Why do Christians suffer?
II Corinthians 4: 1Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; 2But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. 5For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 8We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 11For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. 12So then death worketh in us, but life in you.
The question of suffering in the life of the Christian has probably had more volumes written than many subjects. Yet, there is no volume of work greater than that of the Holy Bible itself that declares the purposes of pain and suffering. Suffering comes in so many forms and varies with each individual. For some the sheer worry that they might be late to an appointment becomes so intense as to cause great emotional distress. For another, they may be living with chronic pain and physical suffering. Another may have been born with an emotional illness so intense as to interfere with their ability to ever experience joy. Some have been subjected to intense abuse both physical and mental. In another instance, one may be facing severe ridicule due to their economic or physical differences. Yet, there is one common thread that on this earth at some time and to some degree, everyone will at some point suffer loss, pain and tribulations. There are some who want to teach that once a Christian, all these circumstances of pain or illness can be completely cured by prayers of deep faith. Some would try to say that any suffering or trial in a Christians life comes as a result of either sin or a lack of faith; thus returning us all to the law for blessings. This is a complete heresy as God’s word takes a completely different view of trials and tribulations. The studying of God’s word regarding suffering and trials has taken up a great deal of my lifetime while I have tried to find and make sense of my own life. Pain and suffering have always been a very real part of my life. Included among my certificates are emotional abuse, physical abuse, cancer, financial disasters, chronic illness, multiple abdominal surgeries, widowhood, sense of inadequacy, and a sense of loneliness. This has been a very long journey of learning step by step about God’s view of suffering and what my role is. Most recently, I had a complete abdominal wall reconstruction due to multiple hernias with intermittent episodes of obstruction inflicting acute pain. The surgery has proven to be one of the most painful for recovery with my lying at moments with such severe muscle spasm as to be unable to move so that tears would be sliding down my cheeks despite my attempts to be brave. I, who prided myself in the ability to tolerate high levels of pain and never take pain medications, was literally brought to my knees and am still 2 weeks out unable to lift even so much as a picture of water. For the first time in my life I am forced to continue pain meds beyond the first week and one half. Perhaps God wanted to force me to sit down to finish this book writing assignment He gave me a while back.
As I lay in the bed at the hospital during two separate occasions last week, I was left with no IV access and no pain meds. I remember then and on other occasions while lying there that I looked into heaven and cried “God, why so much pain? I know that this is part of your will and plan for my life, but why? What need I learn? Was my pride in the way? Is there someone I need to tell about you, give me strength to testify Your Glory even while hurting so. What a strange thought, that a God of perfect love would desire us to suffer such pain and trials; after all, did He not promise joy, peace and rest in Him. Therein lies the great mystery and the wonder of the Christian life and the answer forevermore to the mighty question “Why do Christians suffer?” It is the question that burns in the mind of ever believer at some moment or time. Still, it is there that we come to find who God truly is and the majesty of His heart of love for each and every one of us. It is our testimony to the remainder of the world which is lost and dying. It is the heart and the soul of the gospel of Christ. From the center of this brokenness, God can demonstrate His greatest power and love. It is in the depth of this understanding and coming to the very end of one’s self that He is able to fill us with His fullness that a world might see Him shine through us. It is there that we reach the depth and the understanding of His broken heart for a dying world. It is when we begin to see our pain and sorrow through the eyes of a loving God that we may truly understand and say “Thank you, Lord for these my tears which draw me closer ever to thee.” When you see a gentle, kind woman whose dreams have all been broken who reaches out to help others to fly, you stand in wonder and awe. A world looking on begins to wonder what it is that she has that gives her strength and long to have the same. It is that wonder which draws others to Christ himself. After all, He gave up the majesty of His throne to come to the earth and suffer hunger, pain, sorrow, betrayal and death that we might be saved. Would our walk on this earth to become more like Him demand any less? When we reach the point that we understand that every minute detail of our life as a Christian is sifted through God’s hand of love, only then can we truly grow through each painful process and become the beautiful vessel God intended us to be. Only then can we “mount up with wings as eagles”.
