There are many who wonder about why those who do good and live well come to experience hardship and suffering in this life, while those who are wicked and do evil appear to flourish and prosper. Many of the Christian walk have been persuaded by those who teach a misrepresentation of the Gospel into thinking that if they live in obedience to God, they will be made to prosper without hardship. In the mean time, a simple study of the Bible shows us that no where does God promise those who believe in Him a cake walk in life. While God does promise a blessing, this does not mean that hardship and difficulties in life won’t still emerge.
In the First Letter of Peter, we are told:
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 CSB.
This is a motif that is prevalent in the Bible from the Old Testament to the New. The book of Job provides a major challenge to the view that those who follow God will experience an easy life. Even Ecclesiastes challenges this idea and we see through out the history of Israel the reality that those who are righteous will also experience suffering. There is an Old Testament Theology called “Retribution Theology,” that views everything through the lens of blessing and curse. Those who are righteous are blessed, and those who are wicked are cursed. This results in a theory that should anyone experience some hardship or difficulty, they must have done something wrong and are being punished for it. The book of Job is an excellent example of God speaking out against this motif.
Much of this Retribution Theology remains today in the minds of the secular and religious alike. It is very akin to the concept of karma, though it has a different foundation and perspective. Where the foundation of karma views the concepts of good and evil as illusions, the Retribution Theology sets its foundation on good and evil being very real. The wicked are punished and the good are rewarded. While this is in general true, it does not suggest that the reward comes with a life that is free of suffering and hardship.
This has resulted in many turning away from a belief in an all-loving God. However, the belief in no God is not grounded in truth, and those who turn away in this manner do so based upon a false premise. Many feel that an all-loving God must desire to keep the one that he loves away from pain, evil, and suffering. But this simply isn’t so, and no argument has been presented to support such a claim and stood the test of reason. Indeed, the simple understanding of a parent’s love for their child provides evidence against such a claim. Does a parent not love their child even though they allow their child to experience pain so that they may learn from it? Is it right to suggest that a parent that allows their child to experience hardship doesn’t love their child? What then do we make of the spoiled and sheltered child when their parents pass on and they are left to experience pain without them?
For the Christian, we must come to understand something very important.
“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God…” 1 Peter 3:18 CSB
Christ suffered on the cross for our sins. He suffered, so what leads us to believe that we won’t? It was Christ’s suffering for our sins that brought us to God. Well, for many of us that is. We live in a fallen world, where we must take action to keep the wicked at bay and to be the light in a dark place. When we stand out among wicked people as an example of what obedience to God looks like, we set before their eyes what they should be doing. In so doing, we place them in the light where their sins are made clear and their guilt ever present. This will naturally draw out of them a hatred and spite for us that will result in their slander of us.
We live in a culture where those who do wicked things are enabled and promoted over those who live humbly and in right relationship with God. We have only ourselves to blame for this. The popular culture has established a system where the wicked can actually prosper. However, for those of us in America, the system also allows for those who are righteous to prosper as well, but this does not mean we do so without hardship and difficulty along the way. This does not mean that God does not love us, nor does it mean that He is not all-loving. God would not give us strength if things were meant to get easier.
Instead, we experience pain so that we know something is wrong. We experience suffering so that we know that there is something going on that we should turn away from. When we live seeking to be in a right relationship with God, His love fills us and carries us through the hardships that a fallen world brings upon us. As we remain true and obedient to God through these hardships, others can be brought to know God through our example. Just as Christ remained true to God through His suffering, so too are we to do the same, so that we might bring others to Salvation.
You see, instead of thinking from the disproven theory of Retribution Theology, we must view the world through our Salvation. The Lord has already given us our salvation. There is nothing we can do to earn it, or gain more of it. It is already there. The saving act is already done. So, we are to live our lives in light of that truth. As we seek to live in right relationship with our God, the hardships we endure are not intended to be for us or for our punishment. It is not even necessarily God bringing such a thing upon us. It is simply the result of living in this world as it is, and is often brought upon us by the wicked. But God’s all-loving nature has given the means to defeat evil already. This is that those who are wicked, though they may prosper in this life, will die. However, those who are righteous through faith in God, staying true to Him and placing their faith in Him, already have eternal life. Even if that suffering they experience results in the physical death of this world, it results in the continuation of the eternal life already given.
God does not promise a rose garden in this life. Even a rose garden has thorns mind you. God does promise to bless those who believe in Him, but that blessing is not some sort of product that results in wealth and prosperity. The blessing is one of eternal life with God in the world that is to come. However, should His people come together and form a life in community where all seek to live in faith and obedience to Him, that blessing moves through them all together. This results in a life in this world where the kingdom of heaven can be experienced here on earth in a variant form of God’s grace. But this does not mean that we won’t still go through hardship. The chief benefit is that we come to embrace the hardship, knowing that our savior experienced far worse, and still placed His faith in the one who judges impartially.
The Christian walk contains within it the knowledge that all the hardship, pain, and suffering that may be experienced always results in a benefit for those whose faith is in God. The benefit and blessing is not always for the one who experiences the suffering, mind you. It is not in the view that through faith we will never experience such things, that is a false teaching. Instead, through faith, God shows us that we are built up through hardship, that his light shines brightest through struggle and difficulty. Even non-believers can come to discover this reality, when they finally come to realize that pain and suffering are subjective. One man’s pain is another man’s pleasure you could say. Coming from the Marine Corps, I can tell you, nothing builds up a man greater than the experience of real pain and suffering endured and conquered so that others may be saved through it.
So, to my fellow believer and follower of Christ, I tell you, do not be afraid of pain and suffering. Do not think that if you are made to experience hardship and difficulty that you have done anything wrong or are being punished. Do not view the natural disasters that occur in this world as some punishment for evil doers, it simply isn’t so. You certainly are in no position to make such claims, that is for certain. Instead, follow the example of Christ as you are called for this purpose.
“For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21 CSB
God loves you. Just as a loving father allows his son to touch the hot stove so he can learn the lesson, so too does God allow us to experience certain pain and suffering so that we may learn from it also. But above all else, he placed us in this life to be an example, even in suffering, so that others may come to the saving grace of His true blessing. That is the salvation of our souls. An eternal life with Him where we can share in His loving embrace with our fellow man, and love Him in return. He has provided for us the means to start that life while we live in this world. We do this through faith in Him, trusting in His promise where He has demonstrated Himself to be faithful across all of human history. Stand firm in it!