For some Christians, faith and suffering are a contradiction in terms. If you are suffering because of sickness or other causes, they would say you haven’t got enough faith in God or you’re doing something wrong. But if you put your faith in God and live good lives, you’ll be shielded from pain and suffering and be rewarded with a life of blessing and prosperity. I once heard a preacher of this theological persuasion put it this way: “Jesus went through the wilderness for you so that you don’t have to go through it”. We know anecdotally, this is so far from reality.

A cursory reading of Hebrews 11 and 12 repudiates this notion completely. It is more a pagan than a Christian worldview that says, “God, scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours”. The Bible clearly tells us that suffering that stretches and tests our faith will happen to all Christians. Look no further than Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”.

Daniel Hans is a Presbyterian minister in the United States. In 1986 he and his wife Beth lost their three-year-old daughter Laura to cancer. Daniel and Beth watched in agony as their little girl faced nine hospitalisations and four separate operations in the last nine months of her life. Their hearts broke as they watched Laura die, and they struggled to make sense of what had happened.

In 1987 Daniel Hans released a book containing some of the sermons he preached throughout his daughter’s battle with cancer and in the period immediately after her death. One of them is titled: “Caution. Your God is Too Big.” Hans relates how he once surveyed his congregation, asking them about their disappointments with God, prayers they had hoped God would answer but didn’t. People talked about times they had prayed for the life of a newborn child only to see it die; times they had prayed for God’s protection for his people from violence only to hear of an elderly woman being stabbed on her way to church. To these disappointments Hans now added his own.

Hans suggests that disappointments like these are the stuff of life, and that if we read the Scriptures, we discover that alongside the stories of miracles and amazing feats by God, we hear story after story of disappointment with God, of times God appears silent and inactive, like the book of Job. He suggests that sometimes we remember only the miracle stories and so we develop too big a view of God – not that we can have too big a view of God’s greatness and power or too big a view of God’s love and grace, but that we can have too big a view of God’s will.

God’s action in our world is not always to perform the miraculous, but more often than not to walk through our suffering with us. Hans suggests that “A view of God that is too big is harmful both to believer and unbeliever. When our understanding of God is exaggerated, we declare that God will do things he does not intend to do, at least not regularly and in all situations.”

Faith and suffering are not contradiction in terms. When God asks us to count it all joy when we experience trials and tribulations, he is no sadist! He is asking us to endure because he who suffered on the cross, walks with us in our suffering. Saints, there is a purpose to our suffering even if we can’t be certain of what it is. However, what we can be certain of is God and His will are always perfect and loving as revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the only true innocent sufferer. 

Grow our faith in You Lord!

Mark Ng