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Jesus said:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31, NIV)

If it is true that God even loves a sparrow and nothing can happen under his all powerful hand without his consent, why does God allow the great injustice of the wicked prospering while his dearly loved often suffer in this world?

How does the Christian view reconcile the sufferings of a Job with the gentle care of a sparrow?

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Related, but not a duplicate: Are Christians supposed to suffer? –  Yuletide Geek Oct 15 '12 at 10:20
    
+1 an excellent question that surely will instigate a lot more discussion. –  Monkieboy Oct 19 '12 at 18:03

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

First, sparrows do suffer and die. So Jesus was not saying God will keep you from all suffering. Some sparrows die of starvation in the cold. Jesus was rather saying, look at the sparrows, these little birds, they make nests, they gather food, they have feathers to keep them warm - that God provides for them too.

The only answer given us in the Bible directly and clearly, is in the book of Job (the oldest book in Bible btw). And there, the only answer God gives is, "who are you to question me?" and "Trust me." Those answers don't go very far, especially today, but there is some deep truth there.

It may be that we CAN NOT, as in not literally possible, for us to understand why there is suffering in the world. That actually makes sense to me. That God would be completely beyond our perception. Even physics and the natural world we explore with science is beyond our ability to comprehend.

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I don't disagree with this at all, but Scripture does give reasons for suffering. We simply don't have any reason to expect to know exactly why this particular instance of hardship. –  David Stratton Oct 15 '12 at 22:26
    
I think the I can't explain now but trust me is a golden answer and goes deeper than any in addressing extreme suffering especially the permanent kind. After all even human parents do that with their children a bit, but management of all the souls in the world is much more extreme and beyond comprehension than management of a family. Yet I agree with David that although this is an excellent answer it does not collide with some of the more knowable reasons that often comfort people also. Excellent answer though, I think you picked up on Job well. Thanks. –  Mike Oct 16 '12 at 1:18
    
@David - yes scripture gives plenty of reasons for why we as Christians suffer, but I think the question relates to Christians vs sparrows (innocent, no knowledge of good and evil). So therefore the answer must address the more root question of why do the innocent (animals, small children, etc) suffer. And I think to that the only answer given is the ones in Job. –  Hammer Oct 17 '12 at 19:19
    
Tough choice between choosing between this and David's but this did discern the root I was really driving at and when we really fall under extreme contradictions reason no longer really comforts me but trust can still comfort when reasons fails to. Cheers –  Mike Oct 19 '12 at 12:55

I guess I'd question whether or not God's children really do suffer more than the wicked. We all suffer in this world, and while some Christians suffer horrific things, so do non-believers. But assuming the premise is true...

This is one of the great philosophical questions to which there are many answers given. There are several possible reasons for any given instance of suffering, which all add up to suffering as a whole. The final answer is "because it serves God's purpose", but since that seems unsatisfying, let's look at a few other things.

The first things to point out is that God never promised that Christians would not suffer. In fact, He promises the exact opposite. There's a tract that I like that expands on this concept here.

Small excerpt:

It is true that God loves you, but you decide if His plan is "wonderful." If you have heard that happiness comes through Jesus Christ, you may like to think again. The first thing Jesus said of the Apostle Paul (who wrote most of the New Testament) was that He would show him "how great things he must suffer for (His) name's sake.1 Three times Paul was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, three times he suffered shipwreck, a night and a day he spent in the sea. There were times when Paul was so unhappy, he wanted to die.2

The Bible says, "All who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."3 It says we enter the Kingdom of God through much distress,4 and that we were appointed to afflictions.5

Jesus said if we followed Him we would be reviled, persecuted, hated, and all manner of evil would be said against us falsely, for His sake. He warned that we would have to take up our cross daily, deny ourselves and follow Him, saying, "In the world you shall have tribulation," and even that we may be called to die for our faith.6

So, what purpose could suffering possibly serve?

