If you live long enough, you will suffer. The only alternative is to not live long enough and die a fairly quick death. But this is the certain reality, all of us are bound to suffer, unless we don’t live long enough.
In my experience, I’ve only begun to see pain and even then it has been at a fairly far distance with the nearest being my grandfather who died from pneumonia and heart failure two days after my first child was born. A close family friend died of scleroderma. We’ve had 3 women in our previous church die from cancer and leave their husbands widowers and in one case, her children without a mom. There is a young pastor in Irvine, just a few years older than I, who is in a coma now. His wife was pregnant with their second child when he went into the coma and he has been in the coma since February this year. One of my theology professors at The Master’s College died in 2002 after being diagnosed with cancer and fighting it for a bit. Our Bible exposition professor lost his wife after some years of being married. The son of theologian Wayne Grudem lost his wife after only being married for 3-4 months! B. B. Warfield’s wife was struck by lightning on their honeymoon and she was bedridden for the rest of their married lives. Children are born with conditions and complications that cause us to lose heart. We are all headed for death, aren’t we? If you manage to avoid these diseases and accidents that may occur, there’s the prospect of dying in old age as your body deteriorates and deteriorates until they put tubes in your nostrils to help you breathe. Your eyes start to glaze as you lay in the hospital and your fingertips grow cold and your toes go black. You wish you would just die already and so does your family because it hurts them to see you in such constant pain and deterioration of life.
Where is God? How are we to think about these things?
What about natural disasters? There are earthquakes in Haiti, tsunamis in Japan or India, and hurricanes that hit New Orleans.
Where is God? How are we to think about these things?
Then there’s the evil in the world! The crimes committed in our city are numerous. One of our members works in the courts here in downtown where he sees several men a day who beat their wives and girlfriends and threaten those who prosecute them while their women are unwilling to testify. Let’s not forget the wars and terrorist acts like the 10th year anniversary we just past last week with 9/11. I remember in our first weeks at our new church in Washington D.C. we were praying for some members who were on their honeymoon and just got married. Within the first two weeks of their marriage, she was home alone and raped by a man who forced his way into her apartment and she shared the gospel with him while he was raping her.
Where is God? How are we to think about these things?
Let’s look at Romans 8:18-25 and the following verses in the following weeks. This will not be a tight exposition where we carefully trace the argument Paul is making here, but, using this text sort of as a framework, we will pull out the themes of this text and fill them out with other passages of Scripture. The big themes and theological structure that Christians should have in place when they think about suffering are all here for the most part. We will look at Job for a few weeks after exploring important pieces of the framework for thinking about preparing to suffer from this second half of Romans 8.
1. Understand that the creation was originally good
Paul tells us in Romans 8:20 that the creation was subjected to futility. To understand this we must understand what the creation was before it was subjected. We must grasp that the fact that the creation was originally good.
There was no death, sickness, or relational pain
God made the world and he said that it was good. He says this over and over again (Genesis 1:12, 18, 21, 25). The creation process reaches a climax in the creation of male and female humans made in God’s very image with the finishing statement after the sixth day in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
As we read on in Genesis 1-2, there was death. Death would only come if they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There was no sickness either. There was no relational pain between God and the humans, between the husband and wife, or between the humans and the rest of the creation whether animals, plants, land, water, or air.
There was no sin
In this original creation there was no sin. Adam worked the ground and named animals. He married his wife Eve. They enjoyed life together. They ate and walked with God. They obeyed God. They didn’t fight with each other. Adam perfectly led and loved his wife and Eve perfectly helped and submitted to her husband. It was all good with perfect harmony and peace.
There was no separation from God
Without sin, there is no separation from God. God walked with them in the garden of Eden. They enjoyed their relationship. There was nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of.
They had Perfect bodies
Adam and Eve had perfectly strong and healthy bodies that were not able to die at this point. They were even, as persons (mind, soul, body), able to not sin. They didn’t have to sin. They didn’t have sin dwelling within them. This was the original state of affairs.
We must understand the original creation if we’re going to make sense of this second point and the suffering we see and experience in our lives.
2. Understand that the creation was subjected to futility
Paul tells us, “the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (Romans 8:20-22). Again, we have to understand the beginning of the story of our universe as accurately told in the Bible to understand our world and the suffering we see today.
The creation was subjected to futility and the bondage of corruption
The futility and corruption in the world, whether physical or spiritual, relational or emotional, personal or societal, is caused because God subjected it to corruption. We know that it was God who subjected it into corruption and not Satan because Satan would not subject it in the hope (v. 21) that it was subjected into.
All the pain in this world that anyone experiences at any moment of their life is directly tied to this reality though many do not realize it. Suffering is because of sin. Death and disaster is because of disobedience.
Death entered the world through sin
God tells us through Paul in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
The primary problem in the world is not what the world thinks it is
It’s easy to think that the main problem in the universe is our hurting other people or hurting the environment or animal kingdom. So we may even tell people, “You know that the societies where marriages break down inevitably and manifestly lead to more crime and disorder in society, so be a Christian to have a strong marriage.”
