Why do Christian suffer?

March 29, 2012 — 1 Comment

Question:

“What do u do when something bad happens and u don’t understand why God let it happen ?? Or what he is trying to teach u while going through it?”

 

The question of suffering has long plagued the human mind and drained the theologians ink. I don’t have a perfect answer, or even a really precise response that smoothly gives an answer to all the various aspects. On a cosmic level, God did reveal his plan and purpose for all things, including pain and suffering, therefore we can and should seek to know it. On a personal and intimate level, it becomes hard to reconcile the tragedies that deeply wound our hearts and ransack our lives. The Scriptures tell us “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other” (Eccl. 7:14). We are indeed called to consider our sufferings and ponder about the lessons God is teaching or the reasons He allows our life to be permeated with tragedy or sorrow.

 

WHY IS THERE SUFFERING?

Before we consider Christian suffering, lets quickly construct a basic idea of universal suffering.

1 All men are sinners both by nature and choice, and thus deserve to suffer judgment (Luke 13:2-5). Everyone of us has sinned and as such every person is liable to receive retribution and judgment. What makes this hard to believe is that at times those who have sinned very little receive judgments while those who sinned much are not yet punished, though undoubtedly they will be if they do not place their faith in Jesus as their substitute for that punishment.

2 God is in control of everything, though there is a devil who is actively trying to hurt or destroy humanity. Furthermore, much suffering is wrought in the hearts of men who voluntarily intend and cause others to suffer. As we learned from the story of Job and the rest of Scripture, Satan or men cannot do anything unless God allows, yet they are often the active agents that causing much suffering. There are numerous reasons why God either permits others, or Himself causes sorrow, but in the end we can rely on the fact that God is ultimately in control. This is a fact that grants comfort to the believer while bringing terror to the unbeliever. To those who receive Jesus, God’s sovereignty is an impenetrable bunker that can weather the cruelest of hurricanes, to those that reject Christ, it is a prison they cannot escape.

3 God Himself came as a Man and suffered more than anyone. The Bible tells us that Jesus “was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa 53:6). He endured excruciating pain that included physical, mental, and spiritual pain, torment, and suffering. Jesus endured upon himself the judgment of Gods righteous wrath for every sin we have committed.” Some theologians say that in hours leading up to His death Christ endured more pain than sinners who will spend eternity in hell. How much he paid, we may never know, but indeed He was truly a “man of sorrows” and truly does sympathize with us in our suffering.

4 The only hope not suffer is because Jesus suffered for us. Our world is clearly fallen and as a result of our own sin and volition we suffer and cause others to do so. However, there is a coming restoration, it is not yet, but is soon to come. In this great finale to God’s triumphant redemptive history we shall see a King who ends all suffering once for all because he bore it upon Himself. He shall be the One who brings about the cessation of our justly deserved condemnation for He bore upon Himself the culmination of our damnation and triumphantly secured our restoration.

 

WHY DO CHRISTIANS SUFFER?

Surely, we could say, Christians are already cleansed and forgive, so why must they also endure suffering and pain in this world? There are reasons, to be sure, though sometimes they seem obscure.

 

TO BEAR WITNESS TO OUR HOPE

To show our shifted ideology

Surely, we could argue, the people of this world would come rushing to our doors if we promised them no more suffering. Would not evangelism be easy? So why does God still permit Christians to suffer in this life? Perhaps you would be right, millions would flock to our cathedrals, dive into our baptismals, and tithe away their family fortune, if only we could deliver to them a scientifically verifiable life with no sadness, sorrow, or regrets. Yet would their motive be Christ or comfort? Would they be acting out of selfless love or simple selfish logic? Perhaps if we had such a tangible commodity, some might join our club only for the benefits not the Benefactor. Instead living a life in this tragic broken world, yet with an unrelenting hope, takes more than simple logic, it takes love and faith. There is a shift in our values, whereby Christ is made central and all things are in subjection; nothing scares us, not even suffering (Romans 8:37). This is the way our Fathers has chosen to show that His sheep are in the herd not because they have compared benefits and made a selfish choice, but are compelled and saved by Grace alone.

To comfort others

In 2 Co 1:3,4 we read, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” Every person in the world is at some level suffering the self-inflicted sting of sin, and so we are called to be the hope that shows all that the “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). We are urged by the Gospel to highlight the good news that was accomplished by Christ, to sympathize with the current trials endured by people, and to herald the coming triumphant restoration of a world with everlasting joy. When we were engrossed in tragic sufferings, Christ came to this earth and joined us in suffering, that He could become our High Priest, “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:1,) and comfort us by the Spirit. So then we who have suffered and been comforted can in turn comfort others who are currently suffering, and remind them continually that there is a far greater hope to come.

