Was Suffering a Part of God’s Plan?

There was a boy who not only endured years of sexual abuse at the hand of a family friend, but grew up with a physically-abusive, alcoholic father.

This same boy became a man and went on a mission to disprove the resurrection. 

His name is Josh McDowell and he wrote the very first Christian book I ever read called More Than a Carpenter. Today, he has ministered to many. His latest release, which is titled Undaunted: One Man’s Real-Life Journey from Unspeakable Memories to Unbelievable Grace, will no doubt minister to many more.

Just like when Joseph was sold into slavery, God took the evil inflicted on this kid and brought about something good.

But these bad things that happen? They weren’t a part of God’s plan.

God’s plan was Eden. Perfection. Harmony. A place where pain and suffering didn’t exist. A place free from shame and guilt and jealousy and depression and every other negative emotion that pockmarks the soul.

Obviously, something went awry. All we have to do is flip on the news or open a paper or, heck, live life for a day or two and we get that this world is far from harmonious. 

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

It wasn’t God’s will for spouses to cheat. 

It wasn’t God’s will for moms to get cancer.

It wasn’t God’s will for parents to lose children.

It wasn’t God’s will for anyone to get sick or abandoned or abused.

Orphanages were not a part of God’s plan.

Prisons were not a part of God’s plan.

Homeless shelters were not God’s plan.

Hospices were not God’s plan.

None of these things were part of the plan.

But they happen.

Because ever since sin entered the world, we exist in a state of decay. 

The good news?

Jesus came to set us free from sin’s penalty and one day, He’ll return and restore all that is broken. 

Until then……

God can use those broken, messy, shameful, ugly things in our lives.  

He can redeem what is hideous. He can shine light in the darkness. He can renew hope for the hopeless. He can breathe purpose into the seemingly senseless pain we sometimes endure. He can draw us closer to Him than we’ve ever been. He can bring wildflowers from winter.

We just have to let Him.

I don’t love reading these kinds of stories because I’m sadistic and enjoy hearing about people’s pain and hardship. 

I love reading them because they are a tiny glimpse, a glorious preview, of the redemption that is to come.

Let’s Talk: What’s your take on suffering and hardship? Why does it exist? 

If you’re interested in a fictional story that explores this idea of beauty from brokenness, check out the first three chapters of my debut novel, Wildflowers from Winter. I hope this book will renew the hope that is all too easily lost in the midst of hardship. Be blessed, readers!

*Photo by the talented Robert Michie*

22 thoughts on “Was Suffering a Part of God’s Plan?

  1. Claralisa

    I think that pain suffering and sin were all a part of his plan I mean take Adam and Eve that’s like putting a toddler in a candy store and telling her she can only touch the lollipops knowing everything else looks appealing maybe our lives here are only to prove a point and make our love for him a personal experience an not just claim to love him because we want to go to heaven . he wants us to love him as the deliverer of all things the provider for our happiness . we really dont know true love until we wake up in the promise lands despite all the wrong we’ve done on earth . wouldnt you have a great deal of respect for someone if they watched you steal their most prized possessions the thing they loved the most and still offered you a spot at their dinner table and help you carry the stuff they KNOW u took from them out to your car as apposed to a that person getting dangerous and ending your life. The fact that they would much rather show you that you dont HAVE to do wrong to be treated Nicely. Im kind of all over the place but if your following what im saying im basically saying after this battle here on earth we will be more appreciative in heaven

  2. sasha

    I’d like to expand on something Lori said that may be important to understanding suffering. Suffering is as mysterious as Love — and God is Love, right? The brain understands reason, justice, the law, righteousness, etc. but does it really ‘get’ love? If we think of the closest relationships we have, they are often with people we have been through the worst with. This life, as Lori points out is ‘the worst’. I find myself impatient sometimes with Christians who keep point out that suffering is our fault — i.e. we were the ones who caused the fall from Eden, but if you think about it, how could we become as intimate with God as it is possible to be, without suffering? Maybe it was part of ‘the plan’ all along? Maybe it was essential that we, like Christ, suffer? He kept saying “the Son of Man came to suffer and die” perhaps we did too? We’re called to follow him and all for all of the disciples that meant some pretty excruciating pain. When Peter tried to flee it, Christ addressed him as ‘Satan’, i.e. the Adversary (of Love). As Lori points out, only here can we experience the ‘felt’ absence of God, only here can we feel abandoned by God and only here can we then freely choose to fly to God, regardless of how we feel or how life seems. Only here can we really know that God loves us unconditionally? I mean, we can know that in heaven where everything is already perfect, where we are all obviously loveable, but here? When we are ugly? broken? Sick? Sinful? That takes knowledge of the totally unconditional nature of his love to a whole new level doesn’t it? None of us are theologians, for sure, but theology is simply ‘reason seeking faith’ — we need to try to ‘reason it out’ and love, as said, really has no reason eventually. I think suffering is that point when reason has to bow out and only love makes sense. To me, this is one of the things the crucifixion shows. That whatever — whatever — we experience, God says, ‘me too!’ I’m there. In ways you can’t understand or rationally know. He’s here.

