Last post I thought about whether Christians will suffer, or whether we really think that we should suffer less because we believe in Jesus, to read click here. This post I want to look at what the bible has to say about whether the suffering we go through is bad thing we must endure, or if it is a good thing that benefits us.
I often hear suffering is good and necessary, and God is in control, so we needn’t worry. Others always feel sad and despair when they hear I struggle and suffer, and just want me to be better. Both have a part of the truth that is straight from the bible but how do we reconcile them, is suffering good or bad?
Firstly let’s remember God created this world to be good and there was no suffering. Suffering in all it’s forms only entered when humanity chose to rebel against God, and become their own gods. All of us choose to be selfish every day and inflict pain on others in the process. God doesn’t desire that we hurt each other or that we would suffer, it grieves his heart:
5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart (Genesis 6:5-6)
Rather he desires that we would love others in the same way that we have chosen to love ourselves:
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
In fact, God hates sin, and the pain it causes, so much that he isn’t going to allow it to continue forever:
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-4)
These passages show us that suffering is caused by evil, and God abhors it. However, that is not the full story, to get God’s complete view on suffering, we must also understand that, while it is a horrible thing, it is not outside of God’s control, and he is using suffering for good.
God promises that nothing, even death, is beyond his control:
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (Matthew 10:29)
It is also clear that God is not ever the perpetrator of evil, only allows someone else to act on their own desires, as seen throughout the book of Job. We aren’t always told why God allows each different bit of suffering, but we can see that he is using it for good (even when evil is intended by the perpetrator):
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Genesis 50:20)
What does good mean then? Is it good enough to be worth the pain? Yes, I think so. Some of the things that God is doing through suffering are, include demonstrating how genuine your faith is:
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
It also demonstrates God’s glory:
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:10-11)
More than that, suffering prepares us for glory too:
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Far from just being something to endure, Paul goes as far as describing it as a gift, and he was hardly a stranger to suffering:
29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:29-30)
Is this not a pretty unexpected description of suffering? Within suffering we can know our enduring faith is God given and God sustained, and therefore will not fail. We can see that our hope and faith in suffering brings god glory and points to Jesus, for we suffer and we still pin our hopes on the promises of Jesus and who he is. Most surprisingly for me, it is preparing me for glory when we will all be with Jesus. We follow Jesus’s path, as Jesus suffered, so we suffer, Jesus is glorified, so we too will be glorified. We can see therefore that suffering is truly a gift from God.
Overall, then we should see that suffering is within God’s sovereign control, and is something which God is using to demonstrate and strengthen our faith. During suffering we look back to the cross with a deeper understanding of our desperate need for Jesus to defeat the cause of all suffering, sin, and forward to the new creation with expectant and impatient hope for the eradication of all suffering. This hope and faith is the most important thing we have, for it is what will free us from eternal suffering and enable us to spend an eternity with God. Through understanding this, we can see that God is working for our good, and is looking at the eternal perspective, as well as the momentary one.
Our pain and suffering though is not something to be celebrated, or dismissed. It is right that we should mourn the pain that this world inflicts and hurt we feel. It should make us realise our need to repent of the pain we cause others, and our part in this pandemic. God too sees suffering as something evil and to be destroyed. He has shown us this by dealing with the root cause of suffering through Jesus’ death. We can therefore long for the day that Jesus returns and removes sin, and all its consequences forever.
Suffering for the Christian is both good and bad. We should hate suffering, and know that God’s plan is for us to be freed from it, yet also understand that it is the very thing which keeps us going as Christians until that day arrives.
To meditate on…
Do you tend towards talking about suffering in one way or another? How could a biblical understanding of suffering change how you feel about suffering and talk to others?
(All scripture quotes from English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)