Why? Why me? Why my family? What is the meaning of this suffering?
These are familiar questions which are asked by Christians and non-Christians alike. No one is immune to suffering and adversity. “Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7, KJV). There are the pressures of want, need, sorrow, persecution, unpopularity, and loneliness. Some suffer for what they have done; others suffer because of what people do to them. Many suffer because they are victims of circumstances which they cannot control.
Pain is distressing. There can be nights of agony when God seems so unfair and it seems that there is no possible help or answer. Temporary relief may seem adequate, but the real solution to suffering is not to isolate it in an attempt to do away with it, nor even to grit our teeth and endure it. The solution, rather, is to condition our attitudes so that we learn to triumph in and through suffering. When the Apostle Paul sought relief from his “thorn in the flesh,” God did not take it away, but reassured him with: “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, KJV). In another encouragement to the Corinthians, he wrote, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8, KJV).
Except for physical pain, handling suffering seems to be a question of attitude: “What am I going to do in the face of suffering in order to learn from it and use it for my advantage as far as God’s eternal purposes are concerned?”
Billy Graham comments:
“Nowhere does the Bible teach that Christians are exempt from the tribulations and natural disasters that come upon the world. Scripture does teach that the Christian can face tribulation, crisis, calamity, and personal suffering with a supernatural power that is not available to the person outside of Christ.”
Some of the most pathetic people in the world are those who, in the midst of adversity, indulge themselves by wallowing in self-pity and bitterness, all the while taking a sort of delight in blaming God for their problems.
Job’s attitude is an inspiration: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).
The sufferer will be blessed if, in the midst of great agony and despair, he can look into the face of his Heavenly Father and, because of His eternal love and presence, be grateful. Our response to suffering should lead us to look beyond it in the attempt to see God’s higher purposes and what He wants to teach us.
What are Some of the Reasons for Human Suffering?
(1) We may bring suffering upon ourselves. Dissipation and lack of discipline bring unhappy consequences. Long-term abuse of our bodies may bring on sickness. Wrong choices come back to haunt us.
You may ask the caller: “Do you think this is happening to you because of your own bad judgment or intemperate actions? What can you do to alleviate your suffering?”
(2) Sometimes God is taking corrective action because of sin and disobedience. God will correct and discipline His own. Through chastening He proves that He loves us and that we are truly His own (Hebrews 12:5-11).
(3) God may permit suffering so we learn to respond to problems in a biblical way. Scripture tells us that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8, NIV). Our goal should be not merely relief from suffering but rather learning to please God by being responsive and obedient to Him and to His Word (see Romans 12:1, 2).
(4) Sometimes God permits us to suffer to teach us that pain is a part of life. Nowhere does the Bible say that the Christian will not suffer adversity! Paul points out in Philippians 1:29, KJV, that it is “given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” Adversity can be a gift from God.
Christ did not evade the Cross to escape suffering. Hebrews 12:2 says he “endured the cross, despising the shame.” Why? “For the joy that was set before him.” He knew that the final word was not crucifixion (suffering); it was resurrection (victory).
We may suffer briefly, or all our lives. But let us not give up hope or engage in self-pity or bitterness. The end-result is what we all look forward to. Being with the Lord in heaven will put all things into perspective!
(5) God may permit suffering for our well-being. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV). We must accept this by faith and pray that God’s highest good will come as a result of our suffering. Only through adversity are some of the deeper lessons of life learned. Trust God to work out His own will and purpose in us so that we might be more Christlike (see Romans 8:29).
There is no redemptive merit in our suffering as there was in that of Jesus, but if we are faithful under adversity we may be able to share in “the fellowship of his suffferings” (Philippians 3:10, KJV).
(6) Sometimes God permits suffering to speak through our life and testimony to comfort others. Jesus said that the sufferings of the blind man in John 9 were so “that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (NIV).
God might work in your life through suffering to inspire others by your example in adversity. Those who endure adversity can sympathize and identify more effectively with others in their sufferings. We comfort others in the way we are comforted. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4, (NIV).