In my mind I do not think that there is much difference. Whether God causes or uses our suffering to get our attention, it is ultimately his plan for our lives and to bring us back to him. Either way we should be happy to know that God loves us that much that He is taking time to reach out to us and bring us back to him.
I think there are times of divine judgement, where God causes conditions of suffering, such as with the children of Israel. And other times, because we have free will and choice, God allows the suffering to be used for our good, such as with Job’s suffering. God allowed what happened to Job, but did not cause his suffering. Romans 8:28 says that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
I think that the only way God really “causes” our suffering is by giving us free will. He is able to use our suffering, and our joy, to point us closer to Him.
There is no different because both pull us to think about God and our eternity. He opens our eyes, heart, ears, minds, and souls to accept the fact that we are nothing without His strength, guidance, and glory,
For me there is a big difference. I don’t think that God causes our suffering at all. Our suffering are a result of our own arrogance and stupidity. It is a result of our fall from Grace. God uses these things, even though He could turn his back on us, to help us walk in righteousness towards the eternal.
God will use some suffering to draw us near to him. Sometimes when we are headed away from God he will cause an event of suffering to lead us back to him. An example would be Jonah. When he ran from God and did not want to do his will God caused him to be eaten by the whale. Then there are times when God will use suffering because of choices we made to sin in order to get us back on track and to accomplish his will. They are similar as they both serve to get us closer to God.
God causing suffering brings to mind a cruelty that is uncharacteristic of God. I don’t think of Him causing suffering as much as using suffering to draw us to Him, to see our need of Him. This seems similar to God using our decisions or situations to draw us too Him. His ultimate goal is to show us that all things do work together to bring us into a deeper relationship with Him. It shows us that there is a purpose for everything, and nothing is wasted. His purposes are always rooted in love for us.
I think most of us struggle to accept that God could or would cause or instigate suffering. This seems too much the act of an uncaring God. Yet as Job expresses it in Job 2:10: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
The second assertion suggests that God is greater than anything that happens to us. As Romans 8:28 states: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.