Theology Of Suffering Explained
People often wonder why do good people suffer? If God is a loving God, why would He allow anyone to suffer?
To answer these questions, it is important to have a right understanding of who God is and who we are. Without knowing who God is in His sovereignty, you will be frustrated and angry at the events that are happening in your life and all around the world.
To develop a personal theology of suffering that is biblically-based, look at the character and nature of God. The Bible tells us that God is gracious, merciful, almighty, slow to anger, sovereign, loving, and powerful, and more.
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the childrens children, to the third and the fourth generation.
Exodus 24:6-7 ESV
The Bible tells us that there is no darkness in God at all and that He cannot sin.When you understand the heart of God, you will see that it is not in His nature to torture or cause people to suffer.
Instead, we see that He uses suffering to draw us closer to Himself.
Secondly, Genesis 3:16-19 tells us that suffering is a result of the fall. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death.
The Question: Does Suffering Improve Us
Let’s be very clear : there is no divine purpose in suffering whatsoever. The idea of a God who sees some use in people being in physical pain, or traumatised emotionally, or having their lives wrecked by natural diasters or fellow human beings is warped theology. Self-inflicted suffering is even worse.
I despair at those who claim that through suffering God is “teaching us something very meaningful” whether of the unexpected powers of endurance of those affected or the hidden depths of compassion of those who respond. Yes, these may be incidental by-products of suffering, but I do not believe in a God who uses individual lives as a blackboard for lessons about the human condition.
This is not just my modern rabbinic slant, but has ancient roots and is best expressed by the 10th-century Babylonian Jewish scholar Saadia Gaon, who declared that “the main cause of irreligion is the weak and ridiculous arguments advanced in defence of it”. So why do so many religious people come out with them? Perhaps because of “the Henry syndrome”.
I name this phenomenon after a person I knew whose daughter was killed in a car accident, with no other car involved, simply hitting a tree. It was during daylight, she was not speeding, had not been drinking beforehand, nor texting at the time, nor was she on drugs. The police were baffled and had no explanation for the accident.
But Henry was adamant.
Suffering Happens In Community
Christians still suffer as we wait for Jesus to return, but none of our suffering is random or without purpose.
The church is not meant to be a loosely bound association of functional Lone Rangers. Paul confronts that type of thinking when he writes, Bear one anothers burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ .
The church is meant to be a refuge for those suffering. When a member is hurting, the church applies the bandages when a member is down, the church encourages when a member is in need, the church comes alongside to help.
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To Share In The Power Of Suffering
When we read the story of Jesuss temptation in the wilderness, it’s easy to adopt the attitude that He is Jesus and we are not, so of course He’s able to endure suffering. However, we must remember that what sustained Jesus was God’s power upon Him. He relied on His heavenly Father to give Him what He needed.
Another example is Jesus’ resurrection. In His power Jesus rose from the dead. In the same way, when we share in Christ’s sufferings, we experience His power to raise us from our pain. Read the following passage from Philippians 3.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Promises Of Hope For Those Facing Long
Promise #1: Proof from the Past
but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31
Old Testament stories abound of those who were rewarded for humbly seeking Gods help, and faithful people held up by the grace of God through trials. Many Old Testament Kings rose and fell in accordance to their obedience to the One True God. We can learn from their lives, and glean wisdom from Gods Word, to find comfort when facing long-suffering. The Old Testament exposes humanitys need for a Savior, and consistently points to the coming of Jesus, Gods plan all along. In the beginning was the Word, John recorded, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Jesus is the greatest expression of Gods love for us. All are welcome to come to Him, through Christ. When we are enduring suffering without a known end, we can be assured His strength will kick in to carry us through. To follow Christ is to be obedient to Gods Word, and the Truth He speaks in our lives through prayer, reading Scripture, and through the godly people He has placed in our lives. If we submit to His authority in our lives over our own, we discover the ability to go through hard things with hope. We retain our joy in Jesus, though life is full of pain, lacking answers, and devoid of solutions.
Promise #2: Present in the Here and Now
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When Pain Blinds Us To The Spiritual Realities Of Suffering Gods Word & His People Help Us See The Truth
To find perspective and strength in the midst of suffering, we must turn to the Church and the Scriptures. The church is the one place on earth that is designed and equipped to help us gain perspective, and the Bible is the one book in which we can find purpose in the midst of sorrow. It is the community of Christ which helps us to see what the pain of our situation has blinded us to. It is the word of God which helps us stand when we cannot, to move forward when our will is broken.
What Does The Bible Say About Suffering
Responses to suffering are deeply personal and evoke strong emotions, but the Bible offers examples that reveal not only the mystery of human suffering, but Gods eternal perspective.
- Dawn WilsonCrosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 201911 Jun
The problem of suffering is challenging, and people often wonder how a kind, loving God can allow suffering. Responses to suffering are deeply personal and evoke strong emotions, but the Bible offers examples that reveal not only the mystery of human suffering but Gods eternal perspective. Let’s look at 10 things the Bible says about suffering and how we should respond so that our faith can be built.
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Suffering Has Many Faces
Christians can experience many troublesmental, physical, emotional or spiritual suffering . All Christians have or will suffer . The Apostle Paul experienced various faces of suffering .
Suffering can come because of foolish choices. We see this in Proverbs: fools suffer harm , lazy people become hungry , adulterers reap bad consequences , etc.
While suffering can be a result of sin, all creation, even the righteous, will groan under the weight of sin and suffering . Only in heaven is there no pain, death or grief .
A Secular Worldview Of Suffering Acknowledges Its Existence While Denying It Any Meaning
Secular psychologists and philosophers have tried to answer this question for years, but they have little hope to offer people. Our western society often views pain and suffering the same way they view the world a random result of chance without meaning or design. In the secular worldview, our highest goal is self-fulfillment and pleasure, and suffering is merely an interruption to our pursuit of happiness.
