God allows temporary suffering for the greater collective good.
Because GOD has complete knowledge and the power to do anything, His love motivates Him to do what is best. Rephrased, GOD does maximum good for the entirety of creation, given the constraints created by sin.
But, in any given moment, what is best for all of humanity and what is best for any one person may not be the same.
Additionally, temporary suffering is sometimes necessary in order to produce what is best for that person.
If we believe that GOD knows what is best, has the power to do anything, and loves us more than anyone, then we should—we must—trust that GOD will only do what is best in our life.
And if—rather, when—we suffer, we must trust that: GOD knows what He is doing; nothing happens to us that He hasn’t considered and permitted to occur; and ultimately, He will work even this suffering for our good (if we are His child).
To illustrate, consider what happened to Joseph, son of Jacob:
- His brothers sold him into slavery because of their envy (no wrong that Joseph had done).
- He worked hard for his Egyptian master only to be lied about by his master’s wife (for not sinning!).
- He was thrown in prison for a long time.
- He foretold the meaning of the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants, one of whom (the cupbearer) was restored to his position. Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him when he was restored to his role. But the man forgot Joseph.
- After 2 more years, Joseph interpreted a dream of Pharaoh’s through the recommendation of the cupbearer.
- Immediately, Joseph was released from prison and elevated to second in command over all of Egypt.
- He prepared Egypt for seven years of famine by storing grain. This led to the preservation of Joseph’s family by providing food for them during the famine and a place to live and prosper where they would continue to have food.
In Joseph’s case, his temporary suffering lasted years, but ultimately led to a clear deliverance from suffering and an even more obvious explanation of why he had endured such suffering. As Joseph told his brothers:
19 So Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for I belong to God. 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your households.” Thus he comforted them and spoke to their heart.Genesis 50:19-21 OSB
Sadly, temporary suffering does not always end in this life. Consider the example of Stephen from Acts 7.
- In Acts 6, we read that there was a complaint among the early Christians in Jerusalem that some widows were not being included in the daily distribution of food. (Recall that this is not long after Pentecost and many new Christian Jews who had come to the feast from distant lands had remained in Jerusalem to learn more about what was going on in fulfillment of ancient prophecy like Joel’s. Because they were away from home, they were in need of support, including food, from the local Christians in Jerusalem.)
- In response to this complaint, the apostles told the Christians to appoint 7 servants to oversee the daily distribution. Stephen was one of these.
- Stephen was “full of faith” (Acts 6:5, 8) and “power” (6:8). He did many signs and wonders among the people.
- In testifying about Jesus, certain Jews conspired and lied against Stephen.
- Stephen was brought before the Jewish council and asked to give a defense for himself. This is recorded in Acts 7.
- As Stephen did so, his defense turned accusatory towards these men for killing Jesus and resisting GOD’s Messiah, just as Moses had foretold.
- Stephen’s message cut them to the heart but they responded by stoning Stephen to death, murdering him.
Sometimes, the end of our suffering is seen in this life; other times, it isn’t until we die that we receive that relief.
Stephen’s death, while heinous, ultimately contributed to the future conversion of the apostle Paul. For Saul of Tarsus (Paul’s original name) kept watch over the murderers’ clothes as he consented to Stephen’s death (see Acts 7:58; 8:1).
And Paul the apostle blessed the Christians of all future generations with his labors and writings which guide our walk with GOD.
Stephen couldn’t have possibly known at the time, but his death was necessary for the greater good of humanity, and that is why GOD permitted such evil to happen. Yet, as Paul later expressed it, even Stephen immediately benefitted from his death:
18 … Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.Philippians 1:18b-21 NIV