“Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” – Job 14:1
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28
The Bible teaches that the source of human suffering can be traced back to the Fall. Had there been no Fall in the Garden of Eden, there would be no sin. But, Adam and Eve did sin and so there is much sorrow and suffering in the world today.
Sometimes the suffering is the consequence of personal conduct. We make wrong decisions in a moment of passion or weakness.
Sometimes the suffering is because we are easily influenced by peer pressure, which is why our parents told us not to associate with those who would lead us astray.
There are wives who suffer because of the foolishness of their husbands.
There are parents who suffer because of the willfulness of wayward sons and daughters.
There are children who suffer because one or both parents have brought misery into their own lives. There is suffering by association.
When unbelievers suffer we tend to think they are being justly recompensed.
But what happens when the righteous suffer?
Many times people are perplexed over this question and cannot find an answer. If there is to be any understanding of the place of suffering in the plan of God then it must begin with the realization that God has never promised to exempt His children from the common experiences of the world.
The theological construct known as Dispensationalism teaches that when a specialized period of great tribulation comes to the world, the Church will not be present. The Health and Wealth Gospel teaches that God does not want His children to have sickness or hardship. Both systems are in grave error when they teach this. Jesus has prayed that we not be taken out of the world in tribulation. “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” (John 17:15 cf. 16:33)
If God completely exempted individuals from suffering, there would be the temptation to serve the Lord in order to escape pain, and not because of love for Him.
The world is always amazed at what the grace of God can really do for people. The greatest proof of religion is to see it put to the test and then see it triumph.
Now consider some important reasons why Christians suffer.
Found to be Trustworthy
First, Christians suffer because God has found them to be trustworthy with the ministry of suffering. The life of Job illustrates this point. One calamity after another fell upon Job, until all of his property was gone and even his sons and daughter; but instead of Job cursing God, he lifted his heart in humble submission and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” An in all of this Job sinned not.
When Satan came back before the throne of the Lord he was silent for he had been proven a liar. But God was not through with the matter. He was pleased with His servant and wanted to talk about him some more.
In the discussion to follow Satan suggested that if Job suffered personally, in his own body, he would curse God and die. So permission was given to afflict Job but not take his life. And the Evil One went forth to afflict Job. He caused Job to be afflicted with boils from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. His property was gone, his children taken, and now his wife turns her back on him.
If all of that is not bad enough Job’s three friends come to comfort him. But they are miserable comforters all for they really came to accuse Job. The three friends insisted that Job had done some great evil to bring so much trouble upon himself. If he would confess his sin then maybe God would turn away His wrath. Job maintained he was innocent and had nothing to confess.
Job could not understand the cause of his afflictions any more than we can understand ours at times. What Job could understand is that he should trust God. Job trusted God. Because of his faith in God, some of the most beautiful expressions of faith came from Job in his great pain. Listen to Job as he cries out, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (Job 13:15).
Magnifying the Majesty of the Mater
Second, Christians suffer in order to magnify the power, mercy and majesty of Jesus Christ. In the gospel of John the story is told of a man born blind. The disciples asked Jesus about this. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” (John 9:2). The Lord responded, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 9:3) The disciples wanted to spend a lot of time arguing over what caused the man to be blind. However, the more important thing is to call in Jesus and let Him get the glory out of the situation.
There have been many people who, when they were passing through periods of trials and afflictions could not understand; they may even have felt like becoming rebellious and angry. Martha was like this when her brother Lazarus died. When Jesus finally arrived on the scene Martha rebuked Him with a bitter but tempered spirit. “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died.”
What Martha was really saying was, “Lord, you are the One that is responsible for my brother’s death.” (John 11:21) Later, Martha was able to see that what Jesus did was to delay His coming to Lazarus that He might receive glory for Himself. On the other side of pain and suffering Martha and Lazarus were able to say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)
By never doubting the goodness of the Lord the heart can constantly sing in any circumstance of life.
“What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and grief’s to bear.
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear—
All because we do not carry,
Everything to God in prayer!”
