Why are we here? Has God put us here to suffer?–from a Friend
The ultimate reason for life on earth is not suffering but supreme joy and pleasures. In fact, God Himself has promised that when His plan on earth is complete, everyone will enjoy a utopia, free of all that can harm or destroy. “Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain. And as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return to Jerusalem, singing songs of everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be overcome with joy and gladness” (Isa. 11:9; 35:10 NLT).
About six thousand years ago God began working with the inhabitants of earth (Adam and Eve), informing them of how they could become part of His plan. Isaiah, speaking on this subject, declared long ago that God “created the heavens and earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos. ‘I am the Lord,’ he says, ‘and there is no other'” (Isa. 45:18 NLT).
Peter, referring to this same future time, said, “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13 NIV).
God’s ultimate goal for this earth is an everlasting Kingdom occupied by loving, happy individuals who will not suffer but enjoy life free from care, disappointment, heartache, illness, sorrow and death. There is a wonderful future life for all who truly love God–a life like none ever experienced, surpassing anything that has ever entered the mind of any man or woman (1 Cor. 2:9; Eph. 3:20).
Experience tells us that all mortals suffer to varying degrees. History is replete with war and strife, disease and death, plagues and all sorts of atrocities. Despite what we call modern times and the great strides made in science and medicine, the human experience today is no different. The news is filled with stories of suffering and death. As the wise man said, “…time and chance happen to them all” (Eccl. 9:11 NIV). Job said, “How frail is humanity! How short is life, and how full of trouble! Like a flower, we blossom for a moment and then wither. Like the shadow of a passing cloud, we quickly disappear” (Job 14:1-2 NLT). It may seem there is little to offer beyond a few fleeting years of life, with whatever mixture of happiness and ill it may bring.
Even in the midst of a world of suffering and strife, most find a degree of happiness and pleasure. In fact, pleasure is the goal of most. If this life were all, the majority have much for which to be grateful. But while many may be happy with life as it is, the thinking man or woman wants more than this life has to offer. While science has managed to extend our life expectancy, it has failed to give us lasting life or any hope of life without pain or sorrow. If we put confidence in our fellow beings and hope for more, we shall be disappointed. As the Psalmist said, and I am sure you will agree, “It is better to trust the Lord” (Ps. 118:8 NLT).
A preparation time
Before any individual can realistically look forward to having a share in God’s final plan for this earth, there must be a time of preparation. No one is forced to participate. It is left up to the individual. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” said Joshua (Josh. 24:15). Here we come to a fork in the road. The rest of our life will be determined, to a great extent, by which road we take. Jesus described one road as the broad way which leads to death, while the other is a narrow way leading to everlasting life (Matt. 7:13-14).
Up to this point our eye has been on the present, the life of here-and-now, the broad way. We can choose to remain in that way, or we can look beyond to a future life. Be assured, neither road is free from suffering and hardship. If we choose the broad way, we may live to an old age with a fair amount of happiness, or our life may end after the next breath. But one fact is certain: we will die. The only escape from this final, dismal end is to choose what Jesus called the narrow way, and that road leads to life, everlasting life.
There are only two roads. One leads to death, the other to life. It would seem that everyone would choose the road to life. But, as previously stated, it is “narrow.” The very description indicates that there are sacrifices to be made, and the majority, hoping for an easier route, are not attracted.
What can one choosing “life” realistically expect along the narrow road which Jesus said leads there? Would you expect a college degree without first preparing to pass the required exams? Neither can one expect to pass the final exam at the Judgment seat of Christ without preparation.
Just as it takes discipline to pass a course of study, so discipline is needed in preparing for eternal life. And discipline requires some giving up, some loss, some suffering.
