How Should A Christian Respond to Suffering?
We undoubtedly live in a world where pain and suffering is inevitable. The Bible reminds us that this world is a fallen world in which man is a sinner who needs God’s redemption.
The Bible also reminds us that the condition of the heart of man will grow from bad to worse.
2 Timothy 3:1 says that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” because of the ungodly nature and attitude of man towards each other and towards God (2 Timothy 3:2-5).
Therefore in a world that is filled with ungodliness, there will always be pain and suffering.
However, how should a Christian respond to the issue of pain and suffering? What attitude should Christians have during times of persecution and opposition?
First of all it is important to categorize suffering into 3 types or 3 reasons for why a person suffers in life.
3 REASONS FOR SUFFERING
1. Persecution or Suffering for Righteousness Sake
1 Peter 3:13-14,17 says “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled… For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
Therefore there is the kind of persecution and suffering which one experiences for doing the right thing or for standing by godly and righteous principles or for exposing wrong-doing. For centuries, many Christians have been ridiculed, excluded, punished and even killed for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and for exposing wrong doctrines and lifestyles. In other words, they experienced forms of persecutions for righteousness’ sake.
In our world, anyone who stands for Biblical truth is likely to be viewed as an outsider or threat to an existing and ungodly system which then leads to persecution. For example, Jesus faced persecution from the scribes and Pharisees and was eventually crucified for standing for the truth and for exposing the false religious systems of the scribes and Pharisees. All of Christ’s disciples also faced persecution on account of the message of the gospel, yet the Christian values that they preached promoted godly living and character.
In 2 Timothy 3:12 it says that anyone who desires “to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Therefore persecution for righteousness sake is unavoidable for the Christian believer who stands for the Biblical truth and seeks to live a godly life.
2. Suffering Because of The Culture / Systems of the World
The Bible tells us that the world is at enmity with God and at enmity with Christians. The reason is because the standards, values, philosophies and culture of the world are opposed to Biblical values. It is the very reason why Romans 12:2 tells us not to conform to standards of this world. The philosophies and ideas of this world have created suffering, pain, injustice within the social, political, economic and even the spiritual areas of people’s lives.
Therefore when the system and culture of the world is corrupt, there will be many who will suffer as a result.
In the world there are also natural occurrences that are beyond human control such as natural disasters which may cause man to suffer. These include such things as earthquakes, cyclones, floods and the like which contribute to the pain and suffering of mankind.
3. Suffering Because of Personal Sin or The Sins of Others
Our own personal sin has consequences which can lead to pain and suffering. The sin of Adam in the garden of Eden led to the tragic consequence of every person being born a sinner and death affecting all of mankind (Romans 5:12).
1 Peter 4:15 says: But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.
The acts of a murderer for example, do not only affect the murderer, but they also affect the victim and the victim’s loved ones. Therefore whether it is sin that is committed by us or by another, our sins can have consequences which affect other people in general. Ultimately sin causes suffering.
The scriptures warn us that we should not suffer because we have committed evil. Instead it is better to suffer for doing good or for the truth of God’s word.
HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO SUFFERING?
A) We Must Be Prayerful & Thankful
James 5:13 says “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray…”
Therefore we must talk to God about the issues that pain us and allow Him to take charge of every problem and challenge in our life (1 Peter 5:7).
Through prayer we can both seek God’s direction and receive the peace of Christ through our situation. Philippians 4:6-7 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Furthermore, even in pain and suffering, we must count our blessings and have an attitude of thanksgiving because 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says that we are to give thanks in all circumstances (both good and bad).
B) We Must Endure & Persevere
The word Endurance means the power to withstand hardship or stress; a state of surviving or remaining alive.
The word Perseverance means to be steadfast; persistent determination; the act of persisting; continuing or repeating behavior.
Therefore in the midst of suffering of any kind, we are expected to endure and persevere. And both to endure and persevere during trials can be used by God as a testing of our faith which can develop our character.
James 1:2-4 says: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 5:10-11 says: As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
Ephesians 6:10 says: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
C) We Must Count It All Joy & Count Yourself Blessed
Every Christian who suffers or is persecuted for righteousness sake or for the Biblical truth shares in the sufferings of Christ and is therefore blessed.
In Luke 6:22-23 Jesus said the following: “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”
1 Peter 4:13-14 says: But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
D) Remember The Sovereignty of God
Romans 8:28 says: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
We are reminded that God uses all things and all situations in life – both good and bad – to accomplish His own purpose.
Despite the chaos in the world and the personal challenges we may face in life, God still remains in control and God is never surprised by anything that happens in the world.
God remains all-knowing and all-powerful. Therefore even in the midst of suffering we must remember that God is in control and we must continue to live a godly life in Christ Jesus despite our circumstances.
1 Peter 4:19 says: Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
E) Repent If You Have Sinned & Resist The Devil
Where sin is the cause of our personal suffering, then we must repent and walk according to God’s word. We are to resist the devil and resist his temptations by seeking to be close to God and casting all our issues on Him.
1 Peter 5:7-11 says: Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
Therefore pain and suffering is part of life. However, God is always in control and all who are in Christ Jesus will only experience the discomfort of difficult times for a short while. Ultimately the born again believer will one day experience a painless life and a life that is free from suffering when he/she receives the eternal promise of Heaven and eternity with God.