Many people ask “Why does God allow us to suffer?” or “Shouldn’t Christians be free from suffering?” As a Christian I believe that to find the answer we need to look at what the Bible says on the subject. The book of Job is concerned with human suffering. Job does not know the reason for his suffering, but is content to know that God is in control and to put his trust in God.
The Bible teaches that God often speaks to us, and to those around us, through suffering. Through times of suffering we realise how weak we are, and how totally dependent we are on God. We learn that we can trust in the promises of the Bible, knowing that God is sovereign and He only lets us suffer as much as we can endure; and that He has promised to give us the strength to meet all our needs – and that includes M.E.! We are always in His hand and kept “under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91v1).
Yet, while it is true that God has promised to supply all our needs (Philippians 4v19), I don’t believe that He gives us the strength that we require in advance – because we are told that “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1v17), and that His mercies “are new every morning” (see Lamentations 3v22-23). Therefore we need to trust Him to give us each day the grace and strength to cope with the situations that we are faced with.
An encouraging text for anyone facing difficulties is Jeremiah 32v17: “Ah Lord GOD! behold, Thou hast made the heaven and the earth by Thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for Thee.” Our God is the One Who by His Word alone created the entire Universe – therefore nothing is too difficult for Him or outside of His control. If it be His will He can heal us; if not, He has promised to give us all that we need to manage day by day.
Some believe that Christians should be free from illness and pain, but we live in a fallen world where there will always be sickness and suffering, and it is an inescapable part of our lives. However, it is true that, “the God of providence has limited the time, manner, intensity, repetition and effects of all our sicknesses. The limit is also wisely adjusted to our strength – we cannot suffer too much or be relieved too late. The thought is full of consolation that He Who has fixed the bounds of our habitation has also fixed the bounds of our tribulation” (C H Spurgeon).
God sometimes uses terrible circumstances, when people are at their lowest, to bring them to Himself; and there are many Christians who have suffered terribly, yet their lives are an encouragement to others who suffer and a challenge to those who are not Christians.
When considering what the Bible says about suffering, the following comment by Peter Masters in his book “The Healing Epidemic” is very helpful:
“No trial, affliction or sickness is to be regarded as an accident or a totally purposeless nuisance. It is right to seek immediate medical help and to pray for healing. It is wrong to lose patience and to throw away the promise – that all things work together for good to them that love God. To summarise, we are taught in James 5 that for both categories of suffering – external troubles and in bodily illnesses – the following attitudes should be adopted by believers:
(1) We must expect them both.
(2) We must pray for help and deliverance.
(3) We must be prepared to exercise patience, for God may strengthen us to bear the problem rather than take it away.
(4) We must believe that a problem not removed serves a purpose which will work to our eternal good, and may stand as a witness to others.”
(Dr Peter Masters, “The Healing Epidemic”, The Wakeman Trust p. 143/144; Used with permission).
Reasons For Suffering – far from being immune to suffering, the Bible teaches that, as Christians, we should expect to suffer. Scripture gives many reasons for suffering, some of which I have listed:
“For whom the LORD loveth He correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” (Proverbs 3v12)
“That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.” (Judges 2v22)
“For Thou, O God, hast proved us: Thou hast tried us, as silver is tried.” (Psalm 66v10)
“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience … Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.” (James 1v3 & 12)
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love.” (1 Peter 1v6-8a)
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” (Romans 5v3-4)
To Become More Dependent On God
“Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy word.” (Psalm 119v67)
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” (Romans 8v35-36)
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren .” (Romans 8v28-29)
“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12v9)
“I can do all things through Christ Which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4v13)
“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8v37-39)
The sufferings of Christians should always make them develop a stronger dependence on God and a more Christ-like character – “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 12v11)
Although we face suffering and the effects of a fallen world here on earth, we have hope. We know that a time is coming when “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 21v4) Hallelujah!
“There is comfort for the bereft soul, for the sore stricken spirit, and for those who in their bodies are bearing the burdens of weakness, and disease and suffering – the comfort that when Jesus comes we shall enter into the completeness of redemption won for us on Calvary.” (J Russell Howden)On Eagles Wings