From many sermons I've heard on the subject, here are a few:

  • To teach us to rely more fully on God.
  • To correct wrong behavior. He loves us and chastens us when necessary.
  • To test our faith
  • To prove our faith
  • To show us how He can overcome obstacles if we rely on him (strongly related to the first point)
  • To show non-believers that He can overcome all obstacles
  • To give us an opportunity to witness to others by showing them the peace and joy in Christ that survives through persecution
  • So that we can more effectively offer comfort to others going through the same thing - to make us better ministers and evangelists.
  • To refine us

I'm sure there are others, but this will do for a start, and again, remember that God didn't promise an easy life. He promised trials, suffering, and tribulation, and the one thing we can be sure of is that it serves a His perfect purpose, which isn't always apparent to us.

As for why Christians would suffer more than the unsaved, we can look to Hebrews 12:5-11

5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:

6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

Just one final thought on the subject:

Romans 8:28 (KJV) says

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

This does not mean that all things by themselves are good. It means that He causes all things to result in a good end. Kent Hovind uses an example to illustrate. (Paraphrasing):

Suppose you were hungry and I offered you a cup of lard. No? O.K., How about a couple of cups of flour. No? Some raw eggs? No? Supposed I mix them all together and make pancakes.

Suffering should not be something that destroys our faith in God. If we are truly His, it will strengthen our faith and relationship with Him.

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Not to be flip, but it reminds me of a line from Fiddler On The Roof. As Tevye says, "If wealth is a curse, may God smite me with it, and may I never recover!" –  Yuletide Geek Oct 15 '12 at 12:36
    
That said, I did +1 the answer, because I think you do an excellent job of summarize the purposes of suffering... –  Yuletide Geek Oct 15 '12 at 12:37
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+1 Good stab at it. Only thing I would add to the reasons is 'the unknowable reason' - this seems to be the take-away in Job. Even if God could explain how his love might take away a child's parents or leave a young athlete paralyzed for life, our pea sized brains could never comprehend it. Only thing certain is that he hates suffering more than we, for his end-game is 'no tear or sorrow'. He does care for us in our suffering more than we will ever know. –  Mike Oct 15 '12 at 14:13
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This answer fails completely because the question is in regards to sparrows, innocent, ignorant, harmless creators who do not learn moral lessons or gain character or anything else, they simply suffer, they die of starvation in the cold winter storm. So your answer should address the innocent, the 3 year old little girl who knows only abuse and neglect, and then dies at age three. Job is powerful because it gives no answer other than "trust God even now". –  Hammer Oct 15 '12 at 17:55
    
@Hammer ...I think you miss the point with your crtique of this question. The "sparrow" passage creates a baseline. The neglected, abused girl would be above that baseline in the Father's care. So if those in the baseline do not fall but without the permission of the Father, what of those above the baseline who are worth much more? –  San Jacinto Oct 15 '12 at 20:14

As a complement to Hebrews 12:5-11 cited by David Stratton, one might consider Romans 1:24 (which speaks of giving the wicked over to their desires). Although that verse specifically relates to sexual corruption, the idea that God allows people to receive their hearts' desires as a form of judgment seems evident. Just as suffering (the discipline of a father toward his true children) can be seen as a grace, the pleasures of the wicked can be seen as a first act of judgment. The pleasures of the world, when received without proper gratitude or as ultimate goods, can corrupt the heart much as suffering, when properly received, can purify the heart. Allowing people to accumulate wrath for the day of wrath (Romans 2:5) may be viewed as a very harsh judgment.

James 5:1-6 speaks of wrongly possessed wealth testifying against rich people; one might reasonably extend this to worldly good in general, acquired wrongly or received and/or handled wrongly.

Psalm 73 seems to speak to this issue as well, hinting that an abundance of worldly good can lead to or be associated with arrogance and a sudden and extreme falling into judgment.

Those who have their lives together may be the least inclined to repent or recognize that they are not becoming more alive but more dead; the sick with unpleasant or disquieting symptoms are more likely to seek a physician.

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Welcome to C.SE! These are some good angles to consider, using Scripture and Reason together. When you get the chance, be sure to check out the FAQ. –  Yuletide Geek Oct 21 '12 at 22:11

The simple reason Christians may suffer more is because more is expected out of us!

Compare being humble and meek, give our life for His cause, turning the other cheek vs. being prideful and boasting, live for our carnal desires, and seeking revenge.

Hmmmmm, which one would you naturally pick? There is a theory of mind (can't remember official title) but basically states that humans naturally seek maximum pleasure and minimum pain.

