When you think about suffering, what comes to mind? Do you envision bedraggled children with distended stomachs, a hospital patient hooked up to life-sustaining medical equipment, or a courageous veteran dealing with the aftermath of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Adversity seems to be a common denominator to human existence, but what does the Bible have to say about suffering?
Jesus spoke to His disciples about suffering. One of the most well-known verses reads, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 ESV). The Greek word for cross in this verse is staurós. It refers to the crossbeam which the lowest criminals carried as they trudged toward their execution. The cross symbolized degradation and indescribable pain as well as sacrifice.
While the invitation to eternal life is free, it comes at a price--certain suffering.
Of course, suffering doesn’t come neatly wrapped in a one-size-fits-all package. It arrives in a variety of forms and can be either physical, emotional, positional, or spiritual.
Scripture is full of examples of those who suffered in a variety of ways: Job’s health, wealth, and children were stripped from his life. Hagar was conscripted into a loveless marriage, abused, and abandoned. The Israelites were forced into slavery more than once. Daniel was maligned, accosted, and thrown into a den of lions. Paul endured shipwrecks, whippings, imprisonment, and chronic pain. Jesus endured poverty, unwarranted hatred, and a torturous death.
A life of faith is marked by challenge, pain, and sacrifice. As Christians, we can expect to suffer this side of heaven because we will be:
targeted by Satan. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him…because you know that the family of believers…is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9 NKJV).
and by those who do not yet know Christ as Savior. “Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out, your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake” (Luke 6:22 NKJV).
As soon as we pronounce Christ as Lord, Satan knows the impact he has on our lives is severely limited. We have been delivered from hopelessness to hope and from death to eternal life. Attacks that take the form of suffering are his desperate last efforts in a battle that has already been lost.
As Christians, we can expect to be persecuted for our faith. In our current culture, many of us will be “canceled” for holding to traditional, biblical values and tenants. We may be mocked, ridiculed, or face discrimination. Still others around the world are tortured or face death for naming Jesus as Lord.
Suffering, though, is not relegated to Christians alone. What does the Bible say about suffering and why everyone goes through it?
What Is the Biblical View of Suffering?
Suffering entered the world when Adam and Eve sinned against God. Genesis 3, for instance, clearly illustrates both an increase of pain in childbirth and labor. Not only that, but people began to age—or suffer the consequences of mortality. Paradise was lost to pain through the sinful actions of our first parents.
Since then, people have known suffering in all its forms. While suffering can result from our own poor decisions, through evil done against us, or as a result of natural processes gone wrong, God sometimes uses our suffering for heavenly purposes.
Consider Job. A wealthy man who adored his children, Job attracted Satan’s attention and in a cosmic dare, Satan challenged God to allow him access to Job’s life—certain the man would curse God once his beloved children, health, and riches were torn from his grasp. Job, though, clung to God despite horrific suffering and served as a testimony of faithfulness to Satan and the heavenly armies as well as to those who have read the words of Scripture since.
At other times, individual suffering is used in our lives to influence others. Young Joseph (Genesis 37), for instance, could not have known that when he was thrown in the pit, sold into slavery, or accused of rape that God would use him to save his family from starvation and ensure the survival of Israel.
Suffering, though painful, results in spiritual growth (Romans 5:3-4). Saul, later known as Paul, provides a prime example. Known for persecuting believers, Jesus blinded Saul for three days—the first of many ways in which the apostle suffered—a situation that led to Saul’s conversion and a life of faith. Through the apostle Paul, the church expanded exponentially and introduced people outside of the Jewish faith to Christ.
Why Does God Allow Suffering?
As Bible-teacher, Clarence Haynes, Jr. writes in answer to the question of why God allows suffering, “I don’t know. My ‘I don’t know’ answer to the question of why God allows suffering may not feel very theological. However, it does point to a truth that we sometimes forget. God’s ways and purposes are higher than ours, and we won’t always figure them out.”
Entire books have been written about suffering and I am ill-equipped to explain its purposes. As believers, we have two choices when faced with suffering—draw near to God or give up our faith.
As someone familiar with suffering, I’ve determined I will not give the Enemy the satisfaction of observing my pain and then participate in my own suffering by choosing a life without Christ. Without hope.
That is, in a sense, what happened in the Garden of Eden. When Satan deceived Eve, he invited her into suffering by giving up relationship with God. But through His death on the cross, Jesus overcame the Enemy. As the second Adam, He has given us an eternal life free of heartache.
Revelation 21:4 (NKJV) encourages with these words, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain for the former things have passed away.”
Why Can We Hope in the Midst of Suffering?
Based on the following verses, we discover the Bible instructs to have hope in suffering because:
Our sufferings are “light and momentary” and “are achieving for us an eternal glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Paul reassures that when viewed from eternity, our pain will appear short-lived.
God is with us through every trial. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Suffering produces a mature faith. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV).
Christ gives us His peace. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).
To read other encouraging Bible verses about suffering, click this link.
While suffering is something we must all endure, those of us who know Christ as Savior can hold to the promises of scripture. Because He has already won the victory over death, we can trust our Lord is with us through every struggle.
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Tammy Kennington is a writer and speaker familiar with the impact of trauma, chronic illness, and parenting in the hard places. Her heart is to lead women from hardship to hope. You can meet with Tammy at her blog www.tammykennington.com where she’ll send you her e-book, Moving from Pain to Peace-A Journey Toward Hope When the Past Holds You Captive.