Key Scriptures: Job, Genesis 2 and 3, II Timothy 3:12, Psalms 34:19, I Peter 4:12–13, James 5:10 and 4:13-15, Psalms 39:5-6, Isaiah 55:9, I Corinthians 13:12, John 8:44 and 10:10, Ephesians 6:12, II Corinthians 4:4, I Chronicles 21:1, I John 5:19, Revelations 2:10, II Timothy 2:26, II Corinthians 11:21-33, Philippians 4:13, Ephesians 2:19-22, Philippians 1:7 and: 19-20, Colossians 1:11, Ephesians 1:19-23, Philippians 1:12-14, Colossians 3:1-4, Ephesians 6:1-9, Matthew 16:21-22 and 26:38, I Peter 4: 4:1-2, Philippians 2:5-8, Romans 12:21 Psalms 119 and 5.
Guiding Question: Why do bad things happen and what does God want us to do when we are experiencing difficult times?
Optional Introductory Activity: Bring in recent newspapers. Have student find articles about “bad” things happening. How did the various people in the article react to the situation? Did anyone mention God? What did they say about him? After sharing about their articles, create a list of the many ways people react to bad things happening in their lives.
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) One of the questions that seems to bother some Christians and most non-Christians is this “If God is a loving God, why is there suffering in the world? On the surface it seems like a legitimate question. God is love. We would not want anyone we love to be hurt yet God “lets” people get hurt all of the time. Many people can’t seem to find the answer to this question on their own. Yet if we did into scripture we will find there is an answer to this age old question and the whole idea of human suffering and difficult times.
Of course, the perfect book for examining this problem is the book of Job. Read Job 1:1-5. What kind of life did Job have at the beginning? (Answers may vary) Does it remind you of anything else? Look back in Genesis 2. Life was perfect for Adam and Eve. God meant for them to stay in the Garden of Eden forever. The limited description of the place sounds beautiful. They were able to walk and talk with God in the Garden. Eating from the Tree of Life meant they would live forever. Life in Eden was as good as life can possible be – until…. For some reason all of that perfection wasn’t enough for Adam and Eve. Read Genesis 3. Satan was able to convince Adam and Eve to disobey God. How did Satan convince them to sin? He tempted them – first by lying (you shall not surely die) and then by telling them they could be like God if only they would eat of the forbidden fruit. What happened next is what most Christians call the “Fall”. The sin of Adam and Eve separated them from God. They had to move out of the Garden of Eden. No longer able to eat from the tree of life, they would now die. There were other consequences. Work would now be difficult and childbirth would be painful. Even the very ground was under the curse and would now produce weeds and thorns and make producing food from the soil more difficult for man.
In short, from now on, LIFE WAS GOING TO BE HARD. Within the punishment, God provided hope and promise but we will talk about that tomorrow. Right now let’s focus on the long-term effects of the Fall.
Read Job 1:6-2:10. What bad things happened to Job? Who made the bad things happen to Job? Satan. Job’s friends were quite possibly some of the worst friends ever to have around when you are miserable! Supposedly, they were there to comfort him. They each had their own theories of why so many bad things happened to Job. Read Job 4,5,8,11,15,18,20,22 and 25. (You may want to have the teens read all or just selected passages.) What were some of their ideas?
Read Job 38-41 (or selections). What does God say to Job and his friends? In the end God tells Job that man cannot understand His ways. That doesn’t seem to be the answer Job’s friends or we may want. We want like to be “fair” on our terms. Job’s friends assumed if so many bad things had happened to him, he must have done something horrible that God was punishing him for doing. God let us, as the readers, know that actually the opposite was true. Job was so righteous, God was confident that no matter what Satan id to him Job would not curse God. Seems even stranger to us. Why would a God who loved and approved of Job allow Satan to hurt him?
It makes God seems like He doesn’t care about Job doesn’t it? But look a little closed at what God said and did. Read Job 42:7-17. God ended up blessing Job even more that he had been before Satan attacked him and allowed Job to live to a very old age.
