by Stephen F. OlfordThe Purpose, Presence, and Power of God in Suffering
Editor's note: The following article is taken from the author's introduction to The Sword of Suffering, written by Dr. Olford as a testimony to God's goodness and purpose in seeing him through a desperate time in his life as he battled cancer.
The Purpose of God in Suffering
"We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28 emphasis mine). You will notice that I have highlighted three words from this text: "all," "good," and "purpose." The word "all" includes everything that concerns our lives, even suffering. We may not feel that way in the midst of chemotherapy treatment, but God has it checked off on His list of purposeful things. The "good" is the result of the divine alchemy when God "works together" (the Greek implies a pharmacological term) all the ingredients.
You will remember the famous words of the Old Testament stalwart Joseph. In spite of all the troubles and horrors he experienced at the hands of his jealous brothers, he could later affirm, "You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). Only God can turn the cross into a throne! The purpose is clear from the context. We are instructed that "whom He [God] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29).
That is the bottom line in God's enfolding drama of redemption. God's business here on earth is to populate heaven with men and women who are like His Son! Suffering is tough, but we must remember that God came to earth in the person of His Son to bring many people to glory and to accomplish this "through sufferings" (Heb. 2:10). We suffer, but Christ suffered for us all!
The Presence of God in Suffering
"In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them" (Is. 63:9). When God's ancient people suffered under cruel bondage, God was mindful of them (Ex. 2:25-27); and again, at the time of the judges, God shared the hurt of His redeemed ones (Judg. 10:16). God is always present when people suffer.
Think of those brave servants of God-Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego-in the fiery furnace, and then recall the question of Nebuchadnezzar the king: " ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? . . . Look! . . . I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God'" (Dan. 3:19-25). "The Angel of His Presence" is none other than the Jesus of today!
The Power of God in Suffering
"The Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me" (2 Tim. 4:17). These brave words were Paul's testimony at an hour of critical need. In spite of the failure of his friends, Paul was supported by the Lord. Earlier, when God denied the apostle deliverance from "the thorn in the flesh" (the messenger of Satan to buffet him (2 Cor. 12:7), his faith did not fail because he knew that he would never be forsaken. In his weakness God answered in power so that the apostle could exclaim, "I take pleasure in infirmities. . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10). Paul "heard" a voice saying to him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).
I can add my own testimony to the foregoing. Yes, in spite of all the doubts, fears, and pain that accompany suffering, God is there in His purpose, His presence, and His power. This is what this book is all about.
The Sword of Suffering, © 2001, is published by AMG Publishers.