Why Must We Suffer?

A Sermon By
Dr. Walter A. maier

"Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." - Hebrews 12:6

O God, Triune, True, and Eternal:
Amid the sorrows of this heavy hour, teach us by Thy Spirit to approach our blessed Savior with all our burdens and worries, assured that He can and will help us!  So increase our confidence in Christ, His power to save us to the uttermost and His divine love for our sin-bound souls, that we accept adversity without protest or despair, convinced that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" when we come home to Thee in heaven!  Comfort especially all Thy children suffering from the agonies of war: the imprisoned, the starving, the oppressed, the wounded, the dying!  In their darkest hours help them believe that through Jesus, the sin-atoning Redeemer, their sorrow shall be turned to joy! Fervently we beseech Thee, O God of wisdom, power, and love: turn this war into peace; direct the course of the nation's leaders along the pathways of righteousness, guard our armed forces, bring many in this broad land to repentance and faith!  Hear us for Jesus' sake, since our only help is in Him!  Amen.

 Why does God permit this war to continue?  How can He see millions killed or crippled for life without calling a halt to world-wide bloodshed and brutality?  Where is the power - if the Lord is almighty - that can stop all the misery and cruelty with which our age has been cursed?  Who can explain why, on the one hand, God is good, merciful, gracious, compassionate and, why on the other hand, every day men and women are crushed by agonies almost beyond their endurance?

 These are the questions of our disturbed day, asked not only by atheists and enemies of religion who contend that human suffering proves there can be no loving Deity, but also by bewildered believers, who, staggering under the burden of anguish, cry out, "Why must I bear this misery?  How can God lay all this suffering on me?"

 Do not imagine for a moment, my afflicted friends, that you alone are troubled by the mystery of suffering.  One of the earliest books in the Bible, the record of Job, deals with this difficulty.  You feel the war's hardships; but has anyone in our audience sustained losses as large as Job's, when treacherous enemies captured his men, all his herds and flocks?  Perhaps you have received a notification from Washington that your son was killed in action; Job lost seven sons and three daughters in a single day.  Others among you are stricken by sickness, groaning in pain; Job suffered from a form of leprosy that made his body a mass of boils and sores - the worst torture in this life Satan himself could devise.  Family trouble has crossed many of your thresholds; misunderstanding between husband and wife may have marred your home happiness; yet, when Job, lying on an ash heap, scratching the inflamed, ulcerous surfaces of his body with a potsherd, cries desperately for help, his wife, who above all people should have brought comfort, taunted him for his trust in the Lord and cruelly sneered, "Curse God and die!"  Then, when he found no human explanation of his agonies, Job turned to his Maker, asking, "Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me!" (Chapter ten, verse two).  That old, but ever new question,


Why this war?  Why our personal pains?  Why this great grief in our hearts?  We shall answer with a word from Holy Scripture, the strengthening assurance in Hebrews, chapter twelve, verse six, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth."


 When Job sought the reason for his torture, he approached God.  Only through the Almighty and His revealed truth can we, too, solve the enigma of pain.  Our schools, our highly praised culture, our scientific research, are unable to explain sorrow.  If godless education fails dismally - as it often does - in producing even outwardly good, clean, constructive lives; if a \Chicago psychologist reveals that intelligence does not help avoid lawbreaking, how can we expect human reason to solve this inner problem of suffering?

  Yet, in their blindness, men reject divine guidance to insist that everything in life comes from chance, cruel or kind.  Fate, they declare, smiles on some people, and they have an easy, rich, untroubled existence.  Fate frowns on others, and they are beset with unnumbered difficulties.  It is all a matter of luck.  A man has no more control over his career, they tell us, than a blade of grass that may be trodden down in a moment, a leaf blown by the wind, a twig thrown into the river.  Since we are only creatures of accident, then conclude, why not press every drop out of pleasure while we can and have our full fling before tomorrow comes - and death with it?  What a shocking mistake!  How completely it fails in every crisis!  We read recently of a marine en route to the Pacific battle front who talked atheism all the way from the United States to the Solomon Islands.  No God could regulate human affairs, he told his shipmates; there was no hereafter which they should fear, no Savior, no inspired Bible, no Judgment to keep them from following their lusts and desires.  Under fire in Guadalcanal, however, that boisterous denier of Christ meekly told his chaplain, "If this keeps up, I will be thinking the way you do."  The rejection of the Almighty, the ridicule of Jesus, when put to the test of trial and affliction, always collapse.  No matter how loudly scoffers may boast that they have defeated sorrow, when confronted by death, they are often overcome by terror.  They know there is a God.  Their conscience gives them no rest.  They realize that they must stand before the bar of eternal justice.  It was to help such men in their last hours that a prisoner in the Ohio State Penitentiary at Columbus requested our "Fear not, for I have redeemed thee!"  wall motto, for the room where murderers, condemned to the electric chair, eat their last meal.

