Why Do Believers Suffer?

Every human being suffers during this life–believer, unbeliever, young, old, male, female, privileged, deprived, powerful, impotent, favored, despicable. We all live in a physical world that has been afflicted with the corrupting influence of sin. There is an entity (Satan and his cohorts) who hate humans with every fiber of their being. And then there is an enemy closest to each one of us–ourselves. Many times the saying is appropriately quoted: “I am my own worst enemy”. We have spent sufficient time in previous sections of this book on the nature of mankind to know that we reap a reward of condemnation and suffering.

Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the LORD.  They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way And be satiated with their own devices.” For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them. But he who listens to me shall live securely And will be at ease from the dread of evil.

Proverbs 1:29-33

Suffering in the believer’s life, however, serves a whole different set of parameters. We are children of God; our Father loves us and attends to our every thought and circumstance. He allows no suffering without a distinct purpose that unfolds to our benefit (Romans 8:28), results in His glory and demonstrates the richness of His grace (Ephesians 2:4-7).

When we read through the Scriptures suffering for the believer is constantly repeated. It is difficult to name one person who did not go through challenging times. No one who arrives in glory will be unscathed by difficulties. So is it just part of life? Is it just to be expected and we either just lay down suck on our thumbs, or feel sorry for ourselves, play the victim, the drama queen–or king? Are we to fight back and become the crusader against all things painful, unfair, inconvenient? Are we to spend our energy figuring out how to create our own solutions to our problems by creative thinking, stubbornness, militant thinking or robbing a bank? Are we to become aggressive to protect ourselves or live our lives in fright mode? Write a book?

The Scriptures not only give us many reasons why believers suffer, but also how to not only endure these circumstances, but to enable our faith to blossom and actually glorify our Savior and Creator. Understanding WHY we suffer helps us to know that there is a guiding influence–our faithful Shepherd who

  • Will not allow any testing to go too far (I Corinthians 10:13)
  • That it will work out for our betterment, our good (Romans 8:28)
  • That there is purpose in it and will accomplish His will for ourselves and others (James 1:2-4)
  • That it will promote God’s agenda for His kingdom on earth, now and in eternity (Romans 12:1-2. We sacrifice our own will to align ourselves with His perfect will)
  • Keep believers from pride, ego enlargement, sin, smugness (2 Corinthians 12:7)
  • Helps us to realize that we are not the mistress or master of our own ship (Proverbs 3:5-8)
  • Reminds us that we have a present help in time of need (Psalm 46:1-3)
  • He is wiser and more powerful than we, so it’s smart for us to depend upon Him (Psalm 25:5; 27:14; 37:1-9; 62:5-8)
  • That all of our circumstances were known to Him before the foundations were laid for this earth. There is no surprise to Him and He has accommodated for every circumstance (Psalm 139:16)

So let’s look at some of the reasons why believers suffer. Note that we need the leading and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of the Word to perhaps identify why we are suffering at any particular moment. It is common that we will never know why we suffer–while on this earth. The following are some of the reasons why believers suffer:

1. Our own sin causes us to suffer, which includes violation of God’s and man’s laws, poor decisions with long and short term consequences, gullibility, ignorance, handling our problems in our own way–stubbornness, confusion, reacting emotionally, reacting rationally—with human reasoning, maintaining our pride, doing something stupid, and so on. The Scriptures are full of descriptions of how the righteous woman is to conduct herself at home, in the workplace and in society (see Proverbs 31). If we cheat in business, are a gossip, break promises, consequences and discipline from the Lord become part of our circumstances. He is just and must act, however His patience is active. He may not act immediately. His intent is to turn the rebellious mind back to Him; His mercy does not allow poor behavior to extend too long in His mind. Some people in Corinth who disrespected the celebration of the Lord’s Super died (I Corinthians 11:27-30),

If we confess our sins (I John 1:9) there is forgiveness. Although consequences may continue, suffering is no longer designed as a discipline. Now the unobstructed relationship with the Lord brings blessing in our lives. Remember that the Lord never punishes His children to the extent of what we deserve. His is GRACIOUS and LOVING!

