In If God Is Good, Randy Alcorn offers a perspective on suffering that I hadn’t considered before:
Throughout history God has delayed justice, both upon believers and unbelievers, to give them time to come to him, grow in Christlikeness, and trust him more deeply.
Don’t we give thanks for God’s patience with Saul, the self-righteous killer who became Paul? Or John Newton, the evil slave trader who accepted God’s amazing grace and preached and wrote the song that countless millions have sung? Are we grateful for God’s patience with us? Think of those who endured many years of suffering before the day you came to faith in Christ. Aren’t you thankful God did not deliver this planet from the Curse when millions asked for relief, before you heard the gospel? I came to Christ in 1969. What if Christ had returned and brought final judgment in 1968? Or in 1950, before I was born? If God had brought justice long ago, where would you and If be today? We would either not exist, or we would have been ushered into an eternity without Christ [emphasis added].
It’s interesting to think that all of our suffering is, in a sense, suffering for the sake of others. We continue in this world of evil, pain, and suffering only because God is still waiting patiently for all His people to be gathered to Himself, and so we undergo all our suffering for the sake of those who will come to repentance in the future, before this world ends and one without evil begins.
I like that perspective. I would hate to be robbed at gunpoint, but is being robbed at gunpoint (or any like result of being in a fallen world) worth it for the sake of another person’s future salvation? Isn’t that situation preferable to a complete end to evil now without that person’s eternal salvation? If I think of every affliction I suffer as an act of love on my part—a self-sacrifice for my future brothers and sisters—it certainly can take some of the sting out of the pain.
Of course, at some point, there must be an end. The doors will close, and the time we’ve waited for will begin for all of us. I trust God knows when that should be. But for now, let’s endure for the sake of others and be thankful for those who endured for our sake before us.