Description: Suffering shows us that temporal things and human relationships aren't the basis of life. God reveals all we can live without and still be happy.
The Purpose of Suffering
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done? What’s the most exciting experience you’ve ever
had? You know, as all our minds click over now some of us are thinking, “Yeah, the first time I
rode a bicycle,” or, “The first time I kissed my husband,” or, “Getting married,” or, “Not getting
married.” That would be exciting too. Or, “The first time I drove the family car, that was
exciting,” Or, “The first time I ever skied in Colorado. That was exciting.” But I think all of us
are thinking of all kinds of different experiences, things that were really exciting for us.
Now, have you ever thought that the One who made those exciting moments possible is even more
exciting himself. Now, you need to kind of do a mental contortion there to really look at that
honestly and not just think it’s a commercial for God, you know. So, would you think of it for a
moment. The one who made it possible to experience exciting things like, oh, leaning a Honda into a
60 mile an hour curve, or skiing down a slope, the one who made that exciting moment possible must
himself, be actually more exciting than that, mustn’t he? And he couldn’t make something that was
better than himself. So the one who lies behind those exciting moments must himself be a far more
exciting person than those moments.
Now, I’d ask you, what’s the most security you have ever experienced? What’s the greatest sense of
safety that you have ever felt in your life? And then, we’d all answer it differently, some of us
would say, “When I was 6 year-old in my dad’s arms being carried up to bed.” Or, “When my mom put
me into bed and kissed me good night. That – I never felt as safe as I did then.” And some of us
then would say, “Well, being in the arms of somebody that I really can trust. That’s the safest
moment I’ve ever experienced.” And some of us would say when we found we could earn money ourselves
and hadn’t to depend on anybody else. And some of us would say, “When I last paid my house off.”
And some of us would say, “When I got my degree.” But all of us here have answers to that, the
greatest safety we’ve ever felt in our lives, the greatest sense of security.
Now loved ones, I’m going to ask you the same question. Don’t you see that the person who made that
feeling of security possible and made the people or the things that give you that security, that he
himself gives an even greater sense of security if you know him. In other words, the giver is
actually better than the gifts he gives. The feelings that the gifts bring about in us are only
shadows of the real feelings that that giver brings about in us if we know him himself. Now, do you
see that’s why he gave us the gifts? He gave us those things to show us what he himself was like
and to encourage us to go right through to the person who had given the gifts.
Now that’s the meaning of that verse we’ve looked at it before, it’s Romans 1. One of the verses
that we use, you remember, in connection with the truth of general revelation, how anybody, whether
they believe in the Bible or not, can believe there is a God. And it’s Romans 1:19 and 20, “For
what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the
creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly
perceived in the things that have been made.” So the reason God made the world and gave us all
these gifts and made all these experiences possible was so that we would see the kind of person he
was behind all the gifts and so that we would start going to him.
So the reason he made a snowy slope for us to ski down was because he hoped that we would want to
know who had made the snowy slope and who wanted us to enjoy ourselves skiing down it. The reason
he made a smooth peaceful lake that we can sit beside in the summer was because he wanted us to see,
“Look, the person who made this peaceful lake and this smooth surface must be far more peaceful
himself. He must be able to give me even greater peace by a relationship with him than I can get
from this lake that he’s made.” So the reason God made affection was so that we would glimpse in
that affection a little shadow of the great affection that he had in his heart and we would go
through to him and we would meet him himself. In other words, the reason God made all these things
was so that we would go behind the gifts to the giver. We, of course, have not done that. We just
have refused to do that.
Well, in Romans 1:21 it says it there, “For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or
give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were
darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for
images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.” And verse 25, “Because they
exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the
Creator who is blessed forever!” And that’s what we do.
We took the gifts and we started to try to live on them themselves without the giver behind the
gifts. So we get a headache and we feel we have to deal with the strain and the tension of the
headache. And we go to the chemical gift that he has given and we pop the old aspirins until we get
rid of the headache. Usually, never for a moment thinking, “I wonder, can the person who made this
aspirin do something for my headache himself?” You must admit we never think of it. We really
always think, “No, that’s stupid.” We have really been trained to be practical atheists, haven’t
we? We’ve been brought up always to use the gifts instead of the giver. We always do.