Confused? Let’s look at some more scriptures and see if we can put all of the pieces together.
- Even “good” people suffer on earth – II Timothy 3:12, Psalms 34:19, I Peter 4:12-13, and James 5:10.
- Our time on earth is very brief compared to eternity – James 4:13-15, Psalms 39:5-6.
- We cannot completely understand God and His ways – Isaiah 55:9, I Corinthians 13:12.
- Satan freely roams the earth causing bad things to happen – John 8:44 and 10:10, Ephesians 6:12, II Corinthians 4:4. I Chronicles 21:1, I John 5:19 and Revelations 2:10 and II Timothy 2:26. (Spend as much time on this as needed. The reality is that the majority of “bad things” that happen on earth are a result of the work of Satan. Either the natural consequences of our own sin or we are the innocent victims of someone else’s sin or for example in the case of disease – we are all going to die (at least those not alive when God returns) because the world is fallen and we are bound by the original consequences of the curse from the sin of Adam and Eve and by extension our own sin.)
Seems depressing doesn’t it. Look back at the original story of the Fall. It is almost easy to miss the hope and promise God gives all of us in the midst of giving Adam and Eve and us the consequences of our sin. Read Genesis 3:15. Here is the beginning of the answer everyone is really seeking – Where is God when bad things happen? Does He care? How do we know? What scriptures or Bible stores can you think of to support your ideas?
One of the first people that come to mind in the New Testament when you discuss suffering is the apostle Paul. Admittedly, when we first meet Paul he is the one causing the suffering (Stephen’s stoning and persecution of Christians). After his conversion though Paul is arguably one of the most successful missionaries in the history of the Church.
Read II Corinthians 11:21-33. What bad things had happened to Paul so far? Paul’s list ended up being even longer, because history tells us that the Emperor Nero eventually martyred Paul. So, how did Paul feel about this entire happening to him? Did he question whether God was really with him? Did he complain to God about how unfair all of this hardship was since he was doing God’s will? Thankfully Paul wrote quite a few books in the New Testament, so we have his thinking about a lot of things.
Look at what Paul writes in II Corinthians 12:10. What was Paul’s thinking on the subject of suffering? Paul never pretended it was fun suffering for Christ. Read II Corinthians 1:8. Paul said they despaired that the pressure and suffering was beyond what they could endure. Yet somehow they did because Paul was obviously writing this book some time later. So what happened? Keep reading the next few verses. Now read what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13. Scholars consider four of Paul’s letters – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon to be the most hope filled letters Paul wrote. One would think Paul must have written them when he was having a period of time that was fairly easy and happy. Actually, Paul wrote all four of those books when he was in prison. Why was Paul able to be so hopeful in the face of so many really difficult times?
From his writings we know that Paul believed (This list is only some of the scriptures and themes one could get from the writings of Paul. You will find some overlap and some that could probably really fit into more than one theme. The focus is on the four letters written from prison and considered Paul’s most optimistic letters):
- God was with him – Ephesians 2:19-22 – If God considers us part of his household surely he will care for us and is nearby (you weren’t really considered part of someone’s household at that time if you lived for away).
- Our hope is in God – Ephesians 1:18, 2:12-13, 3:20-21, Philippians 1:7 and 19-20, Colossians 1:5.
- God strengthens us – Ephesians 3:16-19, 6:10-20, Philippians 1:27-30, 4:6-7 and 10-13, Colossians 1:11.
- God is in control (even if it seems the bad guys are winning) – Ephesians 1:19-23, Colossians 2:9.
- God is concerned about souls – Ephesians 1:3-10, 2:4-5 and Philippians 1:12-14.
- Heaven is our goal (and eternity is much longer than even the longest life on earth) – Ephesians 2:6, Philippians 1: 21-25, 3:14, 20-21, Colossians 1:13, 3:1-4.
- God also cares about our earthly problems (although His solutions may not be what we would expect) – Ephesians 6:1—9, Colossians 3:22-25, Philippians 2:25-30, 4:19, Philemon (granted technically Paul is the one telling Philemon to treat his slave well but we can assume since God has placed it in scripture the concept is important to Him – particularly since the Bible says many times that God does not show preferential treatment based on things like slave or free.)
