Joseph Iregbu

Purpose Guy

Does God Ordain the Believer’s Suffering?

In a conference call with a group of Christians, I made a statement that didn’t go down too well with everyone. The reason for their discomfort wasn’t lost on me I knew why. But first, here’s what I said:

God ordains the suffering of His own elect (children) for His glory.

My sense was their discomfort wasn’t because they thought the statement didn’t make sense but they couldn’t get past the idea that a good and loving Father would ‘will’ suffering to His saved, blood-washed, bible saturated and sanctified saints.

We are not wired this way

That was exactly the problem our idea of ‘good’ is massively limited to our experience and not always aligned to the God who works from the angle of ultimate good and eternal glory, not present realities.

We massively limit God’s sovereignty when we embrace the view of good that has been sold to us by the prosperity gospel movement (a post for another day).

Let me be clear about something; personal suffering is painful. My natural inclination is to sit on a beach sipping apple and mango juice than to suffer.

We are not wired to embrace suffering. And God doesn’t want us to be at home in this world that we forget we are pilgrims. We may be in the world, but not of this world John 17:15-16.

If our loving Father ordains we receive blessings from His hands, why does it sound strange to a heaven-bound believer that He may choose that we suffer (to varying degrees) for His glory? If Christ suffered for us, why do we think it unfaithful on His part to allow us bear His cross in our bodies?

This is both deeply biblical and good news

Not only do I believe God ordains the suffering of His elect, but two things are clear for me the Bible teaches this extensively and it’s good news. And I know it to be true from experience too.

All of our good and bad experiences are for God’s glory.

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” — Philippians 1:29. Also see 2 Timothy 3:12, John 16:33, 1 Peter 5:10, Romans 8:18, 5:3-5, James 1:2-4, 2 Corinthians 4:17.

Take Joseph for example. His sufferings wasn’t an accident. But it didn’t make sense until over a decade later. How did suffering impact his theology? “You meant it for evil, but meant it for good Genesis 50:20.

It doesn’t say God later turned the evil to good. Instead in the moment that his brothers worked out their evil plan against Joseph, God was at work to bring about, by divine providence, the deliverance of a nation by that single act of evil.

Let me take it a step further: God ordained, even before it happened, that their evil act will be the means by which He (God) brings glory to Himself by sending Joseph ahead of his brothers to Egypt (Psalm 105:17) to be their deliverer and the preserver of His covenant with Abraham. 

But the deliverance was preceded by significant rejection, depression, slavery, pain and sufferings.

Who’s in control?

How about Job? He lost everything because God allowed Satan, within boundary, to strike him. But the man had his theology on suffering spot on.

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips — Job 2:10

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong — Job 1:20-22

And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him — Job 42:11 

Did God allow, permit, ordain or will all that befell Job? If we must stay faithful to the heart of the texts, the answer is a resounding yes, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

Do we know why? James tells us eventually the story of Job wasn’t after all about Job but the God of Job. His purpose would eventually become clear; to display His mercy and compassion James 5:11.

No doubt Satan was at work but God was in charge and control. It’s all about Him.

Why this matters for our faith

A biblical view on suffering matters hugely because only a bible-saturated, God-glorifying and Christ-exalting life gives us a solid anchor and root for our souls.

When we come to Christ, we must accept that suffering for His glory is part of God's will for and call on our lives. Click To Tweet

It was suffering that paid the price for our redemption. The suffering of God brought us saving grace by faith in Christ Jesus. Did God ordain that suffering? You bet! And it served a glorious and eternal purpose, so that we may receive saving grace Acts 4:27-28, 2:23.

The Christian faith is NOT a gloomy affair, and I’m not advocating that either. On the contrary, in view of the eternal glory that awaits us, we ought to be the happiest people in the world. I believe in maximum joy in Christ.

But we must have a balanced view of our calling so that when life brings us significant challenges, we can stay rooted in God’s divine providence and sweet sovereignty Romans 8:28.

That’s why this matters hugely for our faith.

What do you think? Do you believe in God’s divine providence in the believer’s suffering?

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

About Joseph Iregbu

From a homeless, near-school-dropout to living a story worth telling. Purpose is my passion. What's your story?

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