  3. Thank you for this article. Suffering is indeed used by the Lord to fulfill His purpose in our lives. And we might not enjoy what we are going through, when we are focused on the pain. But if we focus of God, later on, when we look back, we realize that He was there with us, holding our hand, carrying us through it all.

  4. My take on hardship and suffering? Sometimes God uses pain to bring BLESSINGS, prosperity and protection. Look at the Bible character examples of Job and Joseph and Ruth and Naomi and Esther…

    And here’s a recent example of someone who had EVERY reason to complain and give into circumstances that most people would find depressing and would have given up early on…Gitzen Girl is her nickname. She decided to do something for which she is known for in memory and that was to “Choose Joy”. I think you’d love her blog. You can visit it here- http://gitzengirl.blogspot.com/ and you can see a video of her story (her real name was Sara) created by those whose lives she touched, here- “Sara’s Story” http://gitzengirl.blogspot.com/2012/05/saras-story.html

    Oh and you may also like the song AND devotional book “Blessings” by Laura Story, a Christian recording artist. See it here- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ

    1. Katie Ganshert

      That’s one of my favorite songs, Alexis! I’ll have to check out that girl’s blog!

  5. All I know is, after a rough couple of days for me personally, is this: my friend is dying. His wife is hurting. They have Jesus, they need grace, endurance and love. I give what I can and praying for healing.
    Is it fair? No.
    Does God love them?

  6. It’s so hard as Christians to minister to unbelievers as they go through hard times. I can only support them and assure them of exactly what you said here. It wasn’t God’s plan for us to suffer.

  7. Yes, He speaks to us in that brokenness. He redeems our ugliness, our heartaches, our pain. The experiences we suffer through are not good, but He is. Through grace that surpasses all expectations, God can make life beautiful again. He did for me, and He can for all. Wonderful post, Katie!

  8. A good friend of mine recently told me what is going on in her life- very stressful and heartbreaking. But I found myself thinking, “What a great opportunity for God to show off His power and grace!”

  9. Can I echo Wendy and say I don’t know? 🙂

    But seriously…I don’t know. And honestly, it’s comforting to me that I don’t know. If I understood how God’s mind works at all times, there’d be no point to him…I don’t know how or why he allows suffering…but I know that He is good. I know that He loves me. I know that I could never fully understand all his ways if I studied FOREVER…because He’s God and I’m not and not only okay with that, I’m comforted by it. 🙂

  10. Sometimes I wonder why God went ahead and created this world…and us…when He knew all the suffering that would happen. Why did He do it? I have no clue.

    But I do know this from personal experience. God allows suffering. When we suffer, we either run to Him or away from Him. It’s our choice. But if we never saw the darkness–if He allowed us to keep living in this sinful world without any consequences, OR if the world was all perfect already–then we wouldn’t appreciate the light…Him.

  11. So true! This just goes to show that what Satan means for harm God can turn around for good (Gen. 50:20). I bet it hurts God when his children blame Him on all the suffering in the world. That wasn’t part of His plan. Thanks for this reminder. =)

  12. Something that was made known to me through a devotional within the last week, and I’d never looked at suffering (in whatever form) this way, but these few years we spend here on earth are the only time in all eternity where we’ll be able to get to know God through brokenness, to fellowship with Him through our suffering. This is it. Suffering (in whatever form) can do a work in us in regards to our intimacy with God that nothing else can. I don’t know all the reasons for suffering, but I do trust that God is a gatekeeper for the things allowed into my life, and I also trust in his good plans for me. I want to embrace every chance I have to grow in intimacy in my walk with God here and now, and suffering is something unique to this life, a tool toward that end. Not that I want loads of suffering, but if it should come, may I have the right attitude toward it.

    I kinda knew this on some level, but after reading that devotional (in Streams in the Desert), it’s a thing I can pray about and articulate. 🙂

    1. Katie Ganshert

      Wow, that is a beautiful way to look at it, Lori! One of the pastors at my church recently gave a sermon about suffering and he said something along these lines. That in our suffering, we can know Him better.

  13. Hi Katie.

    I’ve no doubt I will be the lone dissenter here, but after three years of reading the Bible cover-to-cover, subsequent studying, and compiling a Word document file of all of God’s sovereignty verses, I have come to a different conclusion than you about this imperfect life. I believe it is all exactly part of God’s plan, and that, as Job said to his wife after she suggested he curse God and die:

    “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips..

    The word often translated as “adversity” or “trouble” in the above verse is the same word translated as “evil” elsewhere. This is also the case in Isaiah 45:7:

    “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

    Among many, many others.