Bad things are going to happen because God gave man free will. That means man can choose to obey God and worship Him or disobey God and reject Him. Everyone (except Jesus) who has ever lived has at some point, disobeyed God or sinned. As sinners, we fall under the same punishment God gave Adam and Eve. Life is going to be hard. There is hope in God in spite of the hardships, but if someone tries to tell you if you do “such and such” life will be perfect, they are lying to you.
Bad things also happen because Satan has free reign on the earth. Satan delights in causing trouble – tempting people to sin and reject God. Sins have consequences. They may not always be immediately obvious, but all sins have consequences. Unfortunately, some of those consequences hurt people who were not involved in the sin. (Drunk driver killing people in another car, robber murdering victim, etc.) It is hard for us to understand but if God prevented bad things from happening He would be removing the free will of the people involved. If God removed the curse on the earth from the Fall, that creates tornados, earthquakes, etc., he would not be allowing the earth to groan for Him. Death is now a part of life. It was never God’s original intention. In fact our hope is for eventual eternal life. Ultimately, we will never fully understand why God “allows bad things to happen just like Job never really understood. Our human’s minds are too bound by time and other limitations to really comprehend fully this mystery. Our hope is what Paul found throughout his trials – focus on God and eternity. We will talk about that more tomorrow, but for not spend some time tonight thinking about what we should do during suffering.
In their book, How People Grow, by Cloud and Townsend do a good job of separating the pain Christians go through into two categories. They give the example of walking into an alley, someone taking your money, stabbing you in the stomach and leaving you unconscious. That person is a mugger. What if you were in the hospital though? They take your money put you to sleep and the surgeon cuts your stomach open to take out infected appendix. The same basic scenario on the outside – you still are missing money, have a cut in you and out cold. When you awaken from one though, you are the victim of a crime and when you awaken from the other, your life has been saved.
Christian like is like that. Some of the pain we go through is the result of a fallen world. People may sin against us, or we may get accidentally caught in the repercussions of someone else’s wins (drunk driver for example). The other pain we experience may be because we need to deal with some previous hurt in our life in order to be free of the pain se we can grow. Maybe it is the pain of facing hard truths about our behavior or our personality so we can route sin out of our lives or grow to be the Christian example God wants us to be.
Two types of pain – both are very real. Strangely, both can help us grow as Christians, but they need to be handled a little differently.
What if someone has sinned against you? Let us suppose that you are totally innocent (sometimes both have some responsibility). Someone has just come up and whacked you upside the head (physically or metaphorically) for no reason whatsoever and it hurts badly! How can we survive and even grow from the experience?
- Acknowledge the wound. Christ did not make you attempt to hide the fact that His crucifixion was going to be very painful. Read Matthew 16:21-22 and Romans 8:17. Ignoring the fact that it was going to be painful was not going to make it any less painful to endure. Pretending someone hasn’t hurt us when they have hurt us horribly isn’t going to make it stop hurting. We have to acknowledge to ourselves that we have been hurt and mourn the loss.
- If we stop there though we can get stuck and not grow past the injury. Have you ever seen someone who has had something really bad happen to them but they could never let go? On the other hand, remember the surfer who had her arm bitten of by the shark? She was about to let go and move on and grow to be a better surfer. To be able to do that though she had to spend time with her family and friends healing from her wounds. She couldn’t stay in the hospital by herself and heal emotionally from the wound. Jesus knew that. Read Matthew 26:38 again. Jesus knew that in His most fragile moment He needed friends nearby to support Him. When you have been hurt reach out to godly friends and family and let them help you heal emotionally.
- Love, forget and don’t retaliate. This is probably the hardest part for most people. Read Matthew 5:39. What a witness to non-Christians when we can act that way! People who have forgiven the man who murdered their loved one and reach out to the murdered even make national news shows! When we can let of of our pain this way we can go on to continue to grow spiritually instead of being stuck forever in our pain, unable to move or grow or think about anything but our pain Keep in mind Proverbs 22:3, though. Just because you have forgiven someone who has hurt you, does not mean you have to allow him or her to continue to hurt you. If the person, who whacked you on the head, whacks you on the head every time you walk you him, it may be time to walk on a different road!