 Other skeptics have gone to the opposite extreme and declared that men suffer because they are weak.  Learn to be hard, cruel, ruthless, they urge us.  Smash all opposition!  Away with sympathy, kindness, and mercy!  Down with love!  Might makes right!  Don't be a weakling, be a superman!  That is the delusion of Europe's dictators and the cause of immeasurable misery.  May it be totally wiped off the earth!

 If we now turn with Job from human failure to sacred truth and ask God in His Word why we endure pain, we must recognize that our text, "Whom the Lord loveth He chaseneth," implies a difference in the suffering inflicted on Christ's disciples and on God's enemies.  You need not search long or deeply in the Scriptures to learn why unbelievers meet reverses and anguish.  They are under divine wrath; their sorrow is the punishment for their sins.

 If you put the question, What is the reason for this world war?  I answer, This conflict is a punishment for every unbeliever.  If you continue, Why does God not stop this bloodshed today? the explanation again is this: In the sight of our almighty and all-holy Lord men have not yet paid sufficient penalty for their wickedness.  Devine wisdom has permitted our country to be attacked because too many Americans have been God-less, Christ-less, faithless.  God gave us more churches than most other nations.  Yet more than 55 per cent of our citizens have no membership in any congregation.  On an average Sunday more than half of those who call themselves believers are not found in their houses of worship.  Many who do attend hear a denial of God's truth, the rejection of our Savior's atonement, an attack on the hope of the resurrection.  God gave the united States stalwart Christian schools founded on firm faith with loyalty to Jesus, their Cornerstone; but human reason has dethroned sacred revelation in many of these classrooms.  The Lord gave us homes, the best history has known; but we have gone further than most other nations in permitting them to be broken.  Can you not see, therefore, that the visitation of this struggle cries out with bleeding emphasis to every unbeliever in the country: "Repent!  Get right with God!"?  Before winning the war and winning the peace, we must win divine favor.

 Some of you may be smiling in a superior, cynical way at this plea for a return to the Almighty; many of our soldiers in the fields do not favor such ridicule.   A chaplain in the Aleutians told me that his men read God's Word and give themselves to prayer, since they realize how quickly they may face death.  A young lieutenant who has met the enemy face to face writes: "I plead: Tell America to pray!  This war will not end until nations and peoples have paid in blood and tears for thrusting Christ out of their hearts and countries.  Tell them to send Bibles and more Bibles!"  He continues, "You complacent, bridge-playing, cocktail-drinking mothers, why don't you teach your son about God instead of handing him a cigarette and dance program?  Get down on your knees and ask God to forgive your sins and then pray for the Army!  Pray! Pray! Pray!  And you preachers" (he refers to the Christ-denying moralists, book reviewers, new commentators, Modernists, and Sadducees, in the American pulpits), "why don't you teach the people to pray?  Only repentance for sins can stop the shellings and the killing."  He adds, "I would like to have this letter broadcast over every radio in America."  We have done our part in complying with his request, because we are completely convinced that the Church's mission for our land in this hour must be the continued appeal for contrition and return to God.

 Therefore to every unbeliever I say pointedly: If you have met reverses more crushing than you have every known; if you must endure grief and hardship heavier than you have ever been forced to carry, do not try to console yourself with the vain hope that your fortune will change and your difficulties will soon disappear!  Why clench your fist against the Almighty and boast that you will conquer your calamities?  With out the Lord Jesus you are beaten before you start, doomed to perpetual defeat.  Stop resigning yourself to hear what God says about the sorrows encircling your life!  Admit that you are paying for your own stubborn rebellion against the Lord, that even now you are beginning to experience the tenor of God's everlasting wrath!  If everything has gone wrong in your life, do not attack God, blame luck or chance, censure your family or your friends!  Accuse yourself; and as the Spirit now urges you to cease your resistance, approach Christ, plead fervently, "O ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner,' an unbeliever, a blasphemer, a scoffer!  Forgive me for Jesus' sake!"

