“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.
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?
Everyone can participate! Whether you write notes in the margins or fill in the blanks at home or during class is up to you. Either way, you will get to hear and read lots of Scripture! When it touches your heart or enlightens your thinking, write a note to yourself or use a highlighter to capture that insight. Isn’t it great how we can keep growing in our relationship to God and to one another? Enjoy!