- This last on is interesting: Practice self-control, not control. You can control how you re-act to someone who has hurt you; you cannot control him or her. No matter how badly we may want to change it, ultimately people decide for themselves what they are going to do. You are responsible for your actions and re-actions to other people not what they do. Focus on making sure that your responses and actions are godly and let God handle the other person.
There are other types of bad pain that we van avoid by making better choices:
- Pain from avoiding facing something you need to through like grief or fear.
- Pain from allowing others to use you in bad ways – lacking boundaries, etc.
- Pain from picking the wrong kind of people to be friends, dates and spouses.
- Pain from not practicing better work habits and being irresponsible and laziness.
- Pain that comes from addictions, etc.
- Pains from not separating ourselves from sinful patterns we have seen others use in our lives.
- Pain by dwelling on things from the past that cannot be changed.
- Pain from isolating yourself from godly people who can help you.
- Pain caused by our won sins.
So what about the pain and suffering we may need to go through in order to grow spiritually?
Cloud and Townsend list some pain we may have to endure in order to grow spiritually:
- Reaching our to others from a vulnerable heart.
- Making our heart open to others
- Confessing sin and failure to ourselves and others
- Facing hurt and pain we have allowed to stop us form growing
- Taking new risks in doing things for God
- Taking risks by being more honest
- Taking risks by telling others how their actions make us feel
- Becoming more active in getting your needs met in a godly way
- Taking responsibility for our weaknesses and growing beyond them
- Grieving past pain and hurts
- Forgiving others
- Learning to ask for forgiveness and making amends for what we have done
- Working on difficult relationships
Yikes! Some of these areas may not sound painful to you and some will sound painful to all of us. Have you experienced any of this kind of pain? Are there any things that you can think of to add to the list? How do you think learning to work through these types of pain in godly ways can help us grow spiritually?
So what can you do to grow when facing pain? (Note: This does not refer to innocent victims of pain.)
- Consider any sort of pain as a wake-up call. Examine what happened. Did you make a poor choice? Do you have areas where you need to grow so you can learn from it and avoid this pain in the future?
- If you cannot analyze the situation clearly (or even if you think you have) ask someone godly to help you think through what happened. Especially if this is repeated pain, you need to figure out what it keeps happening. Is there something you are doing, either a bad decision or ungodly behavior that is causing this to happen? What is your growth lesson from the experience? Read I Peter 4:1-3.
- Read Philippians 2:5-8, even though we may not realize it, most of us have a desire to be in control. What we don’t realize is that when we are in control, God can’t be (a man can’t serve tow masters). In order for God to be in control we have to humble ourselves and let God really be in control. Sometimes that decision alone can put priorities back in order and/or change poor decisions we have been making. Examine your like. Has God really been in control or have you?
- Read Luke 22: Jesus knew what was ahead of Him and that it was not going to be fun. He was willing though to let God have His will of Jesus dying on the cross over Jesus’ preference to avoid the pain and agony. Sometimes the path God has chosen for us to grow doesn’t look like fun. We may not have chosen that path for ourselves but if we truly want to grow spiritually we need to go where God wants us to go. This also means that God’s way is to not sin so giving God His way means we need to give up our “favorite” sin – no rationalization is going to make sinning something God wants from us.
- Do not return evil for evil. Read Matthew 7:5 and Romans 12:21. Just because someone else does something wrong does not mean I have to also. Have you ever heard a small child say, “I hit him, because he hit me first?” Sounds fair from a worldly perspective but God says it is not acceptable. We are to obey God and do what is right no matter what someone else has done to us.