 That prayer and the faith behind it will help give you the second, the strengthening answer to our question "Why must we suffer?" - the assurance which only those blessed by Christ can ever have.  When you believe that the Son of God is your Redeemer and realize that without the Savior you are hopelessly, eternally, irrevocably lost, rejected by the great and glorious Lord of eternal justice, damned to hell, and then, when you take these glorious passages, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life"; or, Christ "loved" us "and gave Himself for" us; or, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities," and you apply their comfort so completely to yourself that you can say, " ‘God so loved' me ‘that He gave His only begotten Son' "; and again, "Christ ‘loved' me, ‘and gave Himself for me"; and again, " ‘He was wounded for' my ‘transgressions, He was bruised for' my ‘iniquities' "; when you find the central power of the Christian faith in the Savior's becoming your Substitute, suffering for your sins, paying their penalty, serving the sentence of their guilt - then, by the joy of this inner conviction you know you are God's.  Christ has removed every barrier between you and your heavenly Father.  All the dark-red stains of many sins which could send your soul to hell have been washed away by His holy, precious blood.  You are convinced that notwithstanding the accusing voice of conscience, the fears of your own doubtings, the contradictions of unbelieving men, you are saved completely, eternally.

 When I assure you that God loves you and because you are Christ's He will not punish you in His anger, this does not mean, of course, that Christians will not suffer.  Indeed, as a group, they have always endured much more of the world's hostility and carried a larger burden of agony than most unbelievers.  The Apostle's ultimatum, once addressed to the believers, still holds true,"We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God."  In the years ahead Christians may be tried as never before.  But when God's Word strengthens believers with the pledge, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus," it also tells them that they will no longer be punished for their sins, since our Lord - praise be His matchless mercy! - paid the full penalty, completely atoned for every transgression, removed the curse of all evil from our lives.  Jesus (and you can find His name in the New Testament more than seven hundred times, to give you more than seven hundred assurances of your salvation) Christ (and you can find that name likewise more than 350 times, to give you more than 350 promises that He is your anointed, long-promised Redeemer from ruin), the blessed Savior, promises you in His unbreakable Word that because you are His, the changing events which crowd into your life come from your heavenly Father's love, His mercy, His all-seeing wisdom, His tender devotion to your soul's salvation.  Beneath the cross you are persuaded - although you can never fully understand and this contradicts everything men may try to tell you - that God permits sickness, loss, sorrow, pain, a hundred kinds of suffering, to overtake you because He loves you. "All things" - and we must refuse to restrict Scripture - "all things": sickbeds and sorrow, loneliness and opposition, accident and mental anguish, disaster and even death itself, "work together for good to them that love God."  Therefore our text assures us, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth."


 See how this promise proves itself in the individual Christian's life!  Here is a man, for instance, who, like many of you, enjoyed the blessing of a pious home and the guidance of devout parents.  Years ago life was a struggle for him; but the Lord was good, granted him success and a comfortable income.  Hardly had the first rays of prosperity begun to shine on Him, when he made the mistake of which every one of us in our proud self-esteem is guilty: he began to think that he himself was responsible for these blessings, that the little church where he had worshiped was too small and unnoticed, too narrow and strict, because it proclaimed the old Gospel of grace, insisted that besides Jesus Christ "there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved."  Gradually he neglected his private prayer; his family no longer found time to join in reading the Bible and in winging their petitions to the Throne of Mercy.  Now, because God loved that man and had chosen him as His own, the Almighty had to prevent him from ruining his soul.  You ought to see clearly, then, that when this man, in deadly danger of forfeiting heaven, began to lose his money, health, family happiness, this visitation came from divine grace, not anger, from the Lord who says, "I chasten you because I love you."

 The hardships of this war have come to many of you who are Christ's for the same remedial purpose: to call you closer to God.  When the Nazis bombed Coventry, the local cathedral was demolished.  Yet the bombs which fell on the ancient structure tore the plaster from its walls, revealing two pictures of Jesus, more than four hundred years old.  They had been painted on the original cathedral walls but had been covered with plaster at the time the building was enlarged and improved, thus remaining concealed until the raid.  Similarly in our lives it often requires disaster to blast away the covering with which, particularly when financial success enlarges and improves our prosperity, we shut out the Savior.

