By Jim Walsh
One only needs to be living in this world a short time to understand that suffering is a part of life. Job said, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble” (Job 14:1). But for the Christian, suffering takes on a different aspect.
Isaiah introduces us to the Savior who is portrayed, not as a mighty warrior, but as a suffering servant (Isa. 53:3-10). The Savior suffered at the hands of those who rebelled against God’s will (v. 6). He suffered both physical and mental anguish (vv. 3, 5). He also suffered from perverted judgment (vv. 8, 9).
His suffering also served the purpose of providing for his followers an example. Peter said in 1 Peter 2:20-24 that we are called to follow him that way so that we could not only experience his glory, but also his suffering; and in that suffering, we can learn to rely upon him who “judgeth righteously” (v. 23).
How Do We Suffer?
Certainly we understand that suffering can come in a physical way as happened to one like Stephen who suffered death for the sake of the Gospel (Acts 7:57-59). But suffering can come in different forms upon the child of God. Saints mourned the death of Stephen (Acts 8:2). Paul suffered out of concern for the brethren (2 Cor. 11:28). There is anxiety because of false teachers and what they can do to a congregation (Acts 20:27-31).
Beyond the suffering we endure personally, because of our willingness to stand for the truth, is that which comes from our daily relationships. We have concerns and stress because of family. Possibly, there is no greater fear we can have than that of fearing a loved one will be eternally lost. For example, a spouse becomes unfaithful or a child leaves the home and the Lord at the same time. Loved ones disagree over doctrine. The heartaches from these problems are just as real and painful as any lash upon a broken back.
Suffering can also be economic in nature. Paul told Timothy to warn others about the love of money (1 Tim. 6 5-10). Our proper attitude about money and trust in God to provide will cause us to fall behind the world’s standards. In this, we will be seen as plain and simple, incurring the ridicule of those whose God is mammon. We see then that suffering happens, but it may help to understand why.
Why Do We Suffer?
Simply stated, we suffer because of sin. The first sin caused the world to become a cursed place and man to lose his perfect fellowship with God (Gen. 3:15-19). The perfect relationship with God was corrupted, along with the perfect home he provided. Sin caused the perfect to become imperfect and the permanent to become temporal. And with that imperfection and temporal nature of things, suffering entered. As man advances in years, he will experience illness, loss of ability, fear, pain, and anxiety. Man is not immortal, and death comes to all. However, God provides a remedy. He reminds us that although we will suffer physical death, only those who remain in sin will suffer eternal death (Rom. 6:23).
We also suffer directly as a consequence of other’s sins. Stephen’s death by the rebellious Jews caused the saints to lament his passing (Acts 8:2). The saints suffered the pain and anguish of seeing a brother and friend die. We also suffer because sin affects more than the sinner. (1) The spouse and children of the alcoholic suffer shame. (2) The spouse and children of an adulterer suffer shame, hurt and anxiety. (3) Children of abusive parents suffer in silent fear, never knowing if anyone will help them. (4) Spouses and children suffer because of divorce.
Another reason we suffer is that it is part of God’s maturing plan. The writer of Hebrews says that suffering is one way that God shows his love and concern for us (Heb. 12:6-11). It also is a benefit for us in that it helps us to be “. . . partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:10). James taught that by enduring trials we gain patience and strength (Jas. 1:2-4). Therefore, we can see a purpose in suffering (patience, maturity) and a promise in suffering (to become more like the Father).
Peter mentions another reason why we suffer, and that is to remind the world of Christ (1 Pet. 2:21-24). Sin caused Christ to suffer in order to purchase our redemption. As we live a Christ-like life, the world will treat us as it did him. We then become examples to the world for Christ.
What is the End Result of all This Suffering?
One thing is that we are reminded that it is possible to live and overcome suffering. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God knows us, and knows that we can overcome our suffering because he provides a way of escape. For each one of us who is tried, there is the knowledge that we can overcome. God has made a promise that we can overcome; therefore, it’s up to us to work his will and trust his way to meet that end. Peter says that in suffering we can glorify God (1 Pet. 4:16). If we suffer for the cause of Christ, God is glorified. Shall we suffer for God, or complain because of a lack of faith? Shall we not rather endure that suffering, realizing that it is a blessing from the Father?
A final thought is that suffering reminds us of what awaits: Heaven. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:1: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The temporary nature of our surroundings and their ongoing decay remind us that all that we see is not eternal. That which is eternal is that which awaits us with the Father and the Son. That which awaits us is the perfect fellowship of the Father (Rev. 21:3) which was lost in the Garden because of sin. That which awaits us is the removal of all fleshly pain and sorrow (Rev. 21:4) which came about because of that first sin.
Why then is suffering different and distinct for the Christian? No one enjoys suffering, but at least we know that God understands. We know he has provided a way to escape, a way to glorify him, a way to help us grow. We know that suffering comes because of sin; and, we have the hope of its final removal because of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. We know that suffering is temporary and Heaven is eternal; and, God uses that suffering now to prepare us for Heaven later. May we ever learn to love him more and live to glorify him now that we may live with him forever.