I recently received an email from a dear friend of mine, a true brother in the faith. He wrote: “Richard, here’s a question that gnaws on me at times—like right now: I think we would both agree that God desires physical health for each of His creatures (but we also recognize that God doesn’t always get what He wants—e.g., He wishes that none should perish though many do), but we also know that everyone, in one form or another, loses health or never begins with it, and b/c death is certain for all of us, that loss is, in this life anyway, inevitable. Thus, we would conclude that physical health may not be something that God grants.”
I was intrigued by the “gnawing” as experienced by my friend. I found that feeling resonated deeply with me, too. I have suffered some, both physically and psychologically. I know many others who have suffered, too, many more deeply than me. Many of those are people of great faith. They have attested to the value of suffering as means of deepening their relationships and commitments to God. Their experiences resonate with mine. Following is a beginning response to my friend’s email.
I am not convinced God desires health for each of His creatures. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 ESV. I believe this supersedes health (physical and psychological), wealth, and success.
I believe God’s ultimate desire is to be in relationship with us. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3, ESV). A sampling of a few other verses, out of many, are supportive of this contention: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, ESV). “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 ESV). And, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6, ESV).
I believe that God, because of our relationship with Him desires our faithfulness (obedience). “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy”” (1Peter 1:14, ESV). Consider also, 1 Corinthians 4: 1-2: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (ESV).
There are many instances of physical and psychological suffering in the pages of the bible. They do not seem to be contrary to God’s will, but rather can serve to lead to a greater depth of faith and dependence upon God. I plan to write more about the value of suffering as well as examples of biblical personalities who suffered.