Suffering means bearing pain, inconvenience, loss, or injury. And everyone, including Christians, will suffer at some point in their lives.
Suffering comes for many reasons, including:
- Our personal sin and failure when we act foolishly (1 Pet. 4:15)
- Other people’s sins (such as a drunk driver causing an accident)
- Forces outside our control (such as a tornado or hurricane)
- Being persecuted for our faith (1 Pet. 2:21)
As Christians, we need to be sensitive. Suffering is a profoundly personal and emotional issue for others. And we need to consider when and how we speak to sufferers. We need to be sensitive in what we do (and do not!) say.
That is why we need a biblical perspective (Phil. 1:29). No other religion deals with suffering better than Christianity.
Fact #1: There Are 2 Ways to Respond to Trials
There is a right way and wrong way to respond to trials.
The wrong response is blaming, denying, self-pity, and becoming embittered. At the heart of these responses is an ungodly self-focus.
On the other hand, the correct response includes:
- Trusting God by yielding ourselves to him. We should expect he will develop our spiritual maturity (Jas. 1:2-4).
- Asking and expecting him to walk with us to help us bear the hurt and pain. Then we can personally experience the faithfulness of God.
Fact #2: A Good God Can Allow Suffering
Non-Christians and some believers ask a common question. “How can a loving God allow suffering to continue in the world which he created?”
The Bible is clear that:
- Suffering results from all the evil in the world, which came from human sin, not God (Gen. 3)
- Humans received the freedom to love and obey God or to rebel against him
- Adam and Eve chose to use their free will to rebel against God knowingly
- And every human since has inherited a “sin nature,” which leads to all sorts of evil
- Further, all of creation is broken. Since the fall, it is not as God originally created it
And to drive our point home, we can turn the tables on critics of Christianity’s view of a good God and evil. We ask, “What is your explanation for all of the evil in the world?”
- Typically, they don’t have an answer. And often critics appear surprised you would expect them to have one.
- Or their view is inadequate, incoherent, non-comprehensive, and ultimately illogical
Fact #3: Suffering Produces a Mature Faith
In dealing with suffering, we need to realize that God has a purpose for our lives. And it is more important to God that we become men and women with mature faith.
It may come as a surprise to you, but God can and does use trials and suffering to make us godlier (Rom. 8:29).
Unfortunately for some people, suffering pushes them further away from God. Then, the process meant to develop a mature faith in them goes neglected.
But a mature faith can only develop through trials, suffering, and adversity. That is why it is unreasonable to expect God to give us a lifetime of ease, comfort, and pleasure.
It is our Christian faith’s vitality that guides our perception of life. It also determines how we cope with suffering.
The following steps lead to a godly perception and mature faith:
- To successfully deal with suffering, you need a godly perspective
- A godly perspective supposes that nothing happens in our lives outside of God’s control
- But the only way to develop a godly perspective is to have a mature faith
- By mature faith, I mean realizing that our suffering does not mean that God does not love us
- And the only way to develop a mature faith is to undergo trials
- God uses our trials, more than anything else, for his glory and to mature us spiritually
- Therefore, a godly perspective sees that God allows challenging life circumstances. And as he does this, so we learn to trust and obey him alone.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote of his conversion in a Gulag, “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life. The meaning of earthly existence lies, not as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul (Solzhenitsyn, 1976, 598)
Fact #4: Suffering Can Bring About “Good”
There can be good that comes from our suffering. In many cases, God allows suffering, trials, and adversity to:
- Reveal what we think of God and value the most
- Shape and refine us as God’s children (1 Pet. 1:6–7; 5:10)
- Strengthen our faith and conform us to be more like Jesus
- Demonstrate God’s faithfulness (Ps. 46; 2 Cor. 12:7–10; Heb. 13:8) and power (2 Cor. 12:7)
- Remove our pride (2 Cor. 1:9) and increase our reliance on God to help us endure (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:7–10)
- Prepare us to serve him and comfort others facing adversity (2 Cor. 1:3-6; 2 Cor. 12:9–10)
- Hate evil and deepen our desire to go home to be with Jesus
A quote attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt states: “A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner, neither do uninterrupted prosperity and success qualify for usefulness and happiness.”
Fact #5: God Gave Us Resources to Overcome Suffering
For the Christian, the indwelling Holy Spirit directs, guides, comforts, and influences us.
- He can guide our emotions and not allow them to control us (Rom. 8:9–11)
- And as evidence that we are maturing spiritually, he produces in us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23). This list is worth memorizing!
The way to control our emotions during trials is to renew our minds. And we renew our minds by saturating them with Scripture. We read, meditate, memorize, and obey it. And through obedience, we live a godly life.
Then the Holy Spirit and the Word of God control our emotions instead of our emotions controlling us (Luke 6:45).
Three verses I recommend that you memorize are Romans 8:28, James 1:2–4, and 1 Peter 1:6–9.
Our prayers draw us into greater intimacy with God. There are a couple of ways to pray while suffering.
Firstly, we can use the ACTS method:
- Adore God’s sovereignty even in the challenges and trials of our lives
- Confess any sinful acts that contributed to our current suffering
- Thank God for his unconditional love and for conforming us to be more like Jesus through our trials
- Supplication means we ask God for:
- Complete trust in his ultimate plan for our life
- A sense of his comfort and encouragement
- Patience and perseverance in the face of suffering
- Forgiveness towards those who have sinned against us.
Secondly, there may be times in your suffering you do not know what to pray for or how to pray. In these instances, consider praying through a book of the Bible verse by verse.
In particular, praying through Psalms focusing on suffering or lament (e.g., Ps. 4; Ps. 7; Ps. 12; Ps. 31).
What is Your Next Step?
If you are a Christian, believe that God is always in control. You can trust His goodness no matter what challenges you face.
- For many, it is hard to accept suffering without knowing the reason
- But it is not our responsibility to understand the reason for our suffering
- God’s ways are often mysterious to us. That is because our finite minds can never understand an eternal and infinite God.
- But ultimately, it is up to us to choose joy even while suffering. And we can do that because we believe in Christ.
On the other hand, if you haven’t become a Christian yet, please understand something. Unlike any other religion, the Christian God knows firsthand about suffering.
- God sent his own Son Jesus into the world to die in our place. He did that to pay the penalty for our sins and take our punishment (John 3:16).
- Such personal sacrifice demonstrates God’s love for us. It dramatically emphasizes how much he cares about our pain and suffering.
- The writer of Hebrews tells us, “For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15)!
- And for those who suffer their entire lives, there is hope. Our earthly existence is but a brief span compared to being with God for eternity (Ps. 39:5).
If you know someone who is suffering, seek them out. Be willing to sit quietly with the sufferer through their valley. One thing I have learned with suffering people is:
“If you don’t know what to say, say nothing.”
Instead, just sit with them in the valley. Listen patiently and compassionately. This trial is an opportunity to create a lasting and deep relationship. Be patient. There will be time later to speak into the person’s suffering when they are ready to listen.
- Solzhenitsyn Alexander, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956; An Experiment in Literary Investigation, II, trans. Thomas P. Whitney. Fontana, 1976.
- Broger, John C. Self-Confrontation: A Manual for In-Depth Biblical Discipleship. Indio CA: Biblical Counseling Foundation, 2015
- Clinton, T and Ron Hawkins. The Quick-Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling. Baker, 2009
- Whitney, D. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Updated 20thAnniversary Edition. Navpress, 2014
- Insight for Living. Counseling Insights: A Biblical Perspective on Caring for People. Insight for Living, 2007
- Stanley, C. F. Dealing with Life’s Pressures. In Touch Ministries, 1997