I contend that there are six major reasons for pain in our lives. 1. We live in a fallen world. 2. As a direct consequence of our own willful sin ( not a punishment merely a direct reaction for our action) 3. To turn us around from a dangerous path which will lead to our destruction. 4. To grow us up. 5. For the good of the kingdom. 6. To develop intimacy with Christ. These are the six reasons God allows or even brings sometimes the suffering into our lives.
These points are demonstrated throughout the Bible in the lives of God’s men and women. So often in Christianity we want to preach a gospel of prosperity because we think that this would appeal to the crowds. So many sects attempt to teach this and have hoards of followers walking down the path to final destruction. This is the gospel that Satan would want us to hear; yet, it is not the gospel of Christ. You might say that if that be the case you don’t want to hear anymore about the gospel; yet, let me assure you that having walked this very journey of pain and suffering I would do it all again and cry every tear again for the magnificent glory of knowing Christ. My heart is filled with joy beyond measure and a peace unshakable by earthly sorrows because of this great and mighty knowledge of Him. Only when I came to the end of myself could I be filled with His joy, His peace, His wonder and His power. Yet, with me this remains God’s work in progress because despite all that I have been taught; there are moments while in this human body I look away and lose sight for a moment. Yet, those moments become fewer with time and I awaken each morning with the excited expectation of waiting to see what wondrous gift He has in store for me today.
Within the body of God’s love letters to us, He has provided many examples to further support my position of the six reasons that God allows and even brings sorrow into our lives. That is what I hope to bring to light in your lives through this chapter of this book. Once you are able to see your sorrows and trials through the eyes of God, the burden lightens and you become able to say “Thank you, Lord, for I know your hand is in this and there is somewhere within this sorrow a gift of love from you.” The truth is for each child of God, everything that happens in our life is sifted through God’s mighty hands of love; therefore, EVERYTHING that occurs in our life is a GIFT OF LOVE from an almighty, all-knowing, loving heavenly Father. Once you see this and understand it, your entire life becomes transformed into a fountain of hope, inspiration and peace.
It is learning to see our lives through the eyes of God Himself. Much of what is frustration, pain and sorrow comes from a misguided expectation of what we “deserve”. Unfortunately we are mistakenly taught to believe it is our right to have comfort, health, possessions, and worldly happiness. Therefore, many come to believe and even teach a “Santa Claus God”. Yet, God knows that happiness, peace and joy only results from a deep relationship with Him. That place of true joy and peace comes only from understanding who He is. Nothing else, nor any other relationship can fulfill our desires or needs the way He can.
The Bible says in Romans 8: 28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29For 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. How can I ever look like Christ if I have never carried a cross? There is a compassion and love that can come from a walk with sorrow which is unable to be found anywhere else.