I mean, you must admit, if you had a headache the first thing that occurs to your mind is not,
“Father, will you heal my headache?” With most of us, until we hear of the possibility that God can
heal, with most of us we just grab the old aspirin and pop it. It’s the same, you must admit, with
the whole business of our value, our sense of self-esteem and self-respect. We automatically try to
establish that by gaining a position of significance amongt our peers. That’s normally how we
establish our self-esteem and self-respect. We all talk that way, “Oh, don’t say that to him, it’ll
spoil his self-respect.” Because we all for our self-respect go to the creatures; we worship the
creature rather than the Creator. We go to all the other little creatures in the world and we try
to get them to admire us for our singing, or our ability, or our cleverness and we try to establish
our self-esteem and our self-respect that way. We never for a moment think, “I wonder could the
Person who made self-esteem and self-respect possible, could the Person who made all these other
people who admire me, could he himself give me a sense of self-esteem and self-respect if I really
knew him personally?”
And in fact, loved ones, you know that we have become so ingrained in this attitude that we are not
only unable to perceive the stupidity of the attitude, but we’re also unable to do anything about
it. We have come into a deep perversion of our wills where we’re not only blind and fail to see
that this is what we’re doing, but even when we do see it we’re unable to do anything about it. So
that we’re like people who are holding on to our rope that somebody is holding on a mountainside and
we’re trying to climb up and the person who is holding the rope is reaching his hand to us, but we
say, “No, no, the rope’s safer, the rope’s safer.” And we’re hanging onto the rope and we’re
hanging onto to all the aspirins we can get our hands on, and all the snowy slopes we can get our
hands on, and all the dear dads who carry us up the stairs that can give us a security, but we will
not let go of that rope to hold onto the hand of the person who holds the rope.
And so we’ve become so used to this that we almost doubt that there is any source of security except
stocks and shares, a good job, social security, a good health program and a career that looks as if
it will open out more and more as the years pass. It’s very difficult for us, isn’t it, to conceive
that there is any other answer for security except those things? It’s very difficult for us to
think that there is any possible escape from the pedestrian boredom that sets upon us at times in
life except more concerts, more movies, better vacations and bigger cars. It’s very difficult for
us to think that there is any answer to self-esteem and self-respect except getting it from other
people, getting it from the approval of others. So loved ones really, we are pretty sick people,
because we fail to realize that we’re doing this and then when we do realize we’re doing it we
somehow can’t escape from it.
That whole attitude, of course, was contradicted by Jesus. For three days he was dead, just dead.
And there were no gifts of the world he could get his hands on. There was no adulation of crowds or
admiration of friends. There was no money available to give him security. There was not anything
that we have to meet our personality needs for significance and security and approval and happiness.
And during those three days he was separated from them all, from all the gifts that we think are
essential to fulfill our personality needs. And he came back from life not a pale shadow of a man,
not by any means a man who was filled with fear and a sense of rejection and a sense of loneliness,
he came back from dead being so filled with life and vitality that Peter told the people that he was
the author and Prince of Life.
And so when Jesus, a man that was separated from all the things that we depend on for the
fulfillment of our needs, in Jesus during those three days there was obviously, a complete
fulfillment of those needs. Obviously, he got into such close contact with the Creator who made him
that he was filled with all the sense of significance he needed, all the sense of approval that he
needed, all the sense of happiness that he needed.
And so, really loved ones, it’s plain and obvious from even just his example that you don’t need
these gifts to give you these things. In fact, God wants you not to depend on the gifts. He wants
you to separate yourselves from these gifts as a method of fulfilling your need for significance,
approval and security and he wants you to go directly through to him. And loved ones that can only
come about if you’re willing to enter into the same relationship to those gifts as he had. Now
let’s show you what it is, it’s Galatians 6:14. And I think you’ll see the sense of in the light of
what we’ve just shared. “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus
Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”
Now that’s what we mean, you see, when you say that during those three days Jesus was separated from
the ski slopes, from the money, from the career, from the approval of other people that we depend on
for the fulfillment of our personality needs. He was crucified to the world and the world was
crucified to him. Now every one of us here who is willing to be crucified to the world and willing
for the world to be crucified to us will experience the reception of the Spirit of Jesus into our
own lives and such a closeness with the Creator who made us that all our personality needs will be
fulfilled by that relationship alone.
Now that’s true, loved ones. Once you become aware that you don’t need all those things and you’re
willing to separate yourself from them and to be crucified to them as far as their fulfillment of
your needs is concerned, obviously you’ll still ski; obviously, you’ll still sail boats; obviously,
you’ll still eat, you’ll still have friends, but the first moment you come to the place to where
you’re willing to have those crucified to you as far as depending on them for your own sense of
significance, approval and security is concerned, that moment God sends the Spirit of his Son into
your heart and you begin to experience the close relationship with the Creator of the world that
fulfills all those needs without the gifts.
