The Purpose Of Suffering

Sermon Titled “The Individual’s Suffering And The Salvation Of The World” (Psalm 22), by Guest Speaker Dr. Michael Oh – Sunday 10th May, 2015

Psalm 22, written by King David, consists of 31 verses; the first 21 verses indicate that they were written at a time when David was greatly distressed and unsure of God’s presence, while in contrast the remaining 10 verses sing nothing but praises to God. Despite the disparity however, there is one thing that this psalm teaches us, and that is the premise that God has been, is, and will be faithful in our times of suffering.

sermon-series-banner-suffering

Looking first at verses 1-21, we learn of David’s deep despair as he cries out to God in vain. He’s surrounded on all sides by enemies, yet God does not seem to answer or come near to him in his time of need. David is devastated; he doesn’t understand why his almighty God, the God who rescued the Israelites from the hands of their enemies, would not do the same for him. He cries out in verses and 2:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

The psalm continues with more words of anguish and defeat, until verse 22, when David’s words take on a whole new tone. It almost appears as if the text is out of place, or that some crucial turn-around event occurred that David never recorded. From this point on, David’s words praise and lift up the name of the Lord, and he exhorts all other believers to do so too:

22 I will declare your name to my people;
    in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
    Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
    the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help.

We aren’t told what exactly caused David’s change of heart, besides his recollection of God’s previous faithfulness, but we know enough to surmise a few things about God’s perspective on suffering:

1. God is in control – suffering is part of His good design

There is a temptation to think that God is not good, that He must be cold and heartless to allow pain and suffering. But suffering is designed for both believers and non-believers alike:

  • Suffering equips believers with the kinds of character traits that make them useful and effective servants of God; suffering produces perseverance, greater hope, and compassion for others.
  • Suffering leads non-believers to Christ; just as physical pain causes a person to seek medicinal healing, emotional pain should hopefully cause a person to seek spiritual healing – in the form of Jesus Christ.

2. Not all suffering is the same

  • There is suffering that occurs as a consequence of sin, and even though God still loves us when we fail to obey Him, the majority of our suffering should hopefully not be due to a continuous pattern of sin.
  • There is another type of suffering that can be referred to as “common suffering,” and it’s a type of suffering that’s outside of our control. It includes such happenings as health and financial problems, natural disasters, poverty and starvation, family separations, and loss of loved ones.
  • Christ-suffering is perhaps the most painful type of suffering; it involves suffering that comes from being persecuted for choosing to follow and obey Christ. We’ve all seen news reports, recent ones even, of Christians who have been pursued and massacred because of their faith.

3. As God is trusted in the midst of suffering, blessings begin to flow

  • Reaching a level of despair so low that we feel alone and without help, is actually a place of blessing. It’s in the valley that God comes to rescue us, and once we realize His presence and His deep love for us, it’s then that we learn how blessed we are.
  • A second blessing of suffering, is that we gain a better understanding of the suffering that Christ had to endure, and more importantly, why He had to suffer. 1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Looking back to verse 1 above, where David cried out to God, we’re reminded of Christ’s excruciating experience on the cross, and the words that He too echoed as He hung there in pain. God did not just allow suffering, He ordained it. And the greatest reason of all, was that Jesus would bear our sins in His body on the cross.

  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16

God’s plan for us, is that we not run away from suffering, but run towards Christ (purposefully experiencing the pain and joy of denying self), knowing that the consequence will be a life that inevitably includes periods of affliction. But in the end, it will all be worth it because a life spent in the footsteps of Christ, is a life spent with purpose and intent.

As we humbly serve, worshipping and proclaiming the name of our Lord (even in the midst of suffering), let it be our goal to introduce Him to others who have yet to meet Him, and let us rejoice as we witness our God become their God too.