Joseph M. Scriven
The Perfecting of Holiness
Third, Christians suffer in order to perfect personal holiness. According to Hebrews 12:10, God works in the life of believers “that we might be made partakers of His holiness.” Holiness is not a peripheral issue in the Christian life; holiness is central to what being a Christian means. One of the grand objectives that God has in mind for believing individuals is that they might be holy. The royal command is this, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) There are many Christians who are not conscious of the importance of holiness and so much careless living takes place within the sphere of saving faith. Like Lot of old many believers “vex” their souls with “filthy living” (2 Peter 2:7).
Not only are many Christians grieved over their besetting transgressions, but like Lot they simply give up resisting evil, for such is the Greek meaning of the word “vexed” (to labor down, i.e. wear with toil). Taking liberty to apply the immortal words of Winston Churchill, during World War II, to the Church, the gospel exhortation comes to the suffering saints: “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!”
“Would you live for Jesus, and be always pure and good?
Would you walk with Him within the narrow road?
Would you have Him bear your burden, carry all your load?
Let Him have His way with thee.”
Cyrus S. Nusbaum
Sometimes through the process of suffering the Lord subdues our stubborn wills. We begin to want Him to have His way with us. We begin to want to be holy.
A Ministry of Empathy and Sympathy
Fourth, another reason why Christians suffer is to prepare individuals for the ministry of empathy and sympathy. A person who expresses sympathy is a caring person. But a person who can put themselves where another person is in their pain and suffering has empathy. The world is filled with pain and suffering. Homes are turned into torture chambers and houses of horror. Behind closed doors and away from the public eye there is bloodshed and violence. Emotional pain is inflicted. Private agonies are endured. People in every walk of life are having their trials and troubles.
One of the greatest needs in the Church is for hearts that are able to empathize with others in their trouble. The Christian can engage in this ministry of suffering. Enduring personal afflictions and trials can mellow the heart. So the best way to bear your own burden is to go out and find someone else to comfort.
Too many people withdraw from the world and hide away in seclusion when trouble comes to them. That is neither wise nor healthy. Brooding over troubles will lead the heart to become bitter not better. Life is enriched when others are thought of despite personal discomfit. The truth is that you can always find someone else who has a burden heavier than the one you bear. In helping another person to bear their burden you will find One likened unto the Son of Man, who will walk and talk with you on the way.
Now, the Bible recognizes the three basic attitudes a person can take toward trials and affliction.
Despising Divine Providence
First, the pain and suffering God has ordained can be despised. This is an inappropriate response for the gospel exhortation comes: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.” (Prov. 3:11) When the providence of God is despised the heart will become sour, cynical and hard. Life and faith will be made a shipwreck.
Enduring Divine Providence
Second, pain and suffering can be endured. To kiss the hand that strikes the blow, to endure suffering is a sign of salvation. “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons.” (Heb. 12:7) Many people take the attitude of a stoic toward their suffering. They just grit their teeth, grin and bear it. If anything, they pretend that “all is fine, just fine.”
Being Trained by the Lord
The best attitude to hold during difficult days is to have a heart’s desire to be “exercised”, or “trained”, by whatever pain and suffering God in His providence is pleased to impose. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Heb. 12:11) The word for exercise means to train. It is the word from which we derive the English word, gymnasium. In a mystical way God trains us by turning our suffering into blessing when we are able to endure the pain without complaining.
The Fruit of Righteousness
If the Lord is gracious, if we learn the lessons of life God would have us to learn, we will bear the fruits of righteousness.
There is the fruit of peace.
“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”
Horatio Gates Spafford
There is the fruit of calmness to the point the heart can sing:
“Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow;
I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.”
John S. Norris
There is the fruit of submission in the soul.
“Have Thine own way, Lord!
Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.”
Adelaide A. Pollard
There is the fruit of confidence in God.
“My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Now hear me while I pray,
take all my guilt away;
O let me from this day
be wholly Thine.”
The Proverb says, ““Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” So the Lord trains His children in the way they should go. May we as Christians learn the lessons of life associated with pain and suffering in the plan of God, and embrace the appropriate attitude that becomes a child of God.