of our suffering? Maybe, it has more to do with how we understand and define goodness. Romans 8:28 is often quoted to remedy unexplained suffering, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” We long for the peace and assurance in this promise. But amid suffering, it’s easy to think, “How is my situation good?”God doesn’t define good based on our experiences; he does so based on his purposes. Click To Tweet
Our ability to understand and apply God’s Word requires we read verses within their context. Understanding the context of Romans 8:28 requires an eschatological lens, which Paul provided a few verses earlier. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). But we also need the clarity found in Romans 8:29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
God doesn’t define good based on our experiences; he does so based on his purposes. And his purpose is that we’d be conformed to the image of his Son. Proverbs 16:25 tells us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” If we define goodness apart from God’s glorious purposes, we’ll end up tasting death instead of life. All things work together for good for those who are called according to God’s purposes because God’s purpose is to conform those he called into the image of Jesus. It’s only in the unfolding of God’s purposes that we truly understand what is good.
No Greater Good
Consider the goodness of God in the death of Lazarus. From the perspective of Mary and Martha, the delay of Jesus was anything but good. If Jesus loved Lazarus, why did he wait to come to Bethany until after Lazarus died? In this situation, the greater good was found in witnessing God’s glory with their own eyes as Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. Believing in the resurrection of the dead is one thing. Understanding that Jesus is the resurrection is quite another. Jesus allowed their grief so they could rightly witness his glory. Why? Because Jesus was their greatest good.When we define goodness apart from Jesus, we fail to see all the ways God proves he is good, especially in our suffering. Click To Tweet
When we define goodness apart from Jesus, we fail to see all the ways God proves he is good, especially in our suffering. Nothing will stop God from sanctifying and glorifying you. There is no trial, no suffering, no oppression, no enemy, no disease, and no sin that can thwart the God of heaven and earth. God will finish what he started (Phil. 1:6). This is why Paul can say all things work for good because God is using everything to make us like Jesus, who is our greatest good.
Our struggle to believe in God’s goodness in the face of suffering is part of the tension and difficulty of living by faith. We’ll never eliminate these questions, but we can feast on the glorious reality that God is making us like Jesus. May your heart find peace in believing God will fulfill his good purposes in your life as you become more like Christ.