The person in rebellion toward God argues that suffering gives clear evidence of the lack of power or lack of existence of a good and loving God who is in control of everything. And every God-fearing Christian deals with the question of why suffering troubles those who are righteous and walking in Christ. So what does the Bible reveal about man’s suffering?
In the Old Testament suffering is addressed in Job, one of the earliest books written. Though even a small child who has ever experienced discipline knows why bad people suffer, to see a good man suffer is a difficult matter. Job did not suffer because he was sinful. His three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar contended that Job’s afflictions were punishment for evil in his conduct. However, after Job’s season of suffering was over God refused to have anything to do with the three friends until Job offered sacrifices for them. God’s declaration made it clear that what they had spoken and concluded was not right (Job 42:7). God had instead declared Job a very mature (or perfect) servant (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3). Job’s season of suffering began with complete surrender and worship (Job 1:20-22). But he grew angrier when his suffering and questions went unresolved for a season. In Job 23:1-7 he proclaimed that if he knew where to find God he would present his case and arguments, hear God’s answers and be delivered from God the judge. Because Job moved from worshipping and not questioning the good and bad allowed from God to an angry insistence on defending himself, he encountered two separate rounds of questioning by God. Both sessions resulted in humble silence as God asked Job if he could answer the complexities of creation, the earth and its creatures. Job was a righteous, obedient and God-fearing man, but God was showing Satan, the angels and all heavenly beings that a man who was not as powerful as the angels would obey Him even as Satan, who had served at the very throne of God, through his pride had fallen and been dismissed from God’s presence. The conclusion? Man’s suffering always serves a purpose higher, more eternal and far-reaching than we can know. As a coach does to his athletes, a parent to their children, a boss to his employees, a sergeant to his troops or an educator to his class, the superior often has higher motives, goals and purposes than what the subordinate can perceive or grasp what can be very difficult but which is allowed for higher purposes.
In the New Testament, a believer suffers with Christ (Matthew 10:25; John 15:18-19; Acts 9:15-16; Romans 8:16-18; 9:1-3; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:24; II Timothy 2:11-12; I Peter 4:12-16). Suffering with Christ will be a part of every Christian’s life and experience. We dwell in an enemy’s land, are called to be witnesses against sin and are therefore laboring to bring the lost out of their evil and darkness. This can and should be expected to create hostility, opposition, resentment, a sense of threat and reactions that can result in suffering for those called to be ambassadors of Christ. Jesus told His followers, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). To those who did not believe Jesus He said, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil” (John 7:7). “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (Matthew 10:25). “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (I Peter 4:12-13).
These passages make very clear that suffering with Christ is the only path into the reward of being glorified with Christ in heaven. This suffering has nothing to do with securing our salvation, but clearly reveals that the degree of human suffering is linked to the glorious crown and reward given to the faithful as co-heirs with Christ (Philippians 2:5-11).
Thus, the scriptures reveal that suffering can be part of God’s greater plan to teach us, angels, and all of the heavenlies of His grace and its fruit of righteousness in lives such as Job and in every believer including you and me. It is also to test our suffering with Christ in this fallen world that leads to reward and inheritance with Christ in His future kingdom. One last reason scriptures teach we suffer is because of the discipline of the Father.
God’s discipline for believers can result in suffering in one of three areas. It can be preventive (II Corinthians 12:1-10; Romans 8:34). The suffering can also be corrective (Hebrews 12:3-15), with possible results of holiness and the peaceable fruit of righteousness (John 15:2; I Corinthians 11:29-32; I John 5:16). And finally, God’s suffering through discipline can be educational. Christians may be strengthened in their spiritual life by suffering (John 15:2). Even though He was God’s Son, Christ learned obedience by the things which He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).
So as this new year begins, look through the eyes of God’s truths to see what He is accomplishing. I have considered several times of intense suffering I have endured in life. When they happened I felt the victim, defending myself and agonizing over acts of betrayal, slander, judgment, innuendos, injustice and such. During such times I have also encountered demonic attacks alongside human circumstances. The demonic attacks made the suffering even darker, weightier and more ominous. The temptation to lash out, fight back, run, quit and abandon my trust in a good God accompanied the event, season and relationships that initiated the suffering. Early in seasons of suffering my words, emotions and actions have been both undependable and volatile.
But as time passed I could clearly see God’s sovereignty, grace and power. Areas of pride, sin and self-sufficiency were exposed, leading to personal acceptance, confession and repentance. Powers that threaten to harm me, both of this world and in the spirit realm, are rendered powerless before God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. He always delivers. Experience and wisdom are gleaned. Confidence in Christ is gained. Obedience is magnified. And faith in God’s plan, purpose and involvement are cemented.
People have often asked me through the years if I would go through the great trial, the tribulation, the rejection, the agony, the frailty and the suffering again in order to learn and end up spiritually where these times have led me. My answer is absolutely, though I never want to walk through the valley of the shadow of death again soon, lest my own foolish heart, so slow to sometimes believe God, might be vulnerable to fail Him in some new trial set before me. When it comes to suffering, my experience, and most importantly God’s word, here is what every son and daughter of the living God can claim: “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).