There is no subject more difficult to understand than suffering (i.e., afflictions).
Mark Driscoll, pastor of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, includes possibly the best list of alternative explanations that I’ve read in his book “Who Do You Think You Are?”
Driscoll basically uses the book of Ephesians to expand on certain themes relating to one’s individual behavior, consequences, forgiveness, bitterness and a host of related issues.
Driscoll is one of many younger pastors nationally who have been in the forefront of a modernized reform movement.
The complexity of why bad things happen is not a comfortable one to unbelievers or to Christians. Driscoll lists 14 kinds of affliction of which I will cover a few.
The punishment affliction obviously fits my own sin that because I was a public figure became public. My sin did not suddenly descend upon me: I caused it. There are consequences to sin even though there is also forgiveness.
This type is also closely related to another called consequential affliction. Sometimes we suffer because of foolish decisions. The consequences may or may not seem proportionate, but a foolish decision put us into the circumstance. Disciplinary and preventative afflictions have similarities but are slightly different. God presumably uses them because we have a weakness.
Victim affliction is something you don’t cause but the sin of another person causes you to suffer. Rape would by definition fall into this category, and our hearts go out to anyone who suffers from the consequence of another person’s sin. Satan, man’s original sin and the failure of the rapist to follow God’s teachings are the cause of the suffering, not God.
Two reasons that most of us forget, because they just don’t fit our concepts of fairness, yet may be the most important of all, are testimonial and providential afflictions.
In other words, God may want to use us to demonstrate the power of the Christian faith – to teach particular lessons to others or to be testament to unbelievers.
None of us really desire to be a biblical Stephen or a Job, who suffered unfairly. But many Christians are thrust into that role.
Fairness when dealing with one another is different than divine goals, which may or may not seem fair to us.
If you are a Christian, by definition we should understand that our life’s purpose is to glorify God and advance His Kingdom in the most effective ways. He knows what those are more than we do. Even when we mess up and sin, which we all do to varying degrees, God can still use us in different ways for his purpose, including the sin itself.
If you aren’t a Christian, this is unlikely to have made sense. You can remain bitter about unfairness. God finds our frustrations understandable, but, for Christians, anger, bitterness and resentment really aren’t an option.
Anybody can be happy when everything is going great. How we handle our greatest suffering is often our most powerful testimony.
Mark Souder is a former 3rd District congressman.