 Again, when the Bible declares, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth," we are assured that through the present conflict our heavenly Father speaks earnestly to His Christians, urging them to recognize His love even more deeply, to cling more closely to Jesus, to redeem the time more carefully.  The war, by the Holy Spirit's guidance, is bringing thousands of our fighting men nearer to God.  A veteran marine sergeant from Cleveland, who fought through to the victory at Guadalcanal, asks, "Do the marines pray?" and then answers, "They pray unashamedly, and often aloud."  He tells of one boy in his outfit who wrote home to his parents: "You had a hard time making me go to church when I was at home.  Well, you won't when I get back."

 It is to be regretted deeply, however, that masses in the United States stubbornly, willfully, continuously, reject the lesson this war would teach.  Unlike our fighting men, they have not seen bloody battles.  Instead of risk, danger and loss, the conflict has brought them unequaled income, undreamed-of prosperity.  In the month remaining before March 15 they are much concerned about what they owe the Government; yet in their narrow, selfish, ungrateful way they do not even consider the tremendous debt of gratitude they owe the Lord for permitting them to enjoy these blessings and the Christ for giving Himself as their redemption.  I shudder to think of the penalty to be paid by those who, when God speaks to them, shut their eyes, close their ears, and refuse to heed the correcting, warning appeal for repentance.  I pray that the Almighty will use this World War as a purging fire and send His cleansing Spirit into the souls of heroic Christian men and women who with new and undaunted courage will proclaim the Gospel, "the power of God unto salvation."

 A celebrated physicist has said that if 2 per cent of the people in any country believe in a project completely, cling to it despite all opposition, work for it without interruption, insist on it without compromise, they will eventually win the whole country for their program.  While we realize from Scripture that also in our country "many are called, but few are chosen," we know just as assuredly that, if 2 per cent of our Christians - that means about 2,600,000 - would throw themselves body and soul into the task and sacred privilege of evangelizing America; if they would demand that their pulpits resound with messages of courage and faith in the Savior's redemption; if they would live Christ and preach Christ; if with the restless zeal and tireless energy men show for political and social projects, they would give up all for Jesus, with the glorious conviction of ultimate victory, then an electrifying religious awakening would begin in the United States, and the sufferings of war, by the miracle of divine mercy, could be turned into the profit of spiritual peace.  Only a small, salt-of-the-earth group, under divine grace, is required to bring multitudes of troubled hearts and lives this amazing message of the Savior's love: "Your sorrow shall be turned into joy."  Fellow worshipers, I ask now in that Redeemer's name: Will you who know "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" be among those who with the Spirit's blessing can help build the faith triumphant over trials in the hearts of your countrymen?  God grant that here and now you resolve, "I will!"

 We find comfort in this truth, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth," when we also believe that the Almighty permits suffering in order to make us realize His power and prepare us through affliction for higher responsibilities, increased blessings.  One day Nathaniel Hawthorne came home with the sad news that he had been discharged from his position at the Salem Custom House.  It seemed that his life was ruined.  However, this loss was a disguised blessing.  For now, with his wife's help, he could devote himself entirely to writing.  He might have stayed at the Custom House for the rest of his life and remained an obscure official.  But through that loss he gained international renown.  Trust God in your own life, convinced that He who takes away what you regard as necessary for happiness can compensate you a hundredfold!

 Perhaps by the marvels of Jesus' mercy you are being prepared for triumph through trials.  Some supposed treasure to which your heart was firmly attached has been torn from your tight grasp, only to grant you superior boon and blessing.  Job experienced that truth.  The Lord gave him ten children to take the place of those who had been killed; and He restored doubly everything else the afflicted patriarch had lost in war. - The Almighty's helping hand is not shortened today.  He is the same God with whom "nothing shall be impossible" to those who call Him Father in Christ.

 Again, we know that "whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth" to create sympathy and increase brotherly love.  Even Christians who have received Jesus' "new commandment," "Love one another!" and who should reflect their Savior's devotion still have so much of the old Adam, the selfish, human nature within them, that they are not always considerate of their suffering fellow men and grumble too easily over life's small inconveniences.  Some people are deeply dissatisfied with the rationing of shoes although they have more than an adequate supply.  I wish they could hear the story of Mama Tumpwa in the Belgian Congo, a leper, but a firm believer in the Lord Jesus.  The dread disease has already eaten away her toes and is fast destroying her feet.  She has no shoes at all, and in her poverty she uses scraps of discarded rubber as knee pads, with which she literally crawls each Sunday to the mission to hear her Savior's promises.  When they ask her, "Mama Tumpwa, how do you feel today?" she answers with the optimism of Christian courage, "A little bit well."  God often permits us to endure agonies which others also bear so that we will know the intensity of their pain and comfort them in their misery.  And what can more directly help heal war's wounds and promote a feeling of brotherhood among all sufferers, despite their differences in race and nationality, than this feeling of Christian sympathy which flows from the love of Jesus?

