“Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble”. ~Job 14:1
The Bible teaches that suffering, in general, comes into the world as the result of sin. Sometimes the suffering is the consequence of personal sinful conduct. Sometimes the suffering is because of the sins of other people. There are wives who suffer because of the sins of wayward husbands. There are parents who suffer because of the sins of wayward sons and daughters. There are children who suffer because of the sins of parents.
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.
Dispensationalism teaches that when 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.
If God freed individuals from suffering there would be the temptation to serve God 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 grand reasons why Christians suffer.
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.
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 thought 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. However, there was something Job could do, and that was to trust God. Job trusted God. Some of the most beautiful expressions of faith come from this man in great pain. Listen to Job as he cried out, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him” (Job 13:15).
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.”
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 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.”
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.” 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!”
Christians suffer in order to perfect them in holiness. According to Hebrews 12 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.
Ephesians 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.
1 Peter 1:16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.
1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit.
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, modern believers “vex” their souls with “filthy living” (2 Peter 2:7). Not only are many believers grieved with sin but like Lot they simply give up resisting evil, for such is the Greek meaning of the word “vexed” [kataponeo, kat-ap-on-eh’-o; to labor down, i.e. wear with toil).
“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”.
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.
Another reason why Christians suffer is to prepare individuals for the ministry of sympathy. 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 sympathize with others in their trouble. The Christian can fill up this ministry of suffering. Enduring personal afflictions and trials can mellow the heart.
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 some one 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.
The proper attitude for enduring pain and suffering is found in Hebrews 12. The Bible recognizes the three different attitudes a person can take toward trials and affliction.
First, the pain and suffering God has allowed can be despised. “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him/” When the providence of God is despised the heart will become sour, cynical and hard. Life and faith will be made a shipwreck.
Second, pain and suffering can be endured. “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons.” Many people take this attitude toward their suffering. They just grit their teeth, grin and bear it. If anything, they pretend that “all is fine, just fine.”
Third, pain and suffering can be exercised. “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” (Hebrews 12:11). The word exercised is an interesting word in the Greek. It is the word “gumnazo (goom-nad’-zo)” and means to practice naked (in the games), i.e. train (figuratively). The spiritual training that comes from suffering will result in bearing the fruits of righteousness. Suffering will become a source of blessing that will enrich life.
Some of the greatest saints that the world has ever known have been those who have endured great suffering mentally or emotionally.
The great English preacher during the 1800’s Charles Spurgeon battled periods of dark depression and groaned from gout.
John Calvin, a leader in the early Presbyterian church, was plagued by severe headaches. His diet was plain. He was often in so much pain he had to study standing up. Billy Graham has a long list of physical afflictions with many minor and major surgeries.
In 1974, his wife Ruth, fell from a ladder, and lay in a coma for a week. She had been testing a swing she made for her grandchildren. When Ruth awoke from her coma, she continued to suffer from degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck that resulted in chronic back pain for many years.
God’s people have had to endure suffering.
The apostle Paul was in such agony he cried three times for the Lord to take away his affliction. And the Lord said unto Paul “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
As Paul learned about God’s grace, so we can learn about human kindness through the sufferings of others, reflected in the story of Jake Porter. In October, 2002 two high school football coaches created a moment of uncontaminated good and kindness. The story goes like this.
Dave Frantz, coach of the Northwest Mohawks in Ohio, wanted Jake Porter to get some playtime on the football field in a regular game. Jake is a student with mental retardation, but an infectious appreciation of life. The 17-year-old devotee of sports has dressed for every game, but had not played.
In a conversation with opposing coach, Derek DeWitt of the Waverly Tigers, it was agreed that Jake would “take a knee” in the last play of the game, meaning he would take the ball and fall to his knees to end the play. They had been practicing this play.
The magic occurred when, with Waverly winning 42-0, Coach DeWitt offered to let Jake score. He did—and both teams went wild with joy as did the supporters in the stand.
\Jake Porter is one sweet boy who happens to have a disability through no fault of his own. The coaches are two exceedingly decent men who understood how much this moment would have for one special child. The incident was a lovely one, but why is it so rare? Perhaps because individuals must learn more kindness through the sufferings of others.
One day, when Jesus comes the second time for all who love Him (Heb. 9:28) there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Sin and suffering will cease. All things shall be made new, and we shall walk with Christ in righteousness. To that end we say with the apostle John, “Even so come quickly, Lord Jesus.”
“We are often tossed and driv’n
On the restless sea of time,
Somber skies and howling tempests
Oft succeed a bright sunshine;
In that land of perfect day,
When the mists have rolled away,
We will understand it better by and by.
By and by, when the morning comes,
When the saints of God are gathered home,
We’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome,
We will understand it better by and by.”