Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to accepting the Universalistic understanding of suffering–as a condition imposed upon man by God in the original plan of creation that was meant to provide him with an opportunity, through the exercise of his will, to progress from the mutable to the immutable–is the fact that the bible simply does not come out and say this.
Why? If such a reason for suffering exists–one that accords with our deepest longings, conscience and reason, one that we think ought to be true, one that is applicable to all, a part of the original plan of creation, not based on contingency, and appointed for the progression of all men into blessedness–then why doesn’t the bible relieve our souls and simply come out and say it?
Well, I don’t know that it hasn’t (see Romans 8:20), but if it hasn’t, then I would offer the following reason: The bible is not concerned so much with suffering in general as it is with a particular kind of suffering–the suffering that we share with Christ. We all, by virtue of being born, suffer in Adam. And yes, it is a suffering which God subjected us to. But it is not that suffering, in and of itself, that the bible is interested in. Yes, he has afflicted the “children of men” (that means all men), but that affliction, in and of itself, has no redemptive value. And although he “sympathizes with our weaknesses” and is “mindful of our frame, that we are but dust” (Hebrews 4:15, Psalm 103:14), he does not coddle us on this account. It is not an enabling love. It is a father’s love, not a mother’s love.
But there’s also a sense in which all suffering, to which all are subjected, is, if not redemptive, nonetheless a pledge of something better to come. “As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:49). God does not willingly “grieve the sons of men,” but gives us travail that we may be “exercised by it” (Lamentations 3:33, Ecclesiastes 1:13). Job asks the question: “Why is light given to a man whose way is hid?” (Job 4:23) Romans 8:20-21 answers: “The creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same, in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
All of the suffering to which we were subjected in Adam is to be overcome in Christ, but he will have us participate in this overcoming. On the one hand, yes it’s true, he subjected us to this suffering in Adam, and this receives occasional mention, along with occasional assurances that the problem will be remedied. But for the most part, the emphasis is not on Adam; it’s on Christ; not on the problem, but on the solution; not on the past, but on the future. We find ourselves in this condition. Fine. It was not self-imposed. Fine. But now what? What are we going to do about it? How do we get from Adam to Christ? We must die to Adam and live to Christ. All must do this, and all will eventually be made to do it–all will be made to die the second death. But we are not to wait for God to kill us; we are to “mortify the deeds of the body.” We are to die to the old man and live to the new. He bids us do that which he will do for us.
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.” (Philippians 2:12)
“Come to me…” (Matthew 11:28)
“No man can come to me unless the father draw him.” (John 6:44)
“I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men.” (John 12:32)