Now many of us, of course, have come to at least that place. And we’ve come into that crisis
awareness. But God is so good you know, he will not let us bluff ourselves. And a lot of us will
say, “Yeah, I can do without people, I don’t need their approval. I don’t need any more ‘A’s to
sense that I’m worthwhile in life. No, I agree Lord Jesus, I’m willing to be crucified with you to
the need for ‘A’s. I’m willing to be crucified with you for the need for the approval of my
superiors. I’m willing to do that.” But God is good, you know, he knows we talk big. And he then
proceeds once you entered into that to prove that it is really so. And loved ones, that’s the place
That’s why old Paul says that if you’re a child of God you’re going to experience some suffering
because for years you’ve been depending on everybody but your Father. Now your Father is going to
gradually take those things away from you that you’ve been depending on to show you and prove to you
that he himself is adequate himself. And so that’s where we came to you, remember in Romans 8:18.
And verse 17 was the verse we dealt with in the previous few weeks. Paul says, “If children, then
heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may
also be glorified with him.” Now the suffering is God gradually taking away prop after prop that we
say we have been crucified to. And he gradually takes them away so that he himself can be
everything that he wants to be to us. And so verse 18, “I consider that the sufferings of this
present time.” “Kairos” is the Greek word, it means just the time that we have in these 70 years,
this present lifetime, “Are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
So many of us who have been very close to a dear mom or dad have experienced a great new sense of
the eternity of life and the stability of life in God when that mom or dad has died. Now it’s not
that God sends the death, — God does not send the suffering it’s Satan that is out to destroy all
the gifts that God has given us — but the Father uses Satan’s work to test the work of crucifixion
that has been done in us. So many of us who have been desperately dependent on the approval of our
parents throughout our lives have had to suffer eventually the withdrawal of that approval at some
point in our lives when we made some decision that they did not agree with so that we would begin to
grow up and seek the approval of the only significant other that really counts.
Many of us have been too dependent on a dear husband or a wife and we’ve depended on them for the
fulfillment of all our physical and our emotional needs and the only way the Father could get us to
stop depending on the gifts and come through to the giver was by withdrawing that affection or that
physical attention or that emotional stimulation that we depended on so that he could draw us to
himself and show us that he was the source of all that original joy that we received through the
secondary cause and that he is able to give that same joy and that same satisfaction to us through a
thousand other secondary causes if he wishes because it comes from him himself.
Many of us have had the same experience with children or with brothers and sisters and we’ve
depended on their closeness for our friendship and our company. Many of us have depended on the
idea of marriage for the possibility of being delivered from loneliness in our old age or from being
delivered from insecurity and the Father has had to withdraw marriage from us so that we would begin
to lean on him alone for that friendship and that security. And so loved ones, it operates all
through our lives. Many of us who have depended on our since of significance and our sense of value
on the approval of our superiors have found that that approval has been withdrawn. And God has
brought us into a place either through our own fault, or through a recession, or through a
professional crisis in the organization that we belong to, he has brought us to a place where that
approval was withdrawn. And the reason for the suffering is to bring us through to the approval of
the only Person who really counts.
Many of us have depended on our jobs for our sense of significance. We’ve depended on our success
at the job, our ability, our mental sharpness, our professional efficiency, our reputation in the
career that we had. We’ve depended on all of that for our sense of value and God has had to allow
that to be withdrawn from us because he knows that all those things will pass and those things will
be finished after 70 years. And then we’ll have absolutely no sense of value if that’s where our
sense of value has come from. Once we’ve got our gold watch for 25 or 30 years service, then we
cease to have any sense of value and he knows that — so he withdraws those lovingly from us so that
we begin to depend for our sense of value on him alone.
And so loved ones, the Father lovingly allows Satan’s work to continue in our lives at times so that
we will begin to come to the only One who really counts. Many of us depend for our sense of value
and significance and approval on our appearance, or our talents, or our gifts. And God lovingly
allows those things to be withdrawn and we suffer their withdrawal so that we come into the place
where he alone counts. Loved ones, when is God’s love most precious to you? You know, all of us
would answer this the same way: when things are roughest, when things are toughest, when things are
hardest, when there seems nothing else. You know that; you know that most of our problem is to
maintain the sense of consecration to him that we expressed in a time of crisis, and a time of
defeat, and a time of depression and hardship. Most of us serve God best when life is at its worst.
