Theodicy is a branch of theology that addresses the problem of evil. It answers the question, “How can a good and loving God allow so much suffering?” We all ask this question at some point. Tragedies (divorce, death, etc.) strike that make us doubt His goodness. This can be especially true when we suffer for doing His will.
Paul was the quintessential Christian sufferer. He was flogged, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked. He was in danger everywhere he went. And he often went without sleep or food (2 Corinthians 11:24-28). He endured more hardship for his faith than anyone!
Paul isn’t the only Christian to suffer like this. Today, more than 100 million Christians are persecuted in nearly 70 countries. They too face discrimination and harassment. They are forced out of their homes and put out by their families. They are arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. Some are even martyred!
But like Paul, they remain faithful. They will not let their worship or witness be silenced. They understand that suffering is essential to being a Christian. And they understand God has a greater purpose for their lives than being comfortable.
So why does God let bad things happen to His people? The Bible gives three reasons. The first is that He lets Christians suffer because it brings Him glory.
Strength in Weakness
Paul was shown magnificent visions. To keep him humble, God gave him a “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know what this “thorn” was; only that it pained and frustrated him. He says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
Paul’s struggles against his thorn taught him to rely on God’s power. Rather than taking it away, God gave him the strength to endure. Suffering forces us to depend on God rather than ourselves; it forces us to acknowledge Him as our source of strength. And that brings Him glory.
Secret of Being Content
Due to his ministry schedule or mistreatment by his captors, Paul often went without basic necessities. But it didn’t bother him. He shares, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13).
Jesus strengthened Paul to endure even the most difficult circumstances. And He strengthens us today. Anyone can stay faithful during easy times. But God keeps us faithful in hard times too. He makes us stand firm when we could never stand on our own. And that brings Him glory.
Taking out the Trash
Paul gave up his former life to become an apostle. This couldn’t have been easy; he had the purest pedigree and highest religious credentials a Jew could ask for! But he says, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage” (Philippians 3:8).
Paul threw away everything he valued for the sake of knowing Christ. Nothing in our lives is as important as Jesus. When He asks us to make a sacrifice, it’s because He is worth it. And that brings Him glory.
Is God Selfish?
God may seem selfish at this point. Isn’t it cruel and unfair for Him to make us suffer just so He can look good? Fortunately, this isn’t the only reason the Bible gives. Because God is good, He uses our suffering for more than His own glory. My next two posts will give the other two reasons why God allows bad things to happen to His people.
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