Here are the “world’s biggest problems” according to worldsbiggestproblems.org and Rick Warren according to his PEACE plan.
The World’s Biggest Problems (worldsbiggestproblems.org)
The World’s Biggest Problems portal has a simple, clear mission: educating people all around the world about the biggest problems facing humanity. These problems have two criteria, they must be global in scope, and have the potential to rapidly escalate into severe crises.
- Economic Collapse : Fragilities in the current global economy could tip the developed world into conditions not seen since the 1920s.
- Peak Oil : Petroleum has powered the modern world for almost 100 years; today, many industry insiders say that we may be reaching a permanent peak in oil production.
- Global Water Crisis : Over the last 50 years the human population has nearly tripled, while industrial pollution, unsustainable agriculture, and poor civic planning have decreased the overall water supply.
- Species Extinction : Certain species that human beings depend upon for our food supply are going extinct; if their numbers fall too low we may face extinction ourselves.
- Rapid Climate Change : While the debate rages on about the causes of climate change, global warming is an empirical fact. The problem is both a curse and blessing, in that people from different cultures will either have to work together or face mutual destruction.
Rick Warren’s PEACE Plan (thepeaceplan.com)
In a world confronting so many problems, there are 5 that loom especially large. Truly GLOBAL in scale and GIANT in depth, these 5 Global Giants cannot be diminished or resolved by any single person, organization, government or business without adequate motivation, people, supplies or power.
The Giant of Spiritual Emptiness
Billions of people live every day without hope, meaning and purpose.Unwilling to reconcile with ones who have caused them pain, these empty lives are littered with broken relationships, bitterness and strife. They try to fill the void with drugs, greed and other meaningless substitutes that leave an even bigger hole.
The Giant of Self-Serving Leadership
Corrupt, greedy and even dishonest leadership mires billions of people in poverty, disease and illiteracy. Self-serving leadership uses followers to consolidate power for reelection, or worse, take power by force from those too weak and vulnerable to resist.
The Giant of Poverty
Half the world today – three billion people – scrape by on less than two dollars a day. A billion and a half people live on less than a dollar a day. A billion people in our world live in grinding, under-nourishing, dehumanizing poverty. Cultures oppress women and families, intentionally keeping them from educational opportunities that illuminate a way out of poverty.
The Giant of Disease
The statistics are startling, and very real. Approximately 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. Every day, nearly 7,500 people are infected with HIV and 5,500 die from AIDS. Malaria kills over 1 million people annually. More than 500,000 women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth each year. And among children under five, malnutrition is the cause of one third of their deaths.
The Giant of Illiteracy
Half of our world is functionally illiterate. Globally, 73 million primary school age children do not attend school on a regular basis. Currently, less than 55 percent of children in developing countries attend secondary school — a necessary step for the next generation to fulfill its potential and lead nations toward progress.
But this is not the main problem. This is not what initially or ultimately ruined and ruins the world. Our sin against God is what ruins the world. Adam’s sin ruined the world because he sinned against God and broke relationship with God, who is the central and most important relationship. That’s why David said, “Against you and you only have I sinned and done what was evil in your sight!” (I think Rick Warren’s first global giant, “spiritual emptiness,” points to it and is in essence trying to say that in more winsome ways).
Our sin is always first and foremost against God, to the point where when you sin you can biblically say you are only sinning against God and not the other person you feel you are sinning against. If you say, “I have nothing against you God, my beef is with my spouse, or church member, or neighbor, or co-worker, or whoever” and you sin against that person, you haven’t sinned against that person, you sinned against God himself! Every sin is an attempt to hi-jack the throne! It is to belittle or diminish God, to violently attack his holiness, to trample his honor and majesty. That is what my frustration is when I can’t get a parking spot or when the bag of baby wipes drops on a dirty floor and I scream out in frustration. When I feel self-righteous toward my wife or impatient with my kids or flake on a meeting with a friend or neighbor, I seek to dethrone God! And that is what’s wrong with the universe. The problem with the universe is that I would plunge it into the bondage of corruption 5 million times over if it were based on my life lived on this earth so far.
The inevitability of death and suffering for all
Because this is a broken, yet-to-be redeemed, subjected to futility, enslaved to corruption universe due to our sin and rebellion, we can expect to die and should not be surprised by the suffering and pain we and our loved ones endure on this earth. It is appointed for man to die once, then comes judgment. The wages of sin is death. We must not be surprised that suffering and death are coming, but expect it, be ready for it, and prepare to trust Christ and exalt him in the midst of it.
Now let us suppose that your spouse comes home from a medical checkup with fearful news: there are signs that a vicious melanoma has taken hold. The hospital runs emergency tests during the next few days and the news comes back all bad: the prognosis is three months’ survival at best, and all that modern medicine can do is mitigate the pain.
