Patterns of Suffering
Before I get to the post I need to get some administrative stuff out of the way. I am taking my youngest daughter to a Tae Kwon Do tournament in Indianapolis. So, if anyone has any comments I won’t be able to respond until Sunday.
I decided this past weekend to post on the topic of suffering. Not only do I know several Christians who are going through some tough personal times right now but I have also noticed more blog posts on the subject. Dave at his God’s Pure Grace blog has a post titled “Religion of Fear” which touches on this issue as well as Daniel Gracely’s book “A Closer Look at Calvinism.” I would now like to add my two cents on the topic. I don’t believe that I have a solution for the “problem of theodicy” but I do believe I can at least offer a framework (from a free will perspective) that is much better suited to discussion of the problem.
I am going to provide a short summary of R.B. Thieme, Jr.’s teaching on suffering via Charles Clough. Before I get into the quote I need to get two preliminaries out of the way. First, in the Clough quote he refers to the divine institutions several times. If you are not familiar with the divine institutions I suggest you follow this link to my post on them otherwise you won’t understand what he is talking about.
I also need to deal with Romans 8:28. I believe that this verse has caused a lot of confusion and I think it will help if I provide Colonel Thieme’s interpretation of the passage before I produce Clough’s longer quote:
By integrating Romans 8:28 with it’s context, we discover to our surprise that most of the ‘comfort’ derived from this verse is illusory. In its strict interpretation, Romans 8:28 does not apply to all believers; it belongs only to the mature believer! In analyzing this passage of scripture, I am not trying to deprive any ‘suffering saint’ of his only consolation in life. Far from it! I am interested in the true meaning of a vital passage. When accurately interpreted, this verse contains a power, an encouragement, a wealth of doctrine that has not been properly explained in a generation.
R.B. Thieme, Jr.
The Integrity of God
So, Romans 8:28 does not promise all that things work together for the good for all believers. Its promise is to the mature believer only. I do not provide this expecting all of you to believe it but it explains why the passage does not show up in the extended Charles Clough quote.
And now, without further ado, is an introduction to the patterns of suffering:
Remember all evil originated through creatures’ rebellious choices; evil wasn’t there at creation. In both angelic and human spheres evil can be traced back to responsible post-creation choices that had suffering consequences. All suffering, therefore, has an aspect of directness for its origin. Yet not all suffering is due to the immediate choices of those afflicted.
For example, what did an infant do to deserve to suffer and die in infancy, or what did we do as unbelievers to merit God’s “wake-up” call to salvation? Jesus warned in John 9:3 against falsely concluding that suffering is always in a simple one-to- one relationship to the sufferer. There is an indirectness, too, in suffering whereby it is an “interference” into a person’s life and is not directly “asked for”. The patterns of suffering, therefore, which follow are divided into direct and indirect categories. Some apply to all men; other apply to only unbelievers or believers.
DIRECT SUFFERING PATTERNS
(Clear consequences of creatures’ choices)
1. General existence of sickness & death (physical and spiritual): law of Gen. 2:17 was disobeyed by Adam and Eve and consequences spread throughout world (Rom.5:12-14; 8:19-23); the “fall event” vindicates God’s Word as reliable. Applies to all men.
2. General existence of “self-induced misery” (intensified physical, mental, and spiritual deterioration): law of Gal. 6:7 works out through the first divine institution of responsible labor; continued rebellious living yields corrupt fruit of foolishness showing again that God’s Word stands (Rom.1:24-32; Eph. 4:17-19). Applies to all men.
3. General judgment pattern on nations and families: law of Gal. 6:7 works out through the third and fourth divine institutions (see Chapter 6 for fourth divine institution); preserves opportunities for repentance among those inside these nations and families (Exod. 20:5-6; Num. 14:18; Acts 17:26-27). Applies to all men.
4. Eternal existence of Hell and Lake of Fire: Justice of God originally directed against the fall of angels but which a man comes to share through Adam’s fall, if he never responds to God’s grace in this mortal life (Matt. 25:41,46; Rev.20:10-15); provides for a permanent exclusion of evil from the new universe to come. Applies to unbelievers only.
5. Judgment in Mortal Life of Believers: God the Father disciplines every believer as a spiritual parent when he rebels against His authority; warning to confess sin and be restored to fellowship (I Cor.11:29-31; Heb. 12:5-13; Rev. 3:19-20); can include physical death; can work simultaneously with authorized church discipline (Matt. 18:17-18; I Cor. 5:1-5). Applies to believers only.
6. Judgment after Resurrection of Believers and Denial of Rewards: Jesus Christ evaluates fruit of believers whether produced in obedience to His Spirit or produced in the energy of the flesh (I Cor. 3:10-15; II Cor. 5:10-11; II Tim. 2:11-13).
Applies to believers only.
INDIRECT SUFFERING PATTERNS
(God personally intervenes but not as a direct consequence of some particular choice by the individual)
7. Evangelistic “Wake-up Call”: specially designed suffering can shock arrogant unbelieving self-confidence in pagan idolatries and selfrighteousness (I Sam 5; I Kings 18:21-40; Jonah 3; Acts 9:1-9); provides an extra opportunity for repentance unto salvation independent of choices of unbeliever. Applies to unbelievers only.
8. A “Nudge” to Spiritually Advance: specially designed suffering to immunize against arrogant autonomy and protect a sense of dependency upon God’s grace (Deut. 8:2-6; Psa. 119:71,75; II Cor. 12:1-10; I Pet. 1:5-9; 5:5- 10); provokes growth and preparation for coming service to others (II Cor.1:4-7). Applies to believers only and to the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:10; 5:8).
9. Evidence for Evangelization of Unbelievers: specially designed suffering to convince unbelievers of the reality of the gospel (I Tim. 1:16; I Pet. 2:12-3:17). Applies to believers only and to the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:13-18).
10. Evidence for Edification of Believers: specially designed suffering to convince other believers of the adequacy of the gospel (II Cor. 1:5-15; 4:7- 18; Heb. 12:1). Applies to believers only and to the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 2:5-9; I Pet. 2:21-23).
11. Evidence in the Unseen Angelic Conflict: specially designed suffering that has unknown (to us) ramifications in the angelic conflict between God and Satan (Job 1-2; Lk. 22:31-32; I Cor. 6:2-3; 11:10; Eph. 3:10). Applies to believers only and to the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:1-11; 26:53-54).
Here, then, I have sketched eleven distinct patterns of suffering, each of which reveals that the limits of evil are very carefully controlled with a real purpose. Now, let’s go to the last element in a biblical coping strategy…
20. Much of the concept of these patterns of suffering were given to me by R. B. Thieme, Jr., Christian Suffering (Houston, TX: Bible Ministries, 1987).