Believers and non-believers suffer because all of us live in a world marred by sin. Death, toil, pain and suffering are consequences of sin (Gen 3; Rom 6:23). Suffering is multifaceted and not all suffering is alike. Broadly, suffering can be thought of as disciplinary or non-disciplinary. Sometimes, God chooses to discipline or chastise His beloved children because of sin.
All sin has consequences, and sometimes, consequences generated by some sins continue to cause pain and suffering long after we have confessed and asked the Lord for forgiveness. We have been studying the life of King David in 2 Samuel. Even though David remained a king after God’s own heart because he was willing to acknowledge his sin and repent, he nevertheless suffered the disciplinary consequences of his sin (2 Sam 12:10-12). His sin with Bathsheba, the murder of Uriah (2 Sam 11-12) and his leniency with the wickedness of his sons (2 Sam 13:21; 14:33; 19:4-6) led to much violence and bloodshed in his own family and in the nation. God’s discipline is an expression of His fatherly love towards us (Heb 12:5–6) and has a divine purpose.
The Bible also makes it clear that not all suffering is disciplinary in nature nor is it necessarily the result of personal sin. God may allow suffering as a means of developing in us spiritual maturity and endurance (James 1:2-4), or to prove the genuineness of our faith (1 Pet 1:6–8). Perhaps God can use us and our response to suffering to influence others. For example, suffering can provide us with opportunities to help others who suffer (2 Cor 1:3–4), demonstrate and bear spiritual fruit (Gal 5:22–23; 2 Cor 4:8–11), and create unique opportunities to witness for Christ (1 Pet 3:14–15). Job was a righteous man who served God with his whole heart, yet he suffered bitterly (Job 1:8-12). We do not always understand how God is working in our lives (Rom 11:33), and many times, we do not understand His purpose in allowing us to suffer. Rather than reveal to Job the reason for his suffering, God assured Job of His love, wisdom and power. Job, through his experience, advanced in faith, and deepened his understanding of and relationship with God (Job 42:1-6). When everything is stripped away from our lives, all we have is God. And God is sufficient.
How then should we respond to suffering? Paul tells us in Rom 5:3-5 (ESV): “…but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Rejoicing in suffering almost appears twisted and distorted. How do we arrive at a place when we can rejoice in suffering?
It is not because we enjoy pain, rather, we know that suffering produces endurance. Endurance is the ability to stay under pressure, a certain steadfastness and perseverance. This endurance produces character, which carries with it an idea of being tested, approved and shown to be trustworthy or reliable. Character produces hope – hope of the glory of God, a hope that is certain, bold and confident. This hope does not disappoint and does not put us to shame because God loved us so much in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. In our periods of pain and suffering, we may feel unloved, worthless, and even rejected by God. But you and I know of a place where we are loved beyond measure and in spite of ourselves. At the cross. It is at the cross that we see who we really are and who God really is. When we recognize this truth, we can rejoice in suffering.
By Rebecca Ang (YCKC Bulletin 12&13 December 2015)