I have met and seen Christians who are miserable and suffering based on their interpretations of beliefs, just holding on until Jesus comes. There is an expectation to suffer based on some of the Lords word and for some Christians and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. For others, they don't expect it and still suffer. Some are here on earth for a vacation - have all needs and wants met, extremely happy with life, believer and non-believers but those are more rare but are a reality.

It is a spectrum of suffering and rains on the just and unjust alike.

So, add the self-fulling prophecy and standards to live up to for His sake, it is easy to see why Christians appear to or do suffer more.

However, through my spiritual evolution, I have noticed that God wants us to enjoy being here in the physical world too!

We have His OK to be OK - and joyful!

After all, it is His will we are here and we must celebrate that.

John 16:24

Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Psalm 126:6

He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

Also see these: http://www.openbible.info/topics/joy

So the concept of a Christian always suffering is not the Lord's whole picture.

Rather the Christian life is suffering and joy, in parallel, then we pick which one to focus our attention on.

Another very important aspect is to realize how personality and brain disposition effects spiritual and religious interpretation. Studies show that highly sensitive people are more likely to feel they must surrender all for the sake of Christ, including happiness, jobs, money, self confidence, etc.

For a very good read and study of this see:

The Highly Sensitive Person: by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.

Joel Osteen is a preacher who actually only focus on the positive parts of God, which is why he gets a lot of heat, but his messages are still true and powerful. For example, see his sermon on holding onto joy.

While he is in the category of Biblical inspiration, he can be a necessity to a complete and whole Christian walk. see his blog for more info:

http://ww2.joelosteen.com/HopeForToday/Pages/JoelVictoriasBlog.aspx

It is also important to notice that the reality of this philosophy is followed by the #1 biggest church in America and is an specific example of these concepts supported by scripture - of joy, happiness, promotion, health and strength as a Christian - while still acknowledging the suffering.

EDIT

Also see: Nehemiah 8:10

for the joy of the Lord is your strength;

to rejoice, as the Lord commanded them on such days as these, was a means both of increasing their bodily strength and their inward strength, and of fitting them the more to perform their duty to God and men with cheerfulness, which sorrow and heaviness made unfit for; and the joy which has the Lord for its object, and comes from him, is the cause of renewing spiritual strength, so as to run and not be weary, walk and not faint, in the ways of God.

http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/nehemiah-8-10.html

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These philosophies are not representative of Christian doctrine from any of the major traditions. They may be popular enough among certain circles, but since you don't identify who this claims to represent, it should be noted that this DOES NOT represent mainstream Christianity. –  Caleb Oct 16 '12 at 7:03
    
@Caleb: I actually linked a video to this philosophy that just happens to be from the #1 biggest church in America: sermoncentral.com/articleb.asp?article=Top-100-Largest-Churches –  Greg McNulty Oct 16 '12 at 18:19
    
@Caleb: also note that "mainstream Christianity" is constantly in flux and is ever expanding, it is a moving target and influenced by man, please see the scriptures I linked. –  Greg McNulty Oct 16 '12 at 18:24
    
The source you quote is arguably one of the least respected authorities on the subject of suffering you could find the world over. And having the biggest church is probably a counter-indication of orthodoxy. Those kind of talking heads gain popularity for a day, but they come and go with the wind. History has always shown how far afield they are, and while your perception of "mainstream" may flux with the tide of popular culture, "orthodoxy" does not and if you cancel out the far-outs through time you'll find that "mainstream" isn't really expanding either. –  Caleb Oct 17 '12 at 6:42
    
@Caleb: Ok, so you are taking back your comment about this philosophy pertaining to mainstream Christianity and replacing it with Orthodox... I live right next to a huge Easter Orthodox Christian church. They regularly have large gatherings with loud music, festivals and food - they are doing exactly what I am talking about here and living with joy. Suffering and joy is not a Christian idea, it is just the lens you look at it with, and to answer the question is to realize God does give us a choice, free will and in some cases commands us to be joyful:openbible.info/topics/joy –  Greg McNulty Oct 17 '12 at 20:42

protected by Yuletide Geek Oct 20 '12 at 22:00

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