- Sometimes facing pain means we have to go through a grieving process. Just like the surfer had to grieve and accept the loss of her arm to learn how to surf again, we may need to grieve some past pain or loss in order to move past it and grow spiritually. Grieving is a process and takes time. If there is something you need to grieve, get all the help you need to grieve it and let it go. Only then will you be free enough to learn how “to surf again” or grow spiritually.
- Get help from other godly people. Sometimes our struggles require us to get outside help in order to get through them. We may need someone to help us remember to break bad habit or start new good ones. Perhaps we need someone to talk to, to help us work through our grief or may be need someone to help us.
Skills Activity: So what do you do when you are suffering? If something had happens to you what do you usually do? Do you have any coping strategies? What are they? How well do they work for you? Sometimes our tough times might last a few minutes, a few hours or even a few days. Sometimes they can last for months that lasted for years. How did they cope? What did they do to help them survive and even thrive (both wrote important books or parts of books for the Bible during these tough time) during these incredibly tough time.
- Prayer – Did you know that Paul wrote about his personal prayers and the prayers of others more that 42 times in his 14 books of the New Testament? Read a few of these and see if you find any patterns. Romans 1:8-10, 10:1, 12:12, 15:5-6, 15:13 and 30-33, I Corinthians 1:4-9, II Corinthians 9:12-15, 12:7-9,13:7-9, Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21, 6:19-20, Philippians 1:3-6 and 9-1,4:6-7, Colossians 4:2-4, I Thessalonians 1:2-3, 3:9-13, II Thessalonians 2:16-17,3:2-5, I Timothy 1:1-11, 1:16-18. Most if not all of the time Paul wrote these books he was having some sort of hardship or another. Yet it is clear he prayed not only for himself and his problems but also for others. He was also not afraid to ask that other people pray for him too.
- Scripture – Read Psalm 119 (and/or others). David went through many very difficult times in his life, both before and after he became king. Yet it seems from Psalms the he was not afraid to tell God everything he was thinking and feeling. The funny thing is, sometimes we are afraid to tell God we are upset, afraid, frustrated or even angry when bad things happen. We seem to forget that God knows everything including our hearts and minds. God is big enough that he can handle us talking with Him honestly about how we feel. If you are stuck read through Psalms. You may find one that expresses how you are feeling or one that provides comfort like Psalm 23. Psalms is the book that many people turn to first when they are going through a tough time. It provides many with comfort as they are going through unpleasant things It reminds us that God is right there by our side, loving us and giving us strength t get through the bad times.
- Writing – Read Psalm 5. We don’t know if David wrote down his Psalms himself or if someone wrote them for him. I can see him writing these as he is up late at night upset about the things happening in his life. Many people find keeping a journal when they are going through tough times helps. It can help organize your thoughts, get out thoughts you are not willing to say out loud or record the ways you see God working as you walk through your tough times. Next time you are hurting try writing your own Psalm. If you are an artist, you may want to draw your Psalm. Musician? Psalms were originally songs (remember David was a musician). Write a song to share with others or even just yourself how you are feeling.
- Look for God in the little things. Read Genesis 8. Noah and his family had been cooped up in the Ark with a bunch of animals for almost a year. Now they open the door to see they are the only people left on earth. There were no houses, planted fields or anything. It would have been easy for them to focus on the past bad times and the tough times ahead getting re-started. Instead God put the rainbow in the sky. It was a sign of hope and promise for the future. Many Christians find that even in the midst of the most terrible times, they see God working in their lives. They see His blessings amidst the pain. You have in look for it though. When you are going through a tough time, stop yourself at least once a day. Count your blessings. Notice the beauty God surrounds you with to remind you he is there with you.
- Lean on other Christians. Go back and read the last few verses and the first few verses of many of Paul’s letters. He often uses these verses to thank various people who have helped him. If you look back in Acts, there were a couple of times other people moved quickly to keep Paul safe. Paul had help provided for him in many ways by many people. He could have sat in his jail sulking and miserable, but instead he allowed other people to help him in any way they could. Sometimes when we are hurting it is tempting to push everyone away. It seems like having people around makes things feel worse. Often though, other people can provide for us the things we cannot provide for ourselves when we are hurting. Other Christians can make the difference in whether or not we survive or possible even thrive during our tough times.
