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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Suffering

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Before they brought sin into their world, human beings were was in a state of harmony with God and with the natural world, and as a result were free of pain and suffering. But when they sinned, this state of harmony was ruined. God had given the natural world to them for their physical and spiritual well-being, but that world now became a cause of suffering. God had intended physical effort and bodily functions to bring pleasure, but now they brought pain and hardship (Genesis 3:16-19).

Unanswered questions

It is therefore true to say that there is suffering in the world because there is sin in the world. It is not true to say, however, that the personal suffering of any one person is the direct result of that person’s sin. The book of Job makes it plain that a person cannot know the moral reasons for another’s suffering. God alone knows (Job 42:2; Job 42:7).

If suffering is not a measure of a person’s sin, freedom from suffering is not a measure of a person’s righteousness (Ecclesiastes 8:14; Luke 13:1-5; 1 Peter 2:19). In fact, often the righteous suffer, while the wicked enjoy peace and prosperity (Psalms 73:3-5; Psalms 73:12-14). This is part of the mystery of human suffering. God does not satisfy people’s curiosity concerning this mystery, but he does work in the lives of those who suffer, to bring them to a fuller knowledge of himself and therefore to glorify him (John 9:1-3; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; see also DISEASE).

Satan takes pleasure in causing people to suffer (Luke 13:16; 2 Corinthians 12:7), but he can do his cruel work only to the extent God allows (Job 1:8-12; Job 2:1-8). Those who are in a right relationship with God may therefore see their suffering not as something essentially evil, but as something out of which good may come.

In some cases, for example, believers may regard their suffering as a means of teaching them endurance, trust and other virtues. As a result they grow more towards the sorts of people that God wants them to be (Isaiah 38:17; Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-19). In other cases they may regard it as a fitting chastisement for some wrong they have done (Psalms 38:1-8; Psalms 41:3-4; see CHASTISEMENT). Or they may regard it simply as a fact of life that they cannot explain but must accept; though they must do so with faith and courage, not resentment or bitterness (Psalms 73:21-26; Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; 1 Peter 4:19; cf. Psalms 13:1-2; Jeremiah 20:14-18).

Although people may in some circumstances pronounce judgment against themselves because of their suffering, he should not pronounce similar judgment against others who suffer. Instead they should look for ways of giving the sufferers the comfort and strength they need (Mark 1:40-41; Mark 14:34-41; 2 Corinthians 1:4).

Whether or not believers understand why they suffer, they need have no doubt that God still loves them and will not leave them. They may have no explanation of God’s purposes, but they can be confident that those purposes do exist and that they are perfect (Romans 8:28; Romans 8:37-39). Once it has passed, suffering may soon be forgotten. From the viewpoint of eternity it will appear brief indeed (John 16:21; 2 Corinthians 4:17).

God’s provision

Jesus was fully human and lived in the world as other people. Therefore, he too experienced the suffering that is in the world through sin, even though he himself never sinned. Through his experiences he learnt the full meaning of obedience to God in a world of sin and suffering (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:8).

Yet Jesus suffered not only because of the sins of others; he suffered to take away the sins of others. He was so identified with his fellow human beings that God’s judgment on sinful people fell upon him. He died for them (Galatians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:24).

Consequently, the expression ‘the sufferings of Christ’ developed the specific meaning of ‘the death of Christ’. His death was not an accident, but the divinely ordered way of dealing with sin. In suffering for sin, Christ bore God’s punishment on sin and so made it possible for people to be cleansed from sin and brought back to God (Isaiah 53:4-5; Isaiah 53:10; Matthew 8:17; Mark 8:31; Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 13:12; 1 Peter 1:12; 1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 Peter 3:18). The sufferings of Christ, as well as bringing cleansing from sin, enable him to understand and help others who suffer (Hebrews 4:15-16).

When people by faith accept the benefits of Christ’s death, they become united with Christ. To some extent they must suffer as he suffered. As the ungodly persecuted Jesus, so they will persecute his followers (John 15:18; John 15:20; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Philippians 1:29; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 4:13; see PERSECUTION). Such sufferings may test the genuineness of their faith, but may also produce in them greater strength and maturity of character (1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 5:10; cf. Hebrews 2:10; see TESTING). But Jesus’ sufferings were followed by glory, and those who suffer for his sake can look forward to sharing in that glory (Romans 8:17-18; 1 Peter 5:10).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Suffering'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/s/suffering.html. 2004.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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