 

TO AID US IN OUR SANCTIFICATION

To teach us to repent

Not every sickness is the result of sin, this Jesus himself showed, when He healed a blind man and said the only cause of his blindness was God’s predestined use of the healing for glory (John  9:3). In addition Job suffered though even Satan agreed with God that Job was the one of the most righteous men on the earth. Yet the Scriptures say that we ought to “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (Hebrews 12:7). This reminds us that God indeed can use pain, sickness, and tragedy to invite us to examine ourselves for sin and come to Jesus in repentance. God doesn’t use chastisement to chide or scold those who He desires to cast away, instead he corrects those whom He has loves ceaselessly.  A.W. Pink, a prominent theologian, said “Chastisement is designed for our good, to promote our highest interests. Look beyond the rod to the All-wise hand that wields it!”

To teach us reliance on God

The Psalmist wrote “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71). Sometimes the only way God can teach us or bring us to a simple and complete reliance upon Himself is through suffering. In another Psalm the Holy Spirit tells us that “the LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). It is certainly true that affliction is quick to produce a broken heart, and it is this brokenness that God desires to create in His sheep. It is the lack of self confidence and a deficiency in stubborn self-reliance that God is trying to create in us. To do this He must at times allow us to suffer. Indeed, suffering is the very absence of your ability or power to change a situation even though it is most undesirable for you. And thus in our inability we learn to trust on God’s ability.

To develop our character

The apostle Paul, a man who endured more suffering than we can imagine wrote the following words “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). Paul was a man distressed by much more things than you or I am today. And yet he had in himself the audacity to rejoice through his various trials. This is because the Holy Spirit was sanctifying Paul and part of that may have been through the suffering he endured. Scripture teaches that suffering produces character changes in our hearts and minds . Those who grumble and fight, after suffering may be patient and listen. Those who are confident and cocky, after suffering may be humble. Much of it may be hard to receive, perhaps because we often think our character is not bad enough to suffer the way we suffer or some other reasons. Yet in the end God will use it to produce changes in us, this we can be sure of.

 

CONCLUSION: ALL IS FOR OUR GOOD

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul, who we have already mentioned suffered many afflictions, declares that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This isn’t just hyperbole or a wild statement by someone who hasn’t himself experienced it first, this is from the mouth of a man who suffered much. (Besides it is also a part of God-breathed and divinely inerrant Scripture). This truth resounds to all Christians at every stage of their life, regardless of how hard it is to grasp it. God crafts all things, even tragedy, suffering, sorrow, misfortune, calamity, disaster, misery, distress, and pain, for our good and benefit. Whether those are temporal and today, or eternal and tomorrow, we cannot be sure, but the truth remains that it is for our good.

In the Bible we can see the story of one young man, name Joseph, highlighted to show this principle. Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, and eventually ended up in prison. A great deal of time passes and Joseph yet again meets his brothers, this time not as slave, but as ruler of mighty Egypt. He speaks these Spirit inspired words to his brothers “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). Notice the distinctive use of the word “meant” regarding both the action of his brothers and the action of God. This means that even the things that people “mean” for our harm God is aware of and actively allowing them to happen, and the kicker is God ‘means’ it for our good. We may never have any ability to comprehend how God can do this, nonetheless, we are called to trust Him and His word.

 

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Dr D. A. Carson delivered 4 messages at Omaha Bible Church on the subject of suffering, you may find these to be helpful.  http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2008/10/carson-making-sense-of-sufferi.php Dr. Carson has also written a book on the subject How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil

Dr. John Piper has many sermons on suffering that may comfort your soul: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/by-topic/suffering

Dr. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian, has a few sermons on suffering. His Christ-centered vision should certainly lead you to see Christ in you suffering. http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=category.display&category_ID=24

Pastor Driscoll also has a pastoral series that includes some sermons on personal suffering that may be encouraging. http://marshill.com/media/trial/sermons

 

 

Yuriy

Yuriy

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Husband, amateur theologian/philosopher, and the guy with more questions than answers.

One response to Why do Christian suffer?

  1. In a fraction of a second, a careless driver managed to take my life from abundant and active to greatly broken. How could this happen? Why?

    There was nothing wrong with whom I was before, but the “new” Kris was someone whom came to understand that investing in others lifes is actually the only activity of any value in this life.

    I sit here next to a daughter whom I never would have found, much less cared enough to reach out to, were it not the “new” man God created, out of the “new” man I had been before. There is joy there I never would have known.

    Yeah, having you body broken is not fun, living each day for almost two decades in pain isn’t either. But, I never would have gone back into youth ministry. I never would have done the research for the studies I lead. I never would have been quite the Christian I am today. I never would have experienced the blessings either.

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