If God loves us, why is life sometimes so hard? It’s a simple question, but one that has challenged Christians since the earliest days of the church. Why would a God who wants the best for us allow us to undergo suffering and pain?
Hebrews 12 doesn’t answer every question you might have about suffering and the “problem of evil,” but it offers some important insight. As is often the case in Scripture, we’re challenged us re-think our assumptions—in this case, the assumption that there’s no purpose behind our suffering:
We are surrounded by a great cloud of people whose lives tell us what faith means. So let us run the race that is before us and never give up. We should remove from our lives anything that would get in the way and the sin that so easily holds us back. Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect. He suffered death on the cross. But he accepted the shame as if it were nothing because of the joy that God put before him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne. Think about Jesus’ example. He held on while wicked people were doing evil things to him. So do not get tired and stop trying. You are struggling against sin, but your struggles have not yet caused you to be killed. You have forgotten the encouraging words that call you his children:
“My child, don’t think the Lord’s discipline is worth nothing,
and don’t stop trying when he corrects you.
The Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as his child.” — Proverbs 3:11–12
So hold on through your sufferings, because they are like a father’s discipline. God is treating you as children. All children are disciplined by their fathers. If you are never disciplined (and every child must be disciplined), you are not true children. We have all had fathers here on earth who disciplined us, and we respected them. So it is even more important that we accept discipline from the Father of our spirits so we will have life. Our fathers on earth disciplined us for a short time in the way they thought was best. But God disciplines us to help us, so we can become holy as he is. We do not enjoy being disciplined. It is painful at the time, but later, after we have learned from it, we have peace, because we start living in the right way.
You have become weak, so make yourselves strong again. Keep on the right path, so the weak will not stumble but rather be strengthened. — Hebrews 12:1-13 (NCV)
Questions to Consider
- Does perceiving suffering as discipline, rather than oppression, make a practical difference in the way you relate to it? How so?
- When you experience this “divine discipline,” do you think it’s appropriate to pray for relief from it? Why or why not?
- Looking back at a specific point of suffering in your life, can you see how it’s strengthened you? Are you grateful for the experience of discipline, or resentful?