- Use other healthy coping mechanisms. Exercise, tears, music, crafts, humor and many other good things can help ease the stress bad times can cause. Be careful not to do any of them in access as even good things can become harmful if done too much. As we mentioned earlier, David used his music to relieve his stress when he was struggling.
What new ways have you learned to help you through tough times? What will you do differently the next time you are hurting? Is there any other healthy, godly way to help yourself when you are going through tough times? What is it? Can you think of someone in the Bible who did that? Sometimes it is almost as difficult to watch someone we love go through hard time, as it is to go through one myself. What have you done in the past to try and help someone who was going through a difficult time? How did the person react? How did you feel?
Often it seems like no matter what we say or do to try and help it just doesn’t seem to make enough of a difference. Or worse yet, maybe something we say or do makes things worse. So what should we do when we see someone suffering?
Here are some ideas:
- Listen to the person. How many times does Paul mention in his letters that he “heard” about something? He obviously showed concern about everyone he loved and kept up with what was going on in his or her lives. We are not talking about gossip (take some time and define this carefully), but showing genuine concern for the people around you. Often people feel isolated when they are going through a difficult time. Sometimes it is because they haven’t told anyone, somehow thinking “everybody knows”. Sometimes when people are going through a tough time, they need to talk through it just to wrap their brains around it. They may say the same things over and over, ask questions they really don’t want or expect you to answer, get angry, cry, etc. The best thing you can do is just listen. Don’t interrupt them with solutions or your wisdom. There may be a need for all of that later, but in the beginning and sometimes throughout a problem, people just need to vent what is on their minds. You may want to put your hand on their hand or arm as they talk to show you care and are connected to them. If it is someone close to you, you may want to put your arm around their shoulders as they talk. Mainly, just actively listen. (You may need/want to help the teens practice “active” listening. http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/ActiveListening.htm)
- Pray with the person. Paul constantly asks people to pry for him. Prayer comforts us as we talk directly with God about our pain. Sometimes people are too upset to pray for themselves and appreciate someone offering to pray with and for them. What could you say in a prayer that would help them?
- Be careful what you say and how you quote scriptures. When someone is in pain, do not try to brush off the pain. In Bible times, the family would actually pay people to come cry with them. Our tendency is to want to “fix” everything as quickly as possible. In our rush to do that sometimes we say things that actually make the person feel worse. They are not ready to hear words like “cheer up” or “stop crying” or “it’s not that big of a deal”, etc. Also be very careful when quoting scripture. The Psalms are very comforting. Some people will misquote I Corinthians 10:13, this verse actually says God will not let you be tempted to sin more than you can bear. People will tell hurting people who are in incredible pain that God will not give them more pain than they can bear. That is not scriptural and makes the person feel even worse. What specific scriptures would be good to share with someone who is hurting?
- Find ways to actively help the person. Would it help if you cooked them a meal, did their laundry, ran an errand, etc. Sometimes just a hug will help. Don’t say, “Tell me if you need anything.” Often their mind is in such a whirl they can’t think straight. Offer to do specific things you might want help with if you were in a similar situation. What are some practical things you can do to help someone who is having a hard time?
- Keep up with that person. When something bad happens, the person who is in pain is often immediately surrounded by lots of people. A few days, weeks or months later the person may still be struggling with emotional pain but no one seems to remember or offer help. Check in periodically with the person to see how they are doing. Continue to offer to listen or provide help. Anniversaries of a painful event or holidays right after a painful time are often the hardest. Make sure they are surrounded by people who love them during those times. How often do you think you should check on someone who is struggling?
Do the teens know someone who is currently experiencing a tough time? Have the students practice some of the skills they have learned to help those who are hurting individually or with a group project.
Application Challenge: Read the book of Job (remembering that Job’s friends were wrong). What verses will help you the next time you are going through a bad time. Look through the book of Psalms and find some that sound comforting to you. Write down the scriptures and keep them where you can find them when you need them.
Author: Thereasa Winnett