Origins of Suffering
Some say, “God works only through the word today.” I do not think that is a right answer. Now, it is true that God reveals His will for our lives only through the word. For example, we know God's will concerning the question “What must I do to be saved?” only by searching out the Scriptural answer He has provided for us. But God also works in other ways. He works providentially, and we can accept that truth without destroying the truth about how we are saved by obeying God's word (2 Peter 1:3,4).
God will use providence to provide us with correction and encouragement to do right in addition to His word. Nothing He provides will contradict His revealed word (i.e. He will not provide us with salvation contrary to how His revealed word says we are saved).
If we accept the idea that God works only in and through the Word, it will destroy the plain teachings of the Word itself about chastening. Anytime we accept a concept that forces us to ignore plain teachings in the Bible, something is seriously wrong. (i.e. Paul's difficulty with pride; God allowed Satan to “buffet” Paul to help keep Paul's pride from getting out of hand (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Here, it is plain that God was working His purpose and even using Satan to accomplish it for Paul's benefit.
Something else just here on the other side of the issue; not all suffering or unpleasant event is the chastening of God for sin. One of the main teachings of the book of Job is that not all pain is punishment for sin. We need to be like the Bereans. Listen, and search. Let God's Word be the standard, not "I think, I believe, I feel, I've heard, Others teach, We've always taught…" etc. Paul suffered. We all do. Why? For different reasons. Sometimes for several reasons at once, and not always as a direct result of personal sin, but sometimes suffering is a consequence of sin. And it is not always the chastening of God, but sometimes it is.
The Curse on Sin - Genesis 3:16-19
Human suffering began because of sin. (Genesis 3:16-19). Corruption set in, and things that promoted the original harmonious and pleasant existence was changed. There was an increase of the pain of childbirth and hard labor became necessary to eke out an existence. We now experience birth defects and sickness; our bodies wear out and finally death. We must labor to survive. (Romans 8:20-22).
The result of being in this fallen universe is that we suffer with it. There is no escape. Christianity does change the world from darkness back to light, but rather transforms us into lights in a dark world; the salt of the earth to help slow the corruption process. We are in the same dying world as others. However, we are on a mission to show others how to escape this corruption. Jesus did not ask the Father to take us out of the world, but to protect us from the evil one. (John 17:15)
We May Suffer From Our Own Foolishness
Many times people are in need because of no fault of our own, but at other times it's through our own willful idleness (Proverbs 19:15). It is much better to let such a one learn not to be idle than to feed him and allow him to continue to be, but not everyone evidently agrees with that.
How many times have we heard the excuse made for a young person in trouble, “Oh, he got to running with the wrong crowd; he's a good boy” Well, there may be some truth to that; “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20). But still, the harm is suffered through making a foolish decision about who to “hang out with.” Even in the worst inner cities, there have been stand outs who refused to join a gang and worked and studied hard and became successful. They deserve credit. They did not simply choose the “easy” way, which, when all is said and done, is really the most difficult way of all.
We May Suffer Because of an Accident
What happens when the fastest runner in a race steps in a hole and twists an ankle? Someone else wins (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Sometimes, suffering results from bad timing, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This verse says so! Bad luck.
We Can Suffer Because We Love Others
We experience empathy when we care so much for others that we suffer when they are suffering. Brethren are to have this characteristic toward one another. We can suffer because of our love for them. (Jeremiah 9:1 - suffering of a nation; cf. 9:1; 14:17; 22:10).
Jesus had compassion. Note His suffering at Jerusalem's destiny with destruction (Matthew 23:37-38) See also Paul (2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18).
We Can Suffer Because of the Sin of Others
One of the most vivid and awful examples of this was first prophesied by Jeremiah and fulfilled when wicked King Herod ordered the execution of innocent babies in a bid to kill Jesus (Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:18). Today, we think of terrorism around the world and of the thousands of innocent people suffering such cruelty.
We May Suffer in Order to Provide a Testimony
God sometimes uses the suffering, but continued faithfulness of His people to send a message to the world. When Christians suffer but refuse to yield their faith, they are giving firsthand authentication of a fact; that their faith in God is real and does not depend on outside favorable circumstances. It is our good attitude during bad times that impresses others, and we must be ready to give the glory to God (1 Peter 3:14-15).
Our Suffering May be a Test of Our Faith
Really, all suffering does test our faith, but some may be allowed specifically for that purpose (1 Peter 1:5-7). Job's suffering was a test. Job passed; Satan flunked. We may suffer from persecution as a direct result of our faith. (1 Peter 4:16). Jesus said it would sometimes be this way (John 15:17-21). We must refuse to be intimidated and continue to let our lights shine (Matthew 5:10-12).
We May Suffer So We Might Grow Spiritually
Triumph over adversity makes one stronger. The proof of faith to oneself, the gift you are able to make to Christ, the growth in one's own dedication; all make for a spiritually stronger disciple (Romans 5:3,4; James 1:2-4).
Furthermore, we become more closely identified with Christ who suffered for us (Romans 8:28,29). God is much more concerned about your character than your comfort, though He is concerned about both. Sometimes, suffering reminds us of important matters that we may tend to lose sight of in times of ease (Hebrews 12:10,11).
But that is not the end of the story. The end will come when we are delivered from this realm. In heaven, there will be no more tears.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 12.6; June 2005