We do live in a fallen world where evil does exist and Satan would like nothing better than to replace joyfulness with puckered faces, like a plum with all the water of life extracted resulting in that prune faced look. In this he seems to have a large following of grumbling, unhappy so called Christians who would not be able to draw anyone toward the light. More than this he loves to confuse the gospel of Christ by mingling truth with falsehood in addition to creating multiple religions which battle and fight against each other rather than to concentrate on teaching the gospel of Christ. There are also the changes in nature secondary to the fall which results in ever increasing illness and devastation. There is the greed of mankind’s heart that leads to the destruction of nature and to financial turmoil throughout the world. Some of the suffering in this world is a direct result of this and also a means for us to be able to recognize and be reminded of the true state of affairs in which we live. The evil surrounding us gives us the first glimpse into the state of mankind, his separation from His creator and purpose, and the need of a Savior. Psalm 19:
“1The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. 2Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. 3There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. 4Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, 5Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. 6His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. 7The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 8The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
Everything around us reminds us of a Sovereign God for whom we need communion with and the law itself reminds us that we cannot reach Him of our own accord. Romans 3: 10As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17And the way of peace have they not known: 18There is no fear of God before their eyes. 19Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
A second reason for pain and suffering is similar in that there are some direct consequences to certain actions. For example, smoking increases chances of lung cancer; therefore, if you smoke and get lung cancer it is a direct consequences not a direct punishment by God for the lack of care of the temple given. Promiscuous relationships may lead to HIV or Syphilis which can be direct consequence of the action. If you yell at your boss, you might just find yourself without a job. In these circumstances, the problem is that generally guilt and condemnation become such a part of the person’s response to the trial that it adds an unnecessary burden and weight to the trial and many times prevents the person from focusing on “what does God have for me in this trial?” Sometimes in these cases there is a sense that you cannot even bring this to Christ’s feet because of recurrent sin. Yet, for the one who knows Christ as their Savior this is not true. Will God remove the consequence? Maybe, Maybe not; but He will walk through it with you. Let me give you a few scriptures to help you deal with the guilt if that is your case. Primarily remember that salvation is by grace alone through Christ alone. Romans 8: 1There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. .. 9But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” So if you know Christ as your Savior, then you know that the Holy Spirit Dwells within you, and there is therefore (because of clause a and b) no condemnation. When we wallow in self condemnation with guilt laden hearts we have taken our eyes off of Christ in all His Glory and refocused our attention on ourselves somehow believing that we had something to do with our salvation and sanctification to begin with. Guilt will not be able to make you more holy, so you must take your eyes off of you and refocus on Christ Himself. Phillippians 3: “ Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” It is difficult not to dwell on our own failures which may have added to the current trial; but, we are commanded not to dwell. We press forward focusing on the author and finisher of our faith.
A third reason that trials come into our lives is that God needs to get our attention to turn us around from a dangerous path which will lead to our destruction. Sometimes in this Christian walk we are very much like sheep who wander about through the meadows not even noticing that we are approaching a dangerous area. Sometimes we become complacent in the routines of our daily life, giving little notice to the Bible lying beside our bed. Maybe not in particular looking to go the wrong direction; yet, ending up down some dead-end street going to nowhere. Or perhaps you saw all the warning signs and all the danger signs; still, choosing to go down the wrong path for whatever excuse you could make up. Just like the shepherd might need to use his staff to redirect the sheep; God, needs to get our attention and get us to turn around. Hebrews 12: 5And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: 6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” This is a rod that is not meant to have us “pay for your sins”; but, rather a nudging to get us turned around and pointed in the right direction. When facing this kind of a trial, it is good to remember Psalm 23: 1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” We too often fail to see the rod and staff as comforting; however, the truth is they are a reminder of His love which cannot allow us to wander off into dangerous paths. Instead “ He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.”
A fourth reason for pain and tribulation to come into our lives is to grow us up. Before a baby can walk, they must first learn to crawl and then venture out on wobbly limbs with a few falls and scrapes before mastering the ability. We in our Christian walk are very similar. Throughout the scripture, God assures us that He is taking the responsibility of finishing the work of growing us up into the image of Jesus Christ. Who is better suited for the task of transforming me than an Omniscient, Sovereign, and Omnipotent Creator. After all, He formed me in my mother’s womb and knows everything about me yesterday, today and tomorrow. As the master potter, He is the one who knows just how much pain, sorrow, stretching, failures are needed to change me into an image of Jesus Christ. A few verses to remind you of this being His primary work. Romans 8: “29”For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son; ”Phillippians 1: “ 6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” II Corinthians 3: 18”But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” Wow, actually I am so glad that He takes the responsibility of the work of changing me; as I would not have a clue how to transform me. This change may require a lot of refining—I Peter 1: 7”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:” He is changing us just as a potter forming the clay, as noted in Isaiah 64: 8 “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” Romans 9: 20”Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? 21Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” As, He has chosen me to be His child how then can I ever complain as to the method it takes to make me a vessel of beauty for His glory?