In fact, noted philosopher & evolutionary scientist Dr. Richard Dawkins wrote in his book, Rivers Out of Eden, In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you wont find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice .
Cultural anthropologist Dr. Richard Shweder put it this way, Suffering has no intelligible relation to any plot, except as a chaotic interruption . In short, suffering just happens and there is no purpose in it and no reason for it.
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What Does God Say About Hardships
Joshua 1:9 Be strong and courageous do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Deuteronomy 31:6,8 Be strong and bold have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes before you. He will be with you he will not fail you or forsake you.
God Uses Your Suffering For His Glory
Whenever I am going through a difficult time, I find myself running to God for everything. When everything is going well, I wonder where God is. Have you ever felt this way?
As you encounter suffering, think about how it pushes you closer to God. Suffering creates a dependency on the Lord that is not always there when everything is going well.
The Lord can use our suffering to cause us to run to Him for help. He promises He will answer us and be a refuge to us in the storm.
Going through suffering also makes you question what you really believe about God. God wants you to come to Him with your questions, doubts, and pain so that He can show you His purposes and plan.
God can grow you the most through suffering. He uses your sufferings to draw you closer to Him.
But how you chose to go through suffering can either push you to God or draw you away from Him.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I do it, for how should My name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
Isaiah 48:10-11 ESV
God is the only one who should receive all the glory for what happens in your lifeincluding what happens in your suffering.
God can also use your suffering to purify you from sin and conform you more into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, bringing glory to His name.
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A Biblical Worldview Of Suffering Acknowledges Its Existence While Promising A Greater Meaning
In the biblical worldview, suffering is not a chaotic interruption to our pursuit of happiness, but it is often through the fire of suffering that we find purpose.
Jesus, the very Son of God, suffered intensely on this earth. When you consider the physical torture , emotional pain , and spiritual anguish Jesus endured, one could argue that He suffered more than anyone in history ever has or ever will.
Through times of pain and suffering, we are changed into who God wants us to be.
It was through this suffering that His ultimate purpose for coming to earth was fulfilled. Through His sacrifice on the cross, we have been offered peace and salvation. It was not in spite of His suffering, but because of it, His destiny was fulfilled.
In the same way, through times of pain and suffering, we are changed into who God wants us to be. I am not saying that God is the ultimate cause of all suffering on earth, I am simply saying that because of God, there is purpose and meaning to the difficulties we face in life.
Does Suffering Bring Us Closer To God
It gets us closer to what we were created to becompletely dependent on God. The reason His strength can shine through us is because we know God better through suffering. Reality is learned through trials, faith comes through trusting God in difficult circumstances. We can truly know Christ through suffering.
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The Struggle Is Tough But So Are You
Now, if anyone is enfolded into Christ, he has become an entirely new person. All that is related to the old order has vanished. Behold, everything is fresh and new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 TPT
Though we experience every kind of pressure, were not crushed. At times we dont know what to do, but quitting is not an option. We are persecuted by others, but God has not forsaken us. We may be knocked down, but not out. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 TPT
At salvation, you were redesigned to handle what life and the enemy throw at you. He does not cause it, but He has prepared you to thrive regardless of the circumstances that await you. He has given you tools and weapons as well as access to Him to help you get through it all.
If you need more help learning about the tool you have access to, we have a series on The Good Fight – How Not To Get Your Butt Kicked Spiritually that you can check out here.
I know the struggle can be really tough, but I also know that you are tougher. And with the Father on your side, there is nothing impossible for you.
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How Long Shall I Suffer
To suffer means to endure pain or agony, typically over an extended period of time. Whether the pain is physical or emotional, to suffer means to be subjected to some form of pain or torment. The KJV uses the word suffer a number of times, and in some cases, it is in exactly this sense. In many other cases, however, something else is going on. For example, we read Jesus words:
Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me, .
Jesus is not saying that being with this generation is a form of suffering, nor is He talking about inflicting suffering on them. Suffering, as we use the word today, was not in view here at all. Instead, suffer meant to allow or to endure. Modern translations express this well in todays language by wording it:
How long shall I put up with you? .
How long am I to bear with you? .
How much longer must I endure you? .
This is, of course, what the KJV actually means as well, though today we rarely if ever use the word suffer in this manner anymore, making it much more likely to misunderstand the passage when it is worded that way.
What The Bible Teaches
God does not cause the bad conditions in the world.Job 34:10.
By calling God a liar and saying that He withholds good from His subjects, Satan questioned Jehovahs right to rule.Genesis 3:2-5.
Jehovah will use his Son, the Ruler of the Messianic Kingdom, to end all human suffering and to undo its effects.1 John 3:8.
Becoming More Like Christ
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV
God allows suffering into the lives of those who are His to grow them closer to Him. He does not delight in our suffering in that He is glad that we go through pain, but because we choose Him over the comforts of the world.
As Christians, we are called to suffer for Christ. Just as Jesus exchanged His life for our own, in the same way, we are to also abandon our lives to Jesus . This means counting the cost and knowing that God is worth it.
If it is in Gods will for us to suffer, then so be it, for it is for His glory.
We have only to be willing and obedient to the call of Godthat is, to embrace our suffering for the sake of Christ .
God can use the suffering you are going through to conform you more into the image of His Son, Jesus.
The more willing you are to let this shape you into who He wants you to be, taking joy in the fact knowing that He is going through it with you, will effectively grow your faith in Christ.
God is constantly working on you and in you for your sanctification. It is never a fun process to go through, but trust that He is doing something beautiful through your suffering right now.
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