References: Romans 6:23; Proverbs 1:29-33; Hebrews 12:1-13

2. The whole earth and universe is under the curse of sin and is in a mode of upheaval, decay and pestilence—snake bites, poisonous vegetation and insects, volcanoes, destructive animals, landslides, storms, drought, weed growth, flood, earthquakes. The earth does not produce food like it was originally designed to do (Genesis 3:17-19). We suffer because this is our home. God promises to bring a new heavens and earth into existence, which will be perfect in form and environment after all effects and initiators of sin are put away.

Reference: Romans 8:22-23, Revelation 21:1-5

3. Our bodies are in a deteriorating condition and suffer from the ravages of sin, time and poor decisions when we were young. But God will raise believers from the dead, give us a new, physical body in order to live eternally with Him. Imagine what heaven will be like without the limitations our current bodies put us through ….

Reference: 1 Corinthians 15:16-22, 42-45

4. Other people’s decisions and actions affect us, such as children, husbands, wives, in-laws, our local, state and national governments, those who attend our congregations, the guy driving with road rage next to you on the freeway, criminals, neighbors, the person who falls asleep at the wheel, the dog who uses your lawn for a rest stop, need I say more? Our sovereign God has control over all circumstances and seemingly out-of-control people.

During the time that the believer is in the turmoil of these circumstances, the Lord offers peace, mental sanctuary, stability in order to live productively and thankfully. Remember that how the believer reacts to these injustices is a tremendous testimony of confidence in the Lord’s power and protection.

Reference: Hebrews 13:5-6, Joshua 1:9, Psalm 76:10; Jeremiah 20:10- 13, I Samuel 22-27 (David’s life on the run from King Saul)

5. God tests us to see if we will follow Him. However, any trial and suffering God brings is designed to improve our faith and relationship with Him. The Lord’s desire is to mature each of us and suffering is a significant way to do it. We do the same for our children. We send them off to school to learn facts, endure socialization, learn the discipline of getting up and off to school dressed and on time and so on.

Reference: 1 Peter 1:6-11; James 1:2-5

6. People suffer for God’s glory, majesty and power—to show how great God is. We see that the Lord, who never said or did anything wrong, unwise, thoughtless in His entire life suffered all through His life extending to His death. His suffering was for the benefit of the human race and specifically, providing the means for our salvation. His resurrection from the dead is a quantum demonstration of His power. Jesus Messiah put aside His glory to come to this earth. After these events He experienced greater glory because of His tremendous sacrifice.

Reference: Philippians 2:5-11; John 9:2-4

7. We suffer for the benefit of our own growth. We are driven to depend on Him more in tumultuous times than in seasons of blessing and ease. We are able to better see God’s provision, protection, miracles, deliverances, comfort and love in stressful times. Think of David who learned through feeding and guarding sheep to lead and protect Israel. He ran from Saul and learned moment-by-moment dependence upon the Lord (I Samuel 23:25-26). Job is another example.

Reference: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Romans 5:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

8. People suffer to demonstrate God’s power over evil—people, events, forces of darkness. I think the quintessential example of people suffering during the process of showing God’s glorious strength is recounted in the first part of Exodus. Moses suffered while God retrieved him from the land of Midian (Exodus 3-24). The people were extricated from their homes in Egypt and slavery. Then they spent the rest of their lives wandering for 40 years due to their disobedience (except Caleb and Joshua). But, oh, the demonstration of God’s power is unparalleled until His work on the cross for salvation.

Reference: Psalm 18; Daniel 3:1-30

9. Believers are persecuted for believing and proclaiming the truth about Jesus Christ: Who He is, what He did for salvation, that He is the ONLY way to obtain a relationship with God. Example: Paul, the Apostles, the millions of martyrs down through the ages. The vitriol, condescension and hatred as seen on TV, radio, in music to toward Christians/believers is an expression of hatred and rebellion against God. This animosity is not only a reflection of the unbelieving heart, Satan is personally against all of the children of God. He has designed a world system that undermines God’s authority and truth. Satan’s goal is to do everything he can to prevent a person from coming to the truth and belief in the Lord and to persecute all those who have believed.

