Category: Suffering & Pain


Suffering is a universal part of our humanity that exists in a fallen world. The question of why there is suffering in death for some and not as much for others is really not answerable. For we reckon things from our human experience and do not understand the infinite mind and purpose of God. In the great faith chapter, we often read of the heroes of the faith but neglect the litany of those unnamed who suffered for their faith (Hebrews 11:33-40). These all died suffering deaths yet are heroes of the faith. They are unnamed and unsung among men, but God values their suffering and includes them in this great chapter of faith as a lesson to us.

Suffering and death are part of the curse of sin on the world (Genesis 3:16-19). Adam and Eve fell, and when they did, they brought to themselves and to all of their descendants the suffering of death. “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). We know that Adam and Eve did not die physically on the day that they ate of the tree. Adam lived to the age of 930 (Genesis 5:5). But when Adam sinned, he was spiritually separated from God, and this is the first death.

The question of why some suffer at death and others do not could be summed up in one statement: “God is sovereign.” That is not just a trite and easy statement. When Jesus healed a man born blind, the disciples questioned Him. “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life’” (John 9:1-3). In this passage is a principle that can be applied to our question. God allows some to suffer so that “the work of God might be displayed.” In other words, God allows some to suffer to bring glory to His name and others not to suffer for the same reason. It is His sovereign will that determines each circumstance. Therefore, we can safely say that no suffering is without a purpose in the plan of God, even though we as finite humans may not see that purpose clearly.

The Apostle Paul  suffered much in his life and ministry. A litany of that suffering can be found in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. Paul was killed for his testimony and according to universal tradition was decapitated after a long imprisonment. However, during this time, he wrote this testimony to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Another purpose for suffering is to be a witness to those watching that God’s grace and strength is sufficient to enable a believer to stand in that suffering (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul also gives us an example as to how we should view suffering as a child of God. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). And Paul also said, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Therefore, however a believer dies, in suffering or in relative peace, it is but a transition to “face to face” with the LORD. Once that transition has been made, all of the sorrow and pain of the suffering will end. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

For more on Paul see:   The Affliction of Paul and  What is the story of Saul of Tarsus before he became the apostle Paul?

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Of all the challenges thrown at Christianity in modern times, perhaps the most difficult is explaining the problem of suffering. How can a loving God allow suffering to continue in the world which He created? For those who have endured massive suffering themselves, this is much more than a philosophical issue, but a deep-seated personal and emotional one. How does the Bible address this issue? Does the Bible give us any examples of suffering and some indicators on how to deal with it?

The Bible is startlingly realistic when it comes to the problem of endured suffering. For one thing, the Bible devotes an entire book to dealing with the problem. This book concerns a man named Job. It begins with a scene in heaven which provides the reader with the background of Job’s suffering. Job suffers because God contested with Satan. As far as we know, this was never known by Job or any of his friends. It is therefore not surprising that they all struggle to explain Job’s suffering from the perspective of their ignorance, until Job finally rests in nothing but the faithfulness of God and the hope of His redemption. Neither Job nor his friends understood at the time the reasons for his suffering. In fact, when Job is finally confronted by the Lord, Job is silent. Job’s silent response does not in any way trivialize the intense pain and loss he had so patiently endured. Rather, it underscores the importance of trusting God’s purposes in the midst of suffering, even when we don’t know what those purposes are. Suffering, like all other human experiences, is directed by the sovereign wisdom of God. In the end, we learn that we may never know the specific reason for our suffering, but we must trust in our sovereign God. That is the real answer to suffering.

Another example of suffering in the Bible is Joseph’s story in the book of Genesis. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers. In Egypt, he was indicted on false charges and thrown into prison. As a result of Joseph’s suffering and endurance, by God’s grace and power, Joseph is later promoted to governor of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. He finds himself in a position to make provision for the nations of the world during a time of famine, including his own family and the brothers who sold him into slavery! The message of this story is summarized in Joseph’s address to his brothers in Genesis 50:19-21: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”

Romans 8:28 contains some comforting words for those enduring hardship and suffering: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In His providence, God orchestrates every event in our lives—even suffering, temptation and sin—to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit.

The psalmist David endured much suffering in his time, and this is reflected in many of his poems collected in the book of Psalms. In Psalm 22, we hear David’s anguish: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry out by day but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ‘He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’”

It remains a mystery to David why God does not intervene and end his suffering and pain. He sees God as enthroned as the Holy One, the praise of Israel. God lives in heaven where all is good, where there is no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What does God know of all that humans endure? David goes on to complain that “dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

Did God ever answer David? Yes, many centuries later, David received his answer. Roughly one millennium later, a descendant of David named Jesus was killed on a hill called Calvary. On the cross, Jesus endured the suffering and shame of his forefather. Christ’s hands and feet were pierced. Christ’s garments were divided among his enemies. Christ was stared at and derided. In fact, Christ uttered the words with which David opens this psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” thus identifying Himself with the suffering of David.

Christ, the eternal Son of God in whom the fullness of God dwells, has lived on earth as a human being and has endured hunger, thirst, temptation, shame, persecution, nakedness, bereavement, betrayal, mockery, injustice and death. Therefore, He is in a position to fulfill the longing of Job: “If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot” (Job 9:33).

Christian theism is, in fact, the only worldview which can consistently make sense of the problem of evil and suffering. Christians serve a God who has lived on this earth and endured trauma, temptation, bereavement, torture, hunger, thirst, persecution and even execution. The cross of Christ can be regarded as the ultimate manifestation of God’s justice. When asked how much God cares about the problem of evil and suffering, the Christian God can point to the cross and say, “That much.” Christ experienced rejection from God, saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He experienced the same suffering as many people do today who are feeling isolated from God’s favor and love.

Source: Why does God allow pain and suffering?