Every Thought Captive

The Sweetness of Suffering

And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.

In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.

The first woe has passed; behold, two woes are still to come.

Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number. And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents with heads, and by means of them they wound.

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

Revelation 9:1-21

Why does God cause or allow suffering?

It’s not popular to believe, but the Bible teaches that God causes or allows suffering. The Sovereign Lord allowed Job to suffer, He sent Jesus to die, and in Revelation 9 He causes or allows two pandemics to wipe out a third of humanity by having His angels blow trumpets that trigger these cataclysmic events. But why?

In Revelation 9:20 we have a window into God’s purposes for suffering. “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent.” In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus reacts to two tragedies—a natural disaster and a dictator’s massacre— in the same way: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” God causes or allows suffering so that people will repent.

Does this mean that all suffering is corrective punishment for sin? No! According to Job, Jesus, and Revelation 9, God sends suffering and even death to His fully forgiven children so that they will learn to love Him more and love Him only; and so that others who see their hope in suffering will realize their own hopelessness and repent. For the lost, suffering is often the only thing that wakes them up to the reality of their need to repent and believe in Jesus.

If we or someone we know is suffering, it is not an accident. And if we or they are Christians, it is not a punishment. Jesus has fully paid for His people’s sins, and He cried, “It is finished!” from the cross. In our suffering, God’s jealous love is drawing those who suffer and those who witness that suffering into deeper relationship with Himself. This difficult teaching becomes profoundly encouraging when we realize that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). This was the anchor for Joseph, who told his murderous brothers so many years later, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Gen. 50:20). In the midst of suffering and evil, we can trust that the Lord loves us and is working out His good purposes. 

Father, thank You for the honor and the gift of suffering. Help us, like Jesus, to endure suffering by the power of the Spirit. Remind us that, because of our Lord’s suffering, nothing can separate us from Your love for us in Him. May we suffer in such a way that others might see the worth of Christ and turn to Him. We praise You for rescuing us from eternal suffering and welcoming us into the eternal joy of Your fellowship. In Jesus’ name, amen.

About the Author

Photograph of Ross Earley

Ross Earley

High School Youth Resident

Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Ross is the PCPC High School Resident for freshmen and sophomore guys. He is a former PCPC Covenant Child and current member of the church. He is pursuing his calling of pastorship at Reformed Theological Seminary - Dallas. Ross loves his wife Margie, his family and friends, God’s Word, and all things story (reading, writing, acting, etc.)!