Has anyone ever asked you that question? I admit, I have asked that question and have been asked that question numerous times since working with ritual abuse survivors. Suffering certainly appears to be an important topic in this world because it is true, many do suffer through abandonment, abuse, famine, wars, loss, physical and mental illness, etc. Suffering is not a respecter of race, religion, gender, age, financial status or birthplace. It seems to touch everyone’s life in some fashion. Does God have anything to say about the subject, since it appears to be so very important to us? Are there solutions to the suffering in the world today? In general, is it worse today instead of better? We live in a world full of “advancements,” and full of solutions to most of life”s problems. It would appear that the solution that I most often see when someone is suffering is that of medication. Most solutions that the world offers are geared toward “quick fixes.” God seems to work at a different pace and with very different views concerning such topics as suffering. After four hundred years had passed with the Hebrews in bondage to Egypt and praying for deliverance, the Lord responded by saying to Moses, “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows… Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7,10) He reminds us, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) It is important for us to realize that God sets the standard through Jesus Christ for us to follow – does it include suffering? In order to answer these questions it is important for us to look at what the Word of God tells us about suffering. Let”s look at the “whys” of suffering, as well as solutions, from God’s perspective.
It is not until after Adam and Eve eat from the tree of “good and evil” that we begin to see “suffering.” There are many examples throughout the Bible.
Then they took him (Joseph) and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it… so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. Genesis 37:24,28
Therefore they set taskmasters over them (Israel while in Egypt) to afflict them with their burdens…. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel. So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage… all their service in which they made them serve was with rigor. Exodus 1:11-14
…Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? …and she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish. 1 Samuel 1:8
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die, you will not recover. 2 Kings 20:1
…The Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat. Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the sea … Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord. 2 Chronicles 20:1-3
The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. 2 Chronicles 33:10-12
I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. Job 3:26
I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. Jeremiah 20:7-8
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done. Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22:41-44
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Acts 8:2-3
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have been in the deep, in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness. 2 Corinthians 11:24-27
We can see by the Scriptures that people do, indeed, suffer for a variety of reasons. There are times that God calls us into suffering for a purpose. We are told “How great is God—beyond our understanding” and “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal. From six calamities he will rescue you; in seven no harm will befall you. In famine He will ransom you from death… and you need not fear when destruction comes.” (Job 5:17-21) God will use suffering to refine us and mature us into His vessels. “But those who suffer He delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food.” (Job 36:15-16) We struggle with the concept of suffering. We feel that we somehow need to rescue people (family, loved ones, self) from the pain of suffering. Because we do not understand all that God teaches us through this experience we will do “anything” to avoid it or to rescue others from suffering. There are some very powerful Scriptures that show us the importance of suffering.
For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 1 Peter 2:19-21
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13
However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 1 Peter 4:16
And the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. 1 Peter 5:10
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. Romans 5:1-5
In Romans we are shown how faith, hope and love are developed within us through suffering. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” According to this chapter God is calling us into a mature faith, hope and love. How does this occur? “…suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
What is the purpose for all of the suffering? In order to know God and to move closer to my own identity in Christ, I must be stripped of all the “self” that has been placed on, in, and through me, by this world. The I wills or the I musts that identified me must be stripped away—
- I must be successful.
- I must be thin.
- I must be acceptable to my peers in order to be successful.
- I must be loved.
- I must do everything and anything possible not to be rejected.
- I must put up a good front, stiff upper lip (whatever that means), chin up, smile, laugh, eat, drink and be merry, don’t cry.