And loved ones, that’s the purpose of suffering. It’s not that the Father sends it, but he allows
Satan to work that so that he actually uses Satan and uses his works to begin to withdraw us from
And so it is in the whole sense of security. Many of us are really depending on our strong right
arm for our sense of security. We’re depending on our ability to earn the money we need, we’re
depending on our good job, we’re depending on our academic qualifications, we’re depending on some
dear one who is close to us. And God allows that source of support to be withdrawn so that we will
learn to depend on the One who provides daily bread. It’s anathema you know, anathema to us proud
human beings to depend on somebody who says he’s going to give it to you tomorrow. How do you know
he will? We hate that. We like to have the bread stuffed up in the bank so that we can pull it out
when we need it. And it is anathema for us to depend on someone giving it day-by-day as we need it.
But God’s desire is for us to come into that because he knows he’s the one who made the bread.
He’s the one who made the money. He’s the one who made the wheat and the corn. He’s the one on
whom we finally depend. He knows if he moved his little finger the whole world would spin out of
its orbit into chaos. And so he knows that as long as we depends on these gifts, we’re depending on
superficial things that are going to pass, and he himself is the real one that will never pass.
And so loved ones, bit-by-bit through suffering God is trying to wean us from those superficial
substitutes for him that we have invented. And so what happens as you enter into real suffering is
that miserable, poor, crippled invalid who for years depended on the approving nod of the superior
at work, or who trembled when the stock market began to drop, or who collapsed in chaos when
somebody failed to express a kind word to him, that poor, crippled invalid gradually is laid
lovingly in the tomb by God. And up there rises a prince and princess of God who depends on their
Father for all their approval and significance and happiness and who walks strong and stands tall
and cannot be conquered and is invincible.
And that’s why you see, Paul says, “I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth
comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” And the Greek word is “eis”, into or in us.
And the beauty of it is that out of you and me, poor, crippled invalids that we are, depending on
somebody giving us an A grade or depending on somebody else giving us a job, or depending on
somebody else approving of the work that we’ve done, or depending on somebody else to give us a
sense of love, we poor, crippled invalids eventually are laid in the tomb and we are revealed in
Jesus as strong, invincible princes and princesses of God who depend on him alone. That’s the
purpose of the sufferings.
So it’s not just a unpleasant experience that we’re supposed to explain. Suffering originally
became because we forgot God, turned against him and turned Satan loose and he’s the one that brings
the suffering. But the purpose of the suffering is that the Father is using it to wean us away from
his gifts to him himself. I’d just ask you therefore to welcome the suffering. I know it sounds
wild but that’s what the Bible says, greet it as pure joy when you enter into various trials, and
see what God is doing in them, and see what weakness in you has laid you open to the suffering.
Because the reason you suffer, the reason it is suffering to you is there is still something more of
you hanging off the cross. There is still something of you that is not depending on God alone.
That’s why you suffer.
If you’re not absolutely dependent on your dear wife for her love, then if she withdraws the love
then you don’t suffer, you are sorry. You want the marriage to be what God wants it to be, but you
yourself do not suffer. If you really know beyond all doubt that God has supplied in the past all
the money you needed and will supply in the future, then you can lose your home, you can lose your
shares and you do not suffer. You look upon it as something that is happening objectively to some
other person. So while we’re suffering there’s something that God is trying to get at that is
independent of himself.
So look at the suffering; if it comes to you in the old physical side, well God’s trying to work
there. If it comes to you with the money, then God’s trying to work there. If it comes to you in
the career, then you have a fair idea that there’s somewhere that I’m living dependent on the gifts
rather than the giver. And I don’t think you have any question what kind of person you’d like to
be, whether you’d like to be an invalid, crippled and lame or whether you’d like to be whole and
well. And that’s what the Father wants.
Let us pray. Father we thank you that you have not been like Napoleon who said, “Men love baubles
and love badges, they love play things and trinkets.” Father, you have not despised us like that.
You have not thrown us oceans, and rivers, and trees, and cars, and clothes, and shoes, and other
people and said, “They’ll be satisfied with those.” Father, thank you for that. Thank you that
you have given us all those things simply to lead us to one who is better than all of those things,
the one who alone supplies those and the one who can supply the feelings that those supply without
the gifts themselves. Father, thank you. Thank you that you really want us to look upon you as
our loving Father who will give us all the approval and security and significance we need. Thank
you, Lord. I will trust you Father for my brothers and sisters — that every piece of suffering
that they entered into this coming week may be seen by them as a dear gift that you are able to use
to make them more invincible, more dependent upon you, and more independent of the world. For your