I do not want to minimize the staggering blow such news can administer to any family. There are many forms of practical comfort and support that thoughtful people can show. But it must be said that if you are a Christian who has thought about these things in advance, you will recognize that this sentence of death is no different in kind from what you and your spouse have lived under all your life; that you have been preparing for this day since your conversion; that you have already laid up treasure in heaven, and your heart is there. We are all under sentence of death; we are all terminal cases. The only additional factor is that in this case the sentence, barring a miracle, will certainly be carried out sooner than you had anticipated. I am not pretending that this bare truth is immensely comforting. Our comfort turns on other factors. But full acceptance of this truth can remove a fair bit of unnecessary shock and rebellion; for we will have escaped the modern Western mind-set that refuses to look at death, to plan for death, to live in the light of death, to expect death. 
3. Understand that there will be a final redemption in the end
The creation will be set free
The creation was subjected to futility and enslaved to corruption, but the hope is that it will be set free into the glory of the freedom of God’s children (8:21). This is the hope of a world to come that can actually serve it’s purpose of displaying the glory of God to the people of God in the New Earth. In this creation there will be no chaos, disorder, earthquake, tornado, volcano erupting, tsunami, hurricane, or storm that will endanger or harm anyone. The creation will be set free!
We wait for the redemption of our bodies
We also wait knowing that our physical bodies will be redeemed. They will be made new. We will not be able to sin. We will not be able to die or get hurt. John writes, “We know that when he appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:3). Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15 that we will be raised in incorruption, power, and as a spiritual body (not to mean it won’t be physical) (vv. 42-44). We will be clothed with incorruptibility and immortality (v. 54-55).
The picture of the creation and our bodies free from corruption
Revelation 21:1-8 and 22:1-5 paint the picture for us:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. 2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. 5 Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” 6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the •Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life. 7 The victor will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. 8 But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars —their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
1 Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, 3 and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His •slaves will serve Him. 4 They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.
I close with 3 applications:
Treasure the heavenly reward
This means that our hearts should be set on heaven and we should be laying up treasures in heaven. D. A. Carson says, “I have become more and more convinced that it is impossible long to sustain in the Christian church genuine ethics, genuine spirituality, genuine doctrine, genuine right priorities, and genuine God-centeredness unless your planning is for 50 billion years from now. It just can’t be done.”
Jesus said, “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
It’s not about guarding your heart in this text. It’s about what you treasure leading your heart.
Look to the future consummation
Don Carson tells the story of Martin Luther:
In September 1542, Magdalene, one of the daughters of Martin Luther, lay dying, her father weeping at her side. He asked her, “Magdalene, my dear little daughter, would you like to stay here with your father, or would you willingly go to your Father yonder?”
Magdalene answered, “Darling father, as God wills.” Luther wept, holding his daughter in his arms, praying that God might free her; and she died.
As she was laid in her coffin, Martin Luther declared, “Darling Lena, you will rise and shine like a star, yea like the sun . . . I am happy in spirit, but the flesh is sorrowful and will not be content, the parting grieves me beyond measure . . . I have sent a saint to heaven.”
Is not some of the pain and sorrow in this life used in God’s providential hand to make us homesick for heaven, to detach us from this world, to prepare us for heaven, to draw our attention to himself, and away from the world of merely physical things?
Compare suffering now to what will then be
Paul teaches us that if we understand the final redemption then we must compare it with our present suffering. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” Similarly he writes to the saints at Corinth, “Our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
Realize that suffering now increases the joy later. Paul said that this momentary light affliction is producing something. Jesus tells us we’re blessed when we’re persecuted for his sake because our reward is great in heaven. There seems to be a degree of reward in heaven tied to our work on earth, which also comes through faithfully enduring suffering. Tim Keller writes, “This means that every horrible thing that happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.”
Tim Keller tells the story of a dream he has that is a small picture of this:
A few years ago I had a horrible nightmare in which I dreamed that everyone in my family had died. When I awoke my relief was enormous – but there was much more than just relief. My delight in each member of my family was tremendously enriched. I looked at each one and realized how grateful I was for them, how deeply I loved them. Why? My joy had been greatly magnified by the nightmare. My delight upon awaking took the terror up into itself, as it were, so that in the end my love for them was only greater for my having lost them and found them again. This same dynamic is at work when you lose some possession you take for granted. When you find it again (having thought it was gone forever) you cherish and appreciate it in a far deeper way.
- “Everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.
- The doctrine of the resurrection can instill us with a powerful hope [in the face of suffering].
- This is the ultimate defeat of evil and suffering. It will not only be ended but so radically vanquished that what has happened will only serve to make our future life and joy infinitely greater.
 D. A. Carson in Be Still My Soul ed. by Nancy Guthrie, [Crossway: Wheaton, Ill., 2010], 116-17.
 This was said in a sermon on preparing to suffer. He wrote a similar sentiment, “You can’t preserve morality or spirituality or doctrinal purity or faithfulness unless you are living in light of eternity” (Ibid., 115).
 Ibid., 114-15. Also in D. A. Carson, How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd edition (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 2006), 115-16.
 Ibid., 32.
 Tim Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton: New York, NY, 2008), 32.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ibid., 34.