Reference: Acts 7:51-60; 12:1-2, 3; Hebrews 11; 1 John 2-15-17

10. We go through tough times in order that the same comfort we experienced at such times will allow us to then comfort others. Similar circumstances encourages empathy—not only sympathy. We are to encourage our brothers and sisters because we know that the Lord has demonstrated His wisdom and strength during and through terrible times. So many times when we are on the other side of these impossible times, we look back and marvel that we survived at all. We recognize that it was beyond our strength, knowledge and experience. We revel in the Lord’s finesse and skill to get us through; we recognize His fingerprints everywhere. Now we are in a better position to help others presently experiencing similar circumstances. We reinforce our faith and memories and then encourage others. We can also offer solutions because they worked for us. Praise God!

Reference: 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, Galatians 6:2.

Remember: for the believer, all things do work together for good (Romans 8:28) and there is purpose, value and comfort from God in order to persist through the tough times in life. Note that no matter if we understand the reasons for our suffering, we know that it is from God for some VERY valid reason. We are to trust in our dear Shepherd, because He has proven Himself FAITHFUL, TRUE, LOVING, KIND, SMART as He deals with each one of us.

So What Are We To Do with All This Bounty of Suffering?

This is an easy question to answer, but a bit more difficult to implement. It is interesting that the Lord does not give us an “out” to disobey His directed response to our circumstances. Please be assured that He understands our suffering and does not suggest that we should be in denial. He understands our feelings, frustrations and weaknesses. He experienced them all and yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:14-16). Turn to the following passages to see how we are to react to our suffering:

1.  Peter 1:3-9

The Lord wants us to have a perspective of eternity. We “greatly rejoice” because we know three things: (1) that all of our experiences are embellishing our eternal relationship with the Lord, (2) that our habit of life on this earth has purpose in heaven (reward, honor, glory, praise), (3) that when we react to trouble with joy (which is not normal) then our supernatural way of life, the one of living by faith, is healthy. It is a confirmation to ourselves that we are on the right track. Name nine truths that Peter uses to encourage each one of us to share God’s viewpoint that our trials do matter and are to be experienced with inner peace and joy.

a. Our Father, God, has concerned Himself with every element of our lives (v 3)

b. He caused each of us to be born again; it is His work (v 3)

c. We have a living hope, expectation because it is based on His word and work (v 3)

d. Jesus accomplished the impossible: bodily resurrection; nothing is too hard for Him (v 3)

e. We have an eternal inheritance; it is sure and all will be worth the suffering (v 4)

f. We are protected by the power of God (v 5)

g. It will be worth all the pain experienced here on earth because all will be revealed; we will understand the “whys” of life and agree with the Lord as to His right actions. (v 6-7)

h. All will end well in heaven (praise, glory and honor (v 8)

i. When a believer lives by faith, this victory affirms the reality of God’s personal work in the life. This results in assurance of our salvation and His care. (v 9)

2. Philippians 4:4-8 Name the 6 things that Paul commands the believer to do:

a. Rejoice in the Lord always (v 4)

b. Be gentle and calm (v 5)

c. Be anxious for nothing. When anxiety and worry do come, respond with prayer for the situation and supplications for all involved. (v 6)

d. Be thankful for the Lord’s hearing ear and have confidence in His sovereignty and protection. These are the things with which we are to fill our minds (v 8)

e. Believe the promise and experience the peace and assurance He sends so that your heart and mind will be behind solid, stone walls of Jesus’ presence in your life.

f. Fill your mind with the beauty of the Person of Yeshua and the truths of His Word and let these truths flow into our lives. (v 8-9)

3. 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22 Note that in this passage, Paul urges the believers that even though they are suffering (1 Thessalonians 1:6), they are to still be faithful to others, their ministry in the assembly and to keep up their personal devotions. What are the eleven things Paul admonishes the believer to faithfully and consistently exhibit in his life:

a. Admonish the unruly (v 14)

b. Encourage the fainthearted (v 14)

c. Help the weak (v 14)

d. Be patient with everyone (v 15)

e. Do not seek revenge, (leave that to the Lord’s discretion), but seek the good (v 15)

f. Rejoice always (v 16)

g. Pray without ceasing ((v 17)

h. Be thankful for God’s will unfolding in your life (v 18)

i. Do not quench the Spirit (by living in sin) (v 19)

j. Do not get angry with the Lord and His word because of your difficult circumstances (v 20)

k. Ensure your motives are pure (v 21)

l. Stay out of sin. (v 22)