It seems that the righteous have suffered at the hands of their unsupportive, often antagonistic peers, almost from the time Cain slew Abel. Persecution was off and on through the reformation. It is well documented how the early Christians suffered terrible atrocities, first from the Jews and then from among members of their own ranks. This situation was prophesied by Paul when he said: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). At times, persecution and suffering were so great that Isaiah informs us: “The righteous perishes, and no man takes it to heart; Merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil” (Isa. 57:1).The plan called for both the wicked and righteous to dwell together for a time. “Let both grow together until the harvest: and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather together the tares [representing the evil], and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat [the righteous] into my barn” (Matt. 13:30 NKJV). Both inhabit the earth. Both receive good from God, who makes “His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). But when Christ returns the wicked will be destroyed, while the righteous will be saved.
While we cannot deny that God’s plan involves suffering, it is not suffering without purpose or benefit. The apostle Peter declared that we should not think it a strange thing to suffer. “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12 NLT). If we are servants of Christ we can expect to undergo a certain amount of suffering, if we must call it that. But think of the scholar, the athlete, or one studying for a career. The tests are for their development. So it is with those who aspire to becoming sons and daughters of God through covenant. They will have tests, or as Peter calls them, trials. Abraham was tried when he was called upon to offer his only begotten son Isaac. Moses was tried when he “refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” and chose rather “to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time” (Heb. 11:25-26 NIV).
The crown of all victories was Christ’s, who suffered leaving an example for all who would come after Him. Did He not say, “If anyone desire to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24)? It is a life of denial, and who can deny that this is suffering? Paul compared it to dying. “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). Some think it is terrible to have to give up smoking, drinking, cursing, swearing, or any one of a host of self-destructive habits. It is a sacrifice. But like any discipline, whether it be for a career, for education, saving for a new car, or just preparing a meal, discipline is involved. This is how God is working with His own. Paul tells us about this discipline: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:7-11 NIV). Discipline is for our training, to develop in us an upright character. Or, as verse 7 of the NLT reads: “As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined?”
God does not force us to come under His discipline. He informs us of what our duty is as His son or daughter and what He will give us if we comply with His instructions. If we come under the yoke of Christ we will never be forsaken as long as we remain under that yoke. “I will never leave you” is a Divine promise (Heb. 13:5). Christ did not say that we would not have some load, some burden: but He did say that “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).
Best of all, choosing to serve God is a no-risk choice. We are guaranteed success in obtaining eternal life if we do our part. “God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation, because you are trusting him” (1 Pet. 1:5 NLT). How can we fail with the help of God? As Christ said, “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26; Mark 10:27).
We also have the assurance that no temptation will come into our lives that is more than we can bear. “Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it” (1 Cor. 10:13 NLT).
At first glance a Christian life may seem to have no advantage over a “normal” life. However, happiness does not depend on wealth or fame, good health and friends, but upon our own state of mind. Life at best is short and will soon end without hope of any future unless we abide by the precepts of God. “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity” (Eccl. 3:19). But for the Christian “there is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while” (1 Pet. 1:6 NLT).
The early Christians maintained a joyful attitude even during severe persecution because they kept the words of Christ in mind: “Blessed are you, when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. … Blessed are you, when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy! For indeed, your reward is great in heaven: for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets” (Matt. 5:11-12; Luke 6:22-23).
Paul said that we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also.” How could they do it? Because: they knew “that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-5 NKJV).
Paul instructed the Thessalonica Church to “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you…” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). These words are timely for us in these last days preceding Christ’s return. “And God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation, because you are trusting him. It will be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–-and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him, you trust him; and even now you are happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy. Your reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:5-9 NLT).
What is the key to this inexpressible joy? It is hope, hope of eternal salvation. The words of the spokesmen for God proved inadequate to describe the greatness of the blessings God has in store for every faithful one. They are “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” exclaimed Paul (Eph. 3:20). We simply do not have the mind to comprehend them.
Why are we here?
For the training, for the hope of eternal inexpressible joy (salvation). And for all this, God demands that we worship Him only and obey His righteous precepts. In light of what He offers, far more than we can ever begin to earn, can we think for a moment that He is asking too much?