What is a biblical perspective on suffering? What does the Bible say about suffering?
Many wonder how a loving God could allow such deep suffering in the world. The Bible addresses this issue head on. The Bible affirms God's love as well as the stark realities of suffering. It also tells us the way of salvation in Jesus Christ, who bore the punishment for sin and gives a future hope to all who put their faith in Him (John 3:16–18). Jesus also promised to be with His people through their earthly sufferings (John 16:33). God sees the sufferings of His children and enables us to bear up under them. He also redeems and uses our suffering for His good purposes (Romans 8:28).
Ultimately, all suffering is a result of the fall which occurred at the dawn of creation when the first man and the first woman chose to disobey their creator, God (Genesis 2:16–17; 3:6). The result of their disobedience was pain, suffering, and death for all of humanity thenceforth (Genesis 3:16–19). The earth itself was cursed as a result of the fall (Romans 8:20–21). Now we are born into a hostile world and have an innate hostility toward God Himself (Colossians 1:21; Romans 8:7). This state of separation and alienation from God is perhaps the most painful suffering we can experience (Ephesians 2:12). But amazingly, graciously, lovingly, God did not leave us in such a painful state. Instead, He overcame the consequences of sin through His own suffering. God took on human flesh in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ, and suffered the punishment which is due us. He who was without sin suffered the guilt, pain, and humiliation of having the sins of the world placed on Himself (2 Corinthians 5:16–21).
Those who put their faith in Jesus are no longer under the curse of sin. Yet we do still live in a sin-stained world and suffer the effects of sin. Sometimes our suffering is a result of our own sinfulness. Sometimes it is a result of others sinning against us. Most times, suffering is a result of sin in a more general sense. The world is simply not as it should be so things like health issues, relational strife, and natural disasters exist. Suffering can also be caused by spiritual warfare.
Too, we can experience a type of suffering when we deny our sinful flesh and instead live in Christ's righteousness. In Matthew 16:24–25, "… Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'" Paul wrote, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1–2). Though we know that God's way is best, denying our sinful nature can mean suffering.
As believers in Christ, we are called to suffer for Christ and for the gospel (Romans 8:17). Sometimes we suffer for our faith as a result of persecution. Second Timothy 3:12 says, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Jesus told His followers they would face tribulation in the world, but that they could have peace in Him because He has overcome (John 16:33). Our earthly suffering is temporal and cannot be compared with the transformation and joy we will experience for eternity in the world to come (2 Corinthians 4:17–18; Romans 8:18; 1 Peter 1:6; 5:10).
Suffering for the believer is not only for eternity's sake but is purifying in this life as well. God often uses suffering as a tool in the believer's life to mold, sharpen, and strengthen us. Suffering can be the result of God's discipline, which He does out of love (Hebrews 12:6–11). It could also be the result of His pruning to make us more fruitful (John 15:2). God uses trials and tribulations to mold us into the image of His perfect Son, sharpen our focus, develop our character, and strengthen our faith in Him and His promises (James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 1:6–7). He also uses suffering to keep us from pride and self-sufficiency and cause us to rely upon Him and His grace, which is the source of true spiritual strength (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).
Regardless of the specific cause of our suffering, our Lord and Savior can understand, empathize, and sympathize with our suffering (Hebrews 4:15). It is by Christ's suffering that we are saved (Isaiah 53:5–6). In Christ, we are given consistent access to the throne of God (Hebrews 4:15–16; 10:19–23). We can, like the psalmists, pour out our hearts to God (Psalm 62) and trust that He is intimately aware of our sufferings and with us in them (Psalm 56).
Suffering is a reality in our world. It's a reality caused by sin and a reality that breaks the heart of God. But suffering is not something we need to endure alone and not something without purpose. Christ is with us in our suffering. He also provides other Christians to walk beside us when we suffer (2 Corinthians 1:3–7; Galatians 6:2; Romans 12:15). Perhaps most encouraging, He provides hope. God promises an end to all pain and suffering for those who receive the salvation offer in His Son, Jesus Christ (Revelation 21:4).
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