A fifth reason for pain and suffering in the life of a Christian is for the Good of the Kingdom. It is many times necessary for the work of Christ to continue that His followers must endure great pain, sorrow and tribulation. Perhaps this is best illustrated by two simple stories chosen out of the hundreds lining the scripture. Stephen was chosen for his great faith to take a position of ministry in the early church. Acts 6: 8”And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.. 10And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. 11Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God. 12And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council, 13And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law: 14For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. 15And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” He continued to preach the truth, for which he was stoned—As the story is told Acts 7: 55But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. 57Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. 59And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Tragedy!! yes in our eyes; but God had a bigger plan for the kingdom and as noted He was there with Stephen each step of the way. How often do missionaries die in the work of Christ? How often is our pain and suffering there only so that we might point toward His Glory in the center of our suffering. It is commonplace to see people appear happy in prosperity; however, the true joy we have seen in the saintly Christians laidened with suffering and yet a powerful testimony for Christ Jesus—they change our lives. The second biblical life I want to exemplify to further explain this phenomenon is that of Paul the Apostle. We just met him in the previous scripture about Stephen; as it was he (Saul) that ordered the murder of Stephen and the clothes were laid at his feet. He watched as this saintly young preacher died praising his Lord and asking forgiveness for his murderers. Did this sight of Stephen’s death play a role in the salvation of Paul? I daresay it must have played a part in the preparation of a wayward, stony heart. Did this sight haunt him later, a reminder of how great was God’s grace in his salvation? Yet, after his salvation, Paul became one of the greatest teachers of the faith. Perhaps, what he saw in Stephen affected his willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of the gospel. Perhaps this is why Paul would be able to write in 2 Corinthians 11: 23”Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. 9Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? 30If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. 1The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. 32In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: 33And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands”. Yet despite this degree of suffering, He exhorted us to live this same example of faith. In 2 Corinthians 6 he wrote, “1We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. 2(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) 3Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: 4But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, 5In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; 6By pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, 7By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; 9As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; 10As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” What an example of suffering for the good of the Kingdom!! Although there is no suffering you, Paul, Stephen nor I can suffer that will even come close to the sacrificial suffering of Jesus Christ. How would I think I could ever look like Him if I never undergo any tribulations?
The 6th reason for pain and suffering in the life of the believer is to develop intimacy with Christ. Indeed, I believe this to be the greatest and the most important of all. If, indeed you come to an understanding of this deep intimacy with Christ Jesus, it changes forever how you view pain and suffering. It did for Paul as he wrote, Phillippians 3: 3”For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. 4Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” What more can be said than the savoring of these words. I count all things loss, but for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. Nothing, no one, is as important as coming to know Christ in all His Glory. To see Him in all His Magnificent Splendor and to fall before Him and wash His feet with my tears is worth more than anything that I could own or possess on this earth. There is no pain or sorrow too great to endure just for a glimpse at HIM. He is so worthy of my praise that even if there was nothing on the line, I would praise Him. Even if salvation was not on the table, I would still fall before His throne to praise Him. There is no pain, tear, sorrow that I would not willingly walk through again just for the wonderful chance of knowing Him.
Given these as the reasons for Christian Suffering, perhaps, we can begin to understand James when he wrote, James 1: 2”My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. 5If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Or Peter, in I Peter 5: 6”Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. 8Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 10But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. 11 To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” And also as Paul wrote, in Romans 5: . “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
Would I Love You Even More
I felt the searing, pelting rain
Deep within my soul
I was uncertain where to turn
Or what should be my goal
I gazed upon a cross so far
That stood upon a hill
A Lion strong had died a Lamb
He gave His life at will
That I so undeserving be
Might see His face of love
A Glimpse of His true Glory
To fill me with His Love
Would I love You just the same
When my life is filled with shame
When pain is all I know
Would my love for You still show
Can I show Your Glory still
Accept this as Your will
When my heart is broke in two
Cradled in Your hands, renew
As on Your hope I soar
Would I love You even more?