Suffering is unavoidable, but God promises His people that He is with them through every tribulation. Last weekend, in a powerful and intensely personal message, Pastor Kong Hee offered an understanding of how God turns evil for good.
“One of the greatest challenges of our faith is when we go through sufferings,” said Kong Hee, senior pastor of City Harvest Church, as he began his sermon over the weekend of 28 and 29 Jan.
That was a poignant pronouncement, in light of the fact that Pastor Kong lost his mother a week ago. Before the sermon, the church prayed for the senior pastor and his wife, Sun, and their family, sharing in their sorrow.
It is hard for Christians to understand why a loving, all-powerful God would allow His children to go through hard times and injustice. Yet, in a fallen world, suffering is inevitable. While believers should not romanticise evil, Pastor Kong explained that God turns evil around for good in their lives. He gave the example of how God turned around Jesus’s crucifixion—a horrendous act of unjust murder—and made the cross a means of salvation for the world.
Referencing the creation story, the pastor shared that in order for humankind to possess genuine love, God gave them free will. They can choose to love God and to love one another, or to reject them. God did this knowing that having free will means it is possible for mankind to sin and that would result in evil and darkness entering the world.
“There would be great suffering for us and for God… so why did God still create?” the pastor asked. God counted the cost and knew that it was still worth it. He would personally join humankind in their suffering and be their Redeemer. “He will use the suffering and frustration of this fallen world to change us, to transform us, to be like Jesus and bring us into a deeper loving embrace and relationship with Him.”
When God created humankind, His goal was to create them in “our image and in our likeness” (Gen 1:26). However, verse 27 states that humankind was only created in the image—they did not bear his likeness yet. “Yes, all the raw materials are within us,” noted Pastor Kong, “but we still need to grow and conform to the likeness of Christ. That is the goal.”
In the midst of exercising his free will, Man would inadvertently make mistakes. Not only does he suffer the results of it, but people around them also suffer. However, God promises to join mankind in their suffering and to help them grow more like Jesus every step of the way.
“That’s God’s plan and it will make the whole path of suffering worthwhile,” Pastor Kong assured.
JOB: A TESTIMONY OF THE VICTORY OF LOVE AND FAITH
He gave the example of Job, who remained faithful to God despite suffering greatly. In Job 1:10, God highlighted Job’s faithfulness to Satan, who insisted that Job was only faithful because God was taking care of him. When God gave permission, Satan struck Job in every area of his life: in a single day, Job lost all his wealth, assets, property, and even his 10 children. In spite of that, chapter one ended with Job choosing to continue to love, worship and trust God (Job 1:20-22).
In Job 2:4-7, Satan challenged Job’s faith in God again by unleashing on him a dreadful disease. Even then, Job surrendered himself to God, refusing to “sin with his lips”. (Job 2:10)
“Job’s story proves that it is possible to have real faith, to genuinely trust and love God for who He is, and not only for His blessings,” Pastor Kong preached. “Job showed what true love and faith look like under fire.”
Following Job’s series of misfortunes, Job’s friends accused, condemned and patronised him, accusing him of sinning against God. In response, Job said, “If only I knew where to find him, if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments” (Job 23:3-4).
“When you are suffering, it is okay to honestly tell God how you feel,” Pastor Kong expounded. “Job wrestled with God, he protested, he cried, he prayed, he struggled, and God was not at all upset, or offended.”
Towards the end of the chapter, God came to Job in the midst of a storm, assuring Job that He has a purpose for his life that is greater than all his suffering. Many scholars believed that Job lived around the same time as Abraham, but while Abraham saw the form of God many times, Job did not. This makes his faith all the more remarkable.
In Job 42:2, Job responded to God, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Pastor Kong explained that God has a redemptive purpose in every hardship and that no purpose He has given to believers can be stopped.
In Job 42:3, Job admitted that he did not know what God’s purpose was. “Even after hearing God, Job still didn’t know, but he trusted the Lord in spite of his sorrows and anguish,” the pastor taught.
In Job 19:25-27, Job declares his trust in his Redeemer. Although he never found out why he had to go through extreme suffering, he caught a glimpse of God’s love and knew that no tragedy could nullify it.
Pastor Kong emphasised that Job lived before any books of the Bible were written and did not have any supernatural encounters like Abraham and Moses did. He went through extreme pain and grief and yet, he was utterly convinced that God loves Him and that one day, he will be filled with joy in His loving presence.
“This must be the kind of faith and trust that you have in the Lord,” the pastor preached. “You must love God to this extent.”
PRESENT SUFFERINGS, FUTURE GLORY
Apostle Paul shared Job’s sentiments. In Romans 8:18, he wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Quoting this verse, Pastor Kong told the congregation, “No matter what life brings, all our present suffering is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Encouraging members who have been deeply wounded, the pastor said, “The Holy Spirit wants us to see through the eyes of faith, hope and love. When you don’t have all the answers, you can still have hope in Jesus Christ.”
Paul himself had suffered greatly in life, yet he had this revelation: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39).
In concluding his message, Pastor Kong shared a personal testimony of his mother, who recently went home to be with the Lord at the age of 96. His mother first received Jesus when she was 67, after God miraculously healed her of a large tumour believed to be cancerous. Since then, she desired that her husband, Pastor Kong’s father, would be saved, so that the family can worship God in church together.
A year later, Pastor Kong’s mother suffered from a heart attack and a massive stroke, which hindered her ability to speak or move actively. However, during the same period of time, God answered her deepest desire—Pastor Kong’s father received salvation. For the next 22 years, Uncle and Aunty Kong would attend City Harvest Church’s Sunday service without fail. For years, Aunty Kong insisted on going to the market at 8am every weekend without fail to buy breakfast for the staff and volunteers running the service.
Although Pastor Kong’s mother suffered from sickness for 28 years, Jesus did a deep work in her heart, and she became someone who was full of love, joy, kindness, forgiveness, patience and long-suffering.
“This is the mystery of suffering,” Pastor Kong explained. “Like Job, we don’t always have the answers. Why did God heal my mom of cancer, but not prevent the heart attack and stroke? Why is it that half the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 received their miracles and deliverance, while the other half did not? Why is it that in Acts 12, James killed, and Peter was miraculously spared?”
He continued, “There’s no answer to these questions, not in this lifetime. Suffering is a mystery. All we can do is to keep loving God and believing in Him, trusting Him in the midst of it all.”
Before the service ended, Pastor Kong reminded the congregation that everything that happens in this lifetime is to prepare them for the next. One day, believers will stand in the presence of God to receive His blessings in heaven. The pastor prayed for members of the congregation who needed miracles, followed by a prayer for individuals to restore their relationship with Jesus.