    Even so, I hesitate to cherry pick verses because I’ve already witnessed how people use select verses to debate, and I know how, without context, they can be used for harm and judgment. However, as I said, I did not come to this belief lightly. I had many years of deep study. I think where people refuse to believe any of our trials from earth could possibly be from God might be due to lack of consideration of the full picture. Our journey back to reconciliation with Him is not only to take place during this lifetime. This is just a blip. There will be more to come, and that’s where I believe many of the abused and suffering will see the beauty and the love and understand why they had to go through what they did while on earth.

    I hesitated before writing this comment, and it’s not my intention to be antagonistic toward you (or the many others who share your belief)… I’m just adding another opinion to the mix as an example that not all of us who follow Jesus’ way are convinced of the same answers. In fact, I don’t even lay down my belief as dogmatic, but rather, this understanding is what has begun to make the most sense to me—especially in light of the multitude of verses where God states His sovereign rule over all creation, including the Adversary. Also, I’ve come through some major trials in my life, where, during the time they were happening, I could not see God in the evil I was enduring, but when I look back, I see exactly how these trials shaped me and drew me closer to Him. Just like the “what if your blessings came through raindrops” song.

    1. Katie Ganshert

      I am totally glad you wrote this, Barb! That song is one of my favorites, because I’ve experienced it. I think we all have. I love how God uses pain all the time to bring about beauty. I love that what our eyes see as pain , God can turn into blessings.


      Your comment has me thinking a lot. When I wrote this post, I hesitated and when I finally published it, I did so with a bit (okay, a lot) of uncertainty, because really…..there’s so much I don’t understand. And there are definitely times in the Bible where God does allow and sometimes even (gasp) ordain bad things to happen.

      He allowed Satan to have his way with Job. He ordained Jesus to suffer on the cross.

      I don’t exactly understand how all of it fits together. I’m nowhere close to a theologian.

      I just know that originally, God intended for us to live in perfect harmony in Eden. Originally, His plan wasn’t for suffering to exist. Death wasn’t a part of the plan. But He gave us free will and we chose to reject God’s plan.

      So now we live in a place that is far from harmonious. Where bad things happen.

      And God has a new plan. (Warning! Rabbit trail ahead. Proceed with caution. Can it be considered a “new plan” if God knew from the get-go that we would mess up and need rescuing?? See, this is where my brain ties into knots. Okay, rabbit trail over.) To redeem what’s been lost. But in the midst of that…..yeah, He allows suffering. He even ordains it at times. Which is so hard to wrap the brain around. At least this brain.

      WOW! Can you even follow my train of thought right now? If you can, you deserve a big prize.

      Even in the midst of my confusion, I agree with you. He can use ALL things–the good, the bad, and the ugly–to glorify His name and draw us closer to Him. He is a God who gives AND takes away.

      All this to say – I love the conversation you opened up with your comment. Even if it does make my brain hurt. 😉

      AND! I love that God is so big and complex and sovereign that my teeny tiny little brain will never fully comprehend Him.

      1. Barb and Katie,

        This is the real issue, isn’t it? What did God ORIGINALLY plan and desire for us, His beloved creations, and what did His selfless gift of free will to us do to that plan? Is this the “new version” or is this just the result of sin? His plan includes “The wages of sin is death” BECAUSE it includes “The gift of God is eternal life THROUGH Jesus Christ.” Great thoughts, both of you.


  14. I’d love to rattle on about the fall and sin and Satan roaming the earth, but I think today I’ll just go with this…

    I don’t know.
    ~ Wendy

  15. “God can use those broken, messy, shameful, ugly things in our lives. ”

    And that is how I came to know Jesus. I heard a radio broadcast on this exact topic with the promise that God can take the crap from our past and turn it into treasure. That is my life.

    thanks for this post. You said it so very well.

  16. Love this post, Katie. God never planned for us to hurt, but he can certainly use it:)

  17. Wow, Katie. I’ve thought so much about the suffering in this world and God broght me to the same understanding. It’s not His will for suffering, but He allows it if – and only if – the outcome is for our good and His glory. For He knows the plans for us, they are plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans for hope and a future, but the enemy of our souls also has a plan and he works tirelessly to bring his plan about, too. Whichever voice we hear and believe, that’s the voice that will direct our paths. If the voice is Faith-filled, we’re on God’s path, if it’s fear-filled, we’re on the enemy’s path. The beauty, or the tragedy, is that other people are affected by our decisions, and just like Josh McDowell, he suffered from people choosing to walk the fear-filled path. Thank God for redemption and lasting salvation! What the enemy intends for evil, God will use for good!

    1. Katie Ganshert

      You know what’s extra amazing about Josh McDowell’s testimony? He searched out his father and the man who sexually abused him (for years!) and he forgave them. He came to the realization that they are lost and like you said, dictated by fear.


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