4. Psalm 37:1-9   The Lord in the Old Testament defines for the believers how to live righteously. Name the lifestyle elements that are important to the Lord:

a. Do not fret because of evildoers (v 1)

b. Do not be envious toward wrongdoers (v 1)

c. Trust in the Lord (v 3)

d. Do good (v 3)

e. Be content where you are and develop faithfulness (v 3)

f. Delight yourself in the Lord; think of Him as special and like His way of doing things. (v 4)

g. Trust your God because He will keep His promises; He will substantiate your and His actions (v 5)

h. Rest in your mind; don’t do any action not led by Him. If we try to accomplish our own agenda without him, we will fail. (v 7)

i. Wait for Him to reveal a plan, His solution (v 7)

j. Don’t be disheartened when wicked people prosper because the Lord will bring judgment in His time. (v 7)

k. Personal anger will block God’s clear communication and will not glorify Him. Stop it! (v 8)

l. Worry and angst will not accomplish God’s goal.

m. There is reward for waiting for God’s solutions.

5. James 1:2-4 James explains the benefits of considering suffering with an attitude of joy. Name these:

a. Endurance

b. Spiritual maturity

6. Romans 5:1-5 Paul again addresses the common theme of the trials experienced by believers., He bases his whole supposition on the truth of our salvation (v 1-2). We are to exult in our tribulations. List the benefits of this attitude and behavior:

a. Perseverance (v 3)

b. Proven character (v 4)

c. Hope (v 4)

d. Possession of God’s love (v 5)

e. Having the full attention of the Holy Spirit (v 5)

How in the World Does One Count Suffering to Be Joyous?

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God,
who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
But he must ask in faith without any doubting,
for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:5-8

I am fairly familiar with verse 5 and have applied it successfully many times in my life. However, not until recently did I realize the context in which it was written. James is addressing this verse to believers under tremendous suffering. He told them to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2). What an outrageous command! It is ludicrous until he tells you why are to do this.   Then the problem becomes how to do this impossible thing.

In the above verse 5 James recounts God’s promise that God will give us the wisdom to understand that there are many benefits to trusting in His plan, including our suffering. The first part of this articles lists many reasons why we suffer. James 1:2-4 tells us His purpose. Now look at 2 Peter 1:3-8. This passage enumerates the results of development of our faith, which is a result of believing His promises. Name these:

  1. Partakers of the divine nature; we have an intimate relationship with the God of the universe: take hold of His opinions and actions (v 4).
  2. Avoidance of the corrupting influence of sin (v 4).
  3. Moral excellence (v 5)
  4. Knowledge of our God and His ways (v 5)
  5. Self-control (v 6)
  6. Perseverance (v 6)
  7. Godliness (v 6)
  8. Brotherly kindness (v 7)
  9. Love (v 7)
  10. Fruitfulness (v 8)

There are more reasons why believers suffer, but our focus is to look to the Lord for His extraordinary gentleness and ability to take care of us.   TRUST HIM. We learn a vital lesson form Yeshua’s example found in John 17:4-5 and Hebrews 10:7.   The Lord’s whole purpose is to do His Father’s will. He left His Father’s presence was born a Man in Bethlehem, lived a perfect life amid hatred and denial of who He is, then die the worst known death. He knew this would glorify He and His Father. How we glorify God is to do the same: TO DO THE FATHER’S WILL, whatever that means for each of our lives. How wonderful that I do not have to be famous like David or Esther to gain God’s approval and to give glory to Him. I can live my little, unknown life resplendent in His plan and significant in eternity. The pressure of performance is off of me and the focus is on Him who loves me. I love the attitude of Ruth (Ruth 3:9) who acknowledge Boaz’s authority and desired his protection. I want to lived under our dear Savior’s ownership and authority while enjoying His security and strength.

I am to be faithful to the Lord by trusting and obeying Him. Even through my suffering, I can give Him glory. By my weakness, His strength is highlighted. By my trust in His Word and wisdom, His protective abilities are displayed. His incredible grace is flashed across the heavens for all the angelic hosts to say:

Revelation 5:13-14
And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Romans 8:31-39 

 What then shall we say to these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
He who did not spare His own Son,
but delivered Him over for us all,
how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?
God is the one who justifies;
who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died,
yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels,
nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing,
will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.