Moses was raised in the house of Pharaoh (a type of Satan) and experienced the very best education Egypt had to offer. God took him out of Egypt, into the wilderness, and stripped him of all of his Egyptian identity. While in the wilderness Moses came to know his true identity as a Hebrew. We read in Hebrews 11:24, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” If Moses were around today he would be very busy teaching classes on how to be a viable member of the Body of Christ using 1 Corinthians 12:26 as the Scriptural text, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” It was only then that God could use him to help his brothers and sisters come out of Egypt and on toward the promised land. The Hebrews could not go into the promised land until they had been stripped of their identity with Egypt. There were some who did not wish to be stripped of their identity, and wanted to go back to Egypt—they did not survive the wilderness experience nor go into the promised land. It is in the midst of our sufferings we run to God in prayer. Is it possible that through suffering He may be teaching us about His love and grace and the absolute necessity of prayer? Let’s turn to the Scriptures and see if there might be a basis for that conclusion.
Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt. Exodus 3:9
And she (Hannah) was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish… if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget your maidservant, but will give your maidservant a male child… and the Lord remembered her. 1 Samuel 1:10-19
In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, Thus says the Lord, Set your house in order. for you shall die, and not live. Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord, saying, Remember now, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight. And Hezekiah wept bitterly… Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you… And I will add to your days fifteen years. 2 Kings 20:1-4
It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. And Jehoshaphat feared and set himself to seek the Lord and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord, and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord… we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You. …Thus says the Lord to you: Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s…. Do not fear or be dismayed, tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you. 2 Chronicles 20:1-17
And the Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people but they would not listen. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon. Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. 2 Chronicles 33:10-12
In my distress I called upon the Lord; He heard my voice from His temple. And my cry came before Him, even to His ears. Psalm 18:6
Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. Now behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up saying, Arise quickly! And his chains fell off his hands… Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people. Acts 12:5-7,11
I believe that the most poignant picture of agony, affliction and prayer is demonstrated by Jesus Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, Pray that you may not enter into temptation. And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, Father, if it is Your will take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done. Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:39-44) When He was in the midst of great grief and sorrow He went and prayed to His Father. When His distress and agony became so great that He could hardly physically bear it, God sent an angel to strengthen Him, which is an example of God’s grace. What did Jesus pray in the Garden? God chose not to reveal the full extent of the prayer, but He did reveal the most important aspect for us to follow. “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” God’s will was for Jesus to go to the cross—did He then turn around and forsake Jesus on the cross? Didn’t Jesus cry out and say “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Yes, but Jesus knew He was not forsaken by His Father. He was reminding those watching the crucifixion of Psalm 22, which begins with “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Through this Psalm Jesus demonstrates He was indeed their Messiah prophesied thousands of years before, “For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.” The Psalm goes on to say, “But You, O Lord, do not be far from me; O My Strength, hasten to help me… You have answered Me… For He has not despised not abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard.” The Jewish people during the time of Jesus did not have Bibles, they memorized Scripture. The rabbis would say the first verse and then the people would repeat the rest of the chapter from memory. The Jewish people present, watching this crucifixion, would have automatically begun to say this Psalm to themselves when Jesus said, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” As they viewed Him on the cross they would know that they had crucified their Messiah, they would know that as He cried to His Father, His Father answered. How did His Father answer? Psalm 18 gives us a beautiful picture of the Father coming to rescue His Only Begotten Son.
The pangs of death surrounded me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The sorrow of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; coals were kindled by it. He parted the heavens also (the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom), and came down with darkness under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. From the righteousness before Him, His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord thundered from heaven and the Most High uttered His voice. He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe, lightning in abundance, and He vanquished them… He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.” Take time to read the entire Psalm and compare it with the Gospel picture of the crucifixion. We see a profound picture of suffering, prayer, grace and redemption.
This brings us to an understanding that when there are afflictions, sorrow, unbearable grief, great sufferings, we are to turn to our God in prayer and repentance and He freely gives us grace (favor and kindness). I am so very grateful that God’s ways are not our ways… Adam and Eve with their sin brought suffering and death while Jesus with His redemption brought forgiveness of sin and life everlasting. Yes, He is so good, so powerful, so loving that He even enables us to suffer so that we are blessed, “for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:14)