Suffering

<<grief, pain>>

Suffering is one of the most difficult problems humanity has to face and to explain. In response to our 'why' question, suffering and hardship will only be totally eliminated when we reach heaven (Act 14:22; Phil 1:29;  Rev 7:16,17, 21:4). However unbelievers will suffer eternally in hell (Mk 9:43,48; Rev 20:15).

Suffering and sin

When sin entered the world as a consequence of humanity’s rejection of God, so did suffering in various forms, and this has become an unavoidable and integrated aspect of life on earth. However, there can be contributing factors that can, either individually or in combination, result in increased suffering:

1/. Personal sin (the consequence of our actions) for which the remedy is to repent and change our lifestyle (Ezek 18:20; Lk 13:1-5; Rom 6:23; Gal 6:7,8). Don’t allow self-pity to take over or question ‘why me?’ but rather ask ‘is this the result of unconfessed sin in my life or am I violating a natural law of God, by wrong choices or not looking after myself as I should?’

2/. The sinful actions of others. We are to love the sinner but actively resist any wrong behaviour, which may require us to remove ourselves from a relationship or to respond in the opposite spirit by blessing those who ill-treat us (Mt 5:11,12,43,44; 1 Pet 3:9).        

3/. Avoidable physical or natural calamities, where we should take sensible precautions yet be prepared if they occur (Prov 4:26; Eph 5:15).      

4/. Unavoidable physical or natural disasters caused by Satan but allowed by God who sets the limits on the devastation. Our response should be ongoing belief in God’s faithfulness while taking what practical measures we can (Job 1:12, 2:6; Amos 3:6; 2 Cor 12:7).

Suffering and faith

Although Jesus ‘took our grief and by His stripes we are healed’, there are times when we are not excluded from suffering or other undesirable events in this sin tarnished world yet these can achieve a greater purpose in God’s master plan (Ex 15:26; Ps 103:3; Isa 53:4; Gal 4:14; 2 Tim 4:20). Our Christian faith is no insurance against tragedy so it is vital  to maintain

Do I follow God just for the blessings or                                 regardless of the personal                                    inconvenience and cost?

an attitude of trust in God’s love and mercy, recognizing pain and suffering are a part of life that God uses (if we react properly) for our ultimate good, to bring us closer to the image of Christ and eternal blessing (Rom 8:17,28,29; 2 Cor 3:18).  Many times, as a general expression of God’s protection, comfort and care, His children are amazingly physically delivered, yet at other times they are subject to crushing calamities. While these may seem evil, they will hasten a person to their eternal reward, for to a believer death is gain (Ps 91:9-11; Heb 11:32-38). While God doesn’t always remove the problem He helps and comforts us in these experiences, refines our character and through them we grow in our relationship with Him as nothing can separate us from His love (Isa 48:10; Rom 8:31,35-39). God’s plans are never to harm us so we can be joyful in suffering, understanding what it produces – perseverance, character, maturity and hope, proving our faith is genuine as we allow Him to reign over us (Jer 29:11; Rom 5:3-5; Eph 1:11; Phil 1:12; Jas 1:2-4). Suffering for our faith means we have been faithful!

God’s ways and purposes are so much higher than ours. He doesn’t always deliver us but walks with us through our trials providing hope, comfort, strength and encouragement to deal with the suffering so we can help others going through similar character building experiences (Isa 55:8,9; 2 Cor 1:3-5). Will we obey the Lord and remain steadfast in the tough times as Job did when he couldn’t understand why God was allowing things to go so wrong (Job 1:9-11, 2:3-5,10)? Trouble and persecution cause many who show a promising start to fall away, while it strengthens true believers to cling tighter to His promises (Mt 13:20,21; 1 Pet 5:10).

Suffering humbles us and drives us to dependence on God. Only through adversity are some of the deeper lessons of life learned so do not engage in self-pity or bitterness. Our goal should be not merely relief from suffering but rather learning to please God by being responsive and obedient to Him and to His Word as we are trained in righteousness (Rom 12:1,2; Heb 12:5-11; 1 Pet 1:6,7). There is no redemptive merit in our suffering as there was in that of Jesus, yet through the experience we can identify with Christ’s sufferings (Phil 3:8-10; 1 Pet 4:13).  Those who endure adversity can have a powerful testimony enabling them to sympathize and identify more effectively with others in their sufferings, while Jesus said the sufferings of the blind man were so “that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (Jn 9:2,3; 2 Cor 1:3,4).  

