What is Suffering?
Suffering is one of the most difficult topics for humans to comprehend. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “suffering” is defined as “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.” In life, we experience suffering in various forms; whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, all people have faced or will face this sorrowful state of existence.
What Does the Bible Say About Suffering?
Throughout the Bible, suffering is an undeniable presence in the stories of Jesus, Job, Jeremiah and countless of other characters in the scriptures. Though there is a great deal of optimism and hope throughout the Bible, it is a very real book that speaks of the hardships we face in life.
The book of Job speaks significantly to this suffering, where Job is tested to his utmost limits. It is ultimately concluded that the cause of Job’s suffering is from God himself. There is no accusation that Job is being punished for any wrongdoing – God is just showing Job his truth and power.
The apostle Peter, who himself suffered greatly for his faith, talks about suffering for the sake of Christ in 1 Peter 4:12-16. He says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
The book of Romans reveals to us God’s perfect plan of salvation and by accepting this plan, entails suffering. Paul further emphasizes this point in Romans 8:17 “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Identifying the Reason for Suffering
While there are many cases in the Bible where the cause of suffering is unknown or ambiguous such as in the Book of Job, there are some cases in the Bible where it is clear why the suffering occurs. Daniel 1:8-16 reveals how eating food which was against the religion of the Jews was the cause for suffering of the three Jewish men. In the Book of Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira were struck down for disobeying God and withholding truth.
The cause for suffering can also often be from sin, as Paul testifies in Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When we sin, things may suffer for a time but God’s plan is to bring about the ultimate joy of life in eternity.
Accepting and Affirmative Action
The Bible also speaks of what we should do in the face of suffering. To accept it. In Psalm 39:9, David states, “I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it.”
Ultimately, the Bible teaches us that in suffering and tribulation, we are to trust in God’s will. Jesus reveals this to us in Matthew 11:28-30 when He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.‗
The Benefit of Suffering
Though it would be an incomplete portrait to say that suffering only brings benefits – we must recognize that the Bible speaks of a vindication which awaits those who patiently withstand tribulation. James 1:2-4 encourages us to view trials as a way to further glorify God; “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
The apostle Paul conveys to us in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Therefore, Paul says we should take confidence in this truth that our suffering serves a greater purpose in God’s plan to bring us redemption and glory.
Dealing with Suffering
When facing personal suffering, we cannot take the easy way out; we must go through it. In his letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul affirms this point in 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide a way of escape that you may be able to endure it.”
The book of John tells us of the ultimate source of hope in Jesus Christ. John 16:33 summarizes Jesus’ restored relationship with mankind when Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Acknowledging God in Suffering
Throughout the Bible, it is clear that God stands in the midst of the suffering of his people. As Jean Porter states in her book Suffering and Faith (2002), we are to respond to tragic suffering in the world “by offering trust and hope that an all powerful God will make all wrongs right in the final judgment.”
We know that God’s response to suffering comes out of love for us. Paul says in his letter to the Romans in 8:31-32, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Just as our suffering does not go unnoticed, we too can stand with the broken around us, using our talents and gifts to further God’s grace in tough times. Paul reminds us in Rom. 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”
God’s Presence in Suffering
Finally, the Bible speaks to God’s presence in suffering. Although death and tribulation are unavoidable aspects of life, we can be certain that God is in our midst when it happens. In Isaiah 41:10, the Lord assures us this truth, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
In our suffering, God does not leave us. He is truly present with us in our sorrows. This can be seen in Matthew 28:20 when Jesus promises, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
When we are suffering, we must choose to trust and rely on God’s will. Even in sorrow, let us embrace the hope in Jesus and cling to His promises.
The Long-term Effects of Suffering
Even through the toughest times, God is not just concerned with relieving suffering, but growing us through it as well. Psalm 119:71 states, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
Not only does suffering lead to personal growth, but it purifies us for the redemption and glory to come. As David says in Psalm 66:10-12, “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.”
Finding Comfort in Christ
At times, in the wake of suffering, we should remain silent and instead seek comfort in the presence and love of God. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 46:1-2, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.”
The Lord desires to fill us with comfort in times of hardship. As we read in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
Finally, we are to allow God to take us through the darkness. Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” He can make even the worst circumstances work for our good.
Developing Our Faith Through Suffering
God allows us to face hardship in order to increase our faith. In Hebrews 11:1-3, we read “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”
In this book, we are shown the walk of faith which Abraham, Sarah and countless others took when trusting in God’s will. Despite sometimes experiencing great suffering, these individuals held fast to their conviction that God was greater than the hardship, and were able to carry out the plan God had for them.
Though we do not thrive in suffering, we must not fail to trust in our Lord even when met with tragedy. The book of Mark’s words in chapter 9 are inspiring, “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”
The Bible stresses the importance of remaining firm and faithful even in the face of suffering. James exhorts us to this in 1:3-4, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
When we are faithful to God, He is faithful to us. 2 Timothy 2:13 instructs us of this when it reads, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.”
No matter the circumstance, if we keep our focus on Jesus and remain submitted to the will of God, the trial and suffering will eventually pass, and bring us into a deeper relationship with Him. As it is explained in Revelation 7:14-17, “They will hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living