The hardest thing a parent will ever have to do is to watch his child suffer. We love our children and want the best for them! How difficult it is to be helpless amidst our own child’s suffering… and if we are able to stop the suffering and rescue them, how driven we are to intervene! So, where is God, our Father, amidst our suffering? God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, the God of comfort, who can do beyond anything we ask or even imagine? Am I truly God’s child, and is He truly my Father?
That we are children of God is a subtle theme touched on in the middle of Romans 8 that sets a greater foundation for understanding the chapter more fully. The great emphasis on the Holy Spirit is a perpetual testimony in and through us that we are God’s children (8:16). As God’s children, nothing will ever separate us from God’s love (8:38-39). And as we face suffering, there is great treasure in a recognition that we are God’s children, and calling out to Him, “Abba! Father!” (8:15).
As we read Romans 8, then, we must not miss the connection between being God’s child and facing painful suffering. Our sonship and our suffering are not unrelated! And it is not ironic that we suffer when we understand that we suffer particularly as children of God. There is a continuity from sonship to suffering in the passage, tied together in Romans 8:17: if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
So what is God doing? Suffering is miserable! In the face of cancer, death of loved ones, chronic pain, miserable relationships, financial downfall, and much worse, it is hard to even begin to fathom that God is working His purpose, and that it is for good. However, take a step back for a moment. As children grow, parents must enable them to mature through various means of stretching their abilities. Sometimes my child’s greatest suffering is being forced to read for 20 minutes! While it is agonizing for him, it has enabled him to strengthen his reading skills and ability for self-discipline.
This is a form of “formative discipline.” He is not suffering for doing wrong, but suffering proactively for growth. Ephesians 6:4 tells fathers to bring [your children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. This word discipline refers to the whole training and education of a child. It is the noun form of the verb used in Hebrews 12:5-11. We often think of it as correction, which it can be… but it is not just the correction received after wrong, but the training received to live right.
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him (Psalm 103:13). God our Father is deeply compassionate toward His children. And our Father is forming us to be with Him forever as His children. While suffering can be tremendously painful, our Father loves us too much to just help us avoid pain – He wants to give us an eternal joy of the glory of His presence forever. Consider this in your suffering, and pause when you start to pray, “Father…” Do you recognize intimate familial relationship you just called upon the God of the universe by? He is your Father! We have the Father’s purpose of formative discipline in our suffering, and we have the Father’s love and compassion in the midst of our pain and suffering! So cry out to Him, “Abba! Father!” as Jesus did when he faced the suffering of the cross (Mark 14:36), and know that your Father hears you!