Why Do I Have to Suffer?
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. (1 Peter 5:10)
Human suffering is a reality of life among all people. Some suffer more than others. Some suffer for different reasons. But all people, in all ages, in all places suffer. For the Christian though, suffering has a greater meaning, and can be both for our good and for the glory of God.
Why is There Suffering?
When God created the earth, He created it in a state of paradise. Sin, and the curse resulting from sin, are the reason that suffering exists in this earth.
God described various aspects of suffering in the creation, as He pronounced the curse that resulted from the sin in the Garden of Eden.
Enmity between the righteous and the wicked resulted in ongoing strife and injury, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
The woman will experience great pain and sorrow in the bearing of children, and submission of her desires to her, now fallen, husband, “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:16)
Man will suffer in toiling against many obstacles, just to bring forth enough food to eat, and even the earth itself will resist his efforts. And amidst all the toil, death itself awaits at the end of the laborious course of life. “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:18-19)
The suffering from death is not only in the inevitable reality that we too will one day return to the ground from which we were taken, but in the intense grief from the loss of many loved ones throughout our lives.
Because of sin, suffering is now a continual reality of life. We will all suffer. But when we suffer, is there a reason? Can any good or any meaning come from it?
Reasons for Suffering
In a sinful, fallen world, there are many different types of causes for suffering. Not all suffering is for the same reason. We must be careful not to ascribe the wrong cause to someone’s suffering. For example, Job’s friends presumed that he was suffering as a consequence of his own evil, but in fact he was righteous. Consider the various causes for suffering.
Our own sin: Because God is just and because in this creation we reap what we sow, we will suffer consequences when we violate God’s righteous commandments and the good order of His creation. Sometimes we will suffer the just consequences of our sins immediately, and sometimes the painful results occur after much time.
The sin of others: God did not create us alone, but related and interconnected with others. For this reason, one man’s sin does not hurt him alone, but results in suffering for others. That means you will suffer because of the sins of others, and others will suffer because of your sins.
God’s discipline: God sends suffering to His children when we sin, not to crush us, but in order to train us in righteousness. As a loving Father disciplines his child, God disciplines His children for our good and not for our destruction. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Hebrews 12:11)
The curse: Often, suffering is not the direct result of any particular sin, but comes as a consequence of the curse upon the earth. Many illnesses and natural disasters, for example, are the result of living in a creation given over to corruption. They cause suffering upon the righteous and unrighteous alike.
Righteousness: God’s children will also suffer for righteousness sake. It is true, often someone’s suffering is not because of anything they did wrong, but because of what they did right. Because the darkness of this world hates the light, the righteous will often be afflicted for the sake of their righteousness.
What Do We Do?
You will suffer in this life in some form or another. So what do you do? How do you approach suffering and respond to it when it comes?
Suffer for righteousness sake, not for evil: The Apostle Peter wrote to suffering believers. He encouraged them to suffer for doing good and not for doing evil. “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” (1 Peter 4:15-16)
Suffer patiently: Jesus suffered wrongfully and yet endured it with patience. We are encouraged to follow His example when we suffer. As Peter said, “If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” Take heart in your sufferings knowing that God receives your patient suffering as an acceptable offering before Him. He brought forth great good out of the sufferings of Christ, and He will bring good from your suffering as well.
Receive God’s discipline: If you do suffer as a result of your own sin, receive God’s chastening with humility and repentance. Chastening comes from God’s love, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” (Hebrews 12:6) Do not harden your heart. Learn from your error and use the affliction as a means to grow in righteousness, knowing that it is part of God’s working holiness in His people.
Comfort others who suffer: We are called to weep with them that weep and to lift up the hands that hang down. One of the greatest comforts in the midst of suffering is the presence and encouragement of those who care. Do not deny or minimize the suffering of those who suffer, but comfort them by acknowledging their suffering, sharing in their sorrow as much as possible, and helping them.
Draw near to God: One of the best results our suffering can have is to drive us closer to God. It can remind us of our need of God, cause us to call out to God in our distress, and provide opportunity for us to observe the faithfulness of God.
Finally, let your suffering point you to the eternal hope you have as a believer in Jesus Christ. We look forward to an eternal glory to which the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared. In your suffering, remember the hope of a place with no more tears, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 4:19)
Andy White is pastor of Southampton Primitive Baptist Church, Southampton, PA