Jesus is our example

Jesus learned firsthand, through experience, that obeying His Father meant suffering and yet He still submitted to it for our benefit (Phil 2:8; Heb 2:10, 5:8). In spite of fervent prayer He was not excused from the excruciating death on the cross, nor was Paul’s ‘pain in the flesh’ removed (Mt 26:39-44;

What am I prepared to suffer so others                             might come to know Jesus?

2 Cor 12:8-10). Although Paul was stoned, beaten and whipped he stated, “I rejoice in what I suffered for you…” reflecting the attitude of Jesus who knew that the final word was not crucifixion (suffering); but resurrection (victory) and having redeemed people in heaven with Him (2 Cor 11:23-27; Col 1:24; Heb 12:2,3). The Bible says we should “Count it a privilege to suffer for Christ”, yet in comparison it is nothing to the huge price Jesus paid to save us (Mt 16:21, 24:9; Lk 21:12-19; Act 5:40,41; 1 Thes 3:3,4; Heb 2:10,18). There are many people who have suffered because of their faith, not ashamed to be associated with Him (Heb 11:24-26,35-38; Jas 5:10; 1 Pet 4:12-19). Would I remain true to Jesus under intense persecution?

Coping with suffering

1/. Suffering when doing good is commendable and we should follow the example of Jesus, who when suffering unjustly did not retaliate but committed Himself to God’s fair judgement (1 Pet 2:19-23, 3:14-17, 4:1). Our perspective is important. After recounting his many sufferings ‘for the gospel’s sake’ Paul expressed his focus and attitude saying , “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…If we endure, we will also rule with Him” (Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:17,18; 2 Tim 2:12). Look beyond the short-term hardship to the long-term benefits, knowing the pain always comes before the gain or reward and He is always with you (Heb 13:5). Suffering is only temporary, yet the results of the character qualities outworked in us will last for eternity.

2/. The Bible declares that those who live godly lives and want to share
in Christ’s glory through the privilege of being a Son of God, must be

Living for Jesus will involve hardship

prepared to share His suffering (Rom 8:17,29; Gal 4:7; Phil 1:29, 3:10; 2 Tim 3:12). This will involve ‘taking up our cross’ – that which is individually designed to bring about the glory of God and the death of the old life (Mt 16:24,25).

3/. To endure the suffering that being a follower of Jesus will involve, faith and patience are necessary qualities, enabling us to be ‘counted worthy’ of the Kingdom of God (Mt 5:10; Phil 1:29; 2 Thes 1:4,5; 1 Pet 4:12-19). In contrast, Satan’s desires these times of distress to overwhelm us and cause us to be offended with God, or even to stop following because He did not answer our prayers according to our desires (Mt 13:21). The Bible’s message to us is, “Resist Satan, standing firm in the faith, because you know Christians throughout the world are experiencing similar tests. After you have suffered a little while, God will restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:9,10).

4/. Suffering can be a means of correction, testing or purifying, developed by trusting in God’s goodness even when we can’t understand why things are happening this way, so it should be embraced with patience, confidence and thanksgiving (Job 23:10; Ps 66:10, 119:67; Prov 3:12; Jas 1:2-4). When the Bible says ‘not a hair of your head’ will perish it is not saying believers would be exempt from harm (most of the disciples were martyred and numerous people have been since) but that they won’t suffer spiritual or eternal loss and would emerge as ‘pure gold’ (Ps 91:9,10; Lk 21:18).

5/. Jesus identified Himself with humanity and as we stand with those who are suffering, we are actually doing it for Jesus, and He will reward accordingly (Mt 25:40).  When giving help to those who suffer, be a supportive listener, don’t criticise, condemn or give glib answers but treat them as you would wish for yourself, reminding them of God’s love and that He’s still in control (Lk 6:31; Heb 13:3).

Each of us have our own personal challenges, yet we can experience overcoming victory and abundant life in Jesus in spite of the troubles and spiritual attack because we are His children, for it is through many trials we will enter into heaven (Jn 10:10, 16:31,33; Act 14:22; 1 Jn 5:4). At times, He allows us to live with the tension between His power to intervene in our lives and the stark reality of the daily pain of unchanged circumstances. With humility we have to admit many questions simply do not have answers our finite minds can comprehend, so rather than trying to ‘understand’ our suffering shift the focus to bearing it with the resources of a loving God.

See also: attitude, consequences, cross, disasters, healing, pain, persecution, reaction, retaliation, self-pity, trials, triumphalism, victim mentality, why.

 


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