 Because the believer finds in trial and tribulation proof positive of his Father's love, you should ask the Holy Spirit for a faith which bows submissively before the divine will and refuses to charge God with cruelty!  The Seminary gardener this week began his spring pruning on our campus, and huge piles of branches have already been cut off.  The shrubs and tress thus thinned out seem to shiver in the February cold.  Not thoughtlessness or cruelty, but a deep interest in the proper growth and spread of the foliage prompts this pruning.  In a similar way, Jesus says, we must be purged by critical, contrary forces, so that we may bring forth more and better fruit.  Tens of thousands of operations were performed in this country alone during the last week, but can the surgeons who removed diseased parts of the body and performed amputations reasonably be branded as heartless because their patients suffered pain?  Why, then, accuse God of cruelty, when He cuts from our lives everything that endangers our souls?

 Trust the Lord even though you wonder why particularly those who are Christ's seem to suffer the most!  Henri Neil Reichelt, the son of a pastor in New Milford, New Jersey, was a seaman on the cruiser Juneau.  In one of his last letters to his parents Henri wrote, "When the decks are cleared and the Juneau swings into action, every man from Captain Swenson down to the youngest blue-jacket prays, and, if he can, reads a Bible verse or glances into his book of prayer."  Yet the Juneau, with its praying captain and praying crew, was sunk off Guadalcanal in November; and Henri Reichelt, that God-fearing young man, was one of those whom it carried to their death.  We ask, "Why?" and Jesus tells us, "What I do thou knowest not now: but thou shalt know hereafter"; His Word assures us: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord, For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts!"  Some day, in the radiance of that higher, fuller, better knowledge, we shall receive that answer to the repeated why's.  I can promise you on the basis of God's unbreakable truth that we shall discover divine healing in every hurt, spiritual remedy in each reverse; that, if we suffered with Christ on earth, we shall reign with Him in heaven.  Wait "patiently for the Lord"!  Wait joyfully even amid heartbreaking sorrows!  His deliverance is sure.  No sorrow can ever overshadow you which will not end in God's right time and in His good way.

 Men and women of mighty faith who found advantage in affliction have been able to join the Apostle Paul and rejoice in their infirmities.  It takes the highest trust to enjoy that triumph over suffering.  I read recently of a woman left alone by her husband in the heart of the Zulu country many miles from the nearest white settler.  One day she saw a hideously painted savage peeping in the window.  With a scream she bolted the door, locked the shutter, reached for her rifle and threatened to shoot him.  He refused to go; after a while he managed to thrust a white envelope under the door.  Suspicious, the woman grasped it only to find a letter entrusted by her husband to this Zulu messenger, whom he had selected to bring her word from him.  You can understand, then, how, during the lonely weeks that followed, the pioneer woman, though terrorized by that fiercely marked savage, should still look eagerly for his return, since he would bring loving greetings from her beloved husband.  In much the same way we recoil at the approach of affliction; yet, as soon as we rise to the heights of victorious faith and know that this is the way our Father chooses in expressing His devotion to us, we can welcome the hardest blows as evidences of His deepest affection.

 Is not this the answer you need for the age-old question, "Why must we suffer?" - the assurance that once you have Jesus, you are chastened because God loves you as His preciously redeemed, protects you as the apple of His eye?  Is not this Savior the help you need with increasing urgency during these turmoil days, when some of you have already faced the fierce fires of affliction, disaster, even death in your family circles, and when all of you must be prepared to meet tremendous personal and national issues?

 May God give you Christ and lead you to give yourselves, wholly, contritely, trustingly to Him!  As the Redeemer now appeals to you, the burdened, the afflicted, the sick, the lonely, the bereaved, the helpless, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" may the Holy Spirit fill your heart with that victorious faith by which, contrite yet confident, you join in this answer:

 The Preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in February 1943.