Job 2:7-8 “So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes“.
Faithfulness to God does not guarantee believers freedom from trouble, pain, and suffering in their lives. In fact, Jesus taught that we are to expect it (John 16:1-4; 33). The Bible provides numerous examples of godly people who experienced a significant amount of suffering for a variety of reasons – e.g., Joseph, David, Job, Jeremiah, and Paul.
REASONS BELIEVERS SUFFER. There are various reasons why believers suffer. Believers experience suffering as an ongoing consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve. When sin entered the world, pain, sorrow, conflict, and eventual death invaded the lives of all human beings (Genesis 3:16-19). Paul affirms this: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). In fact, the entire created universe groans under the effects of sin and yearns for the time of the new heaven and earth (Romans 8:20-23; 2 Peter 3:10-13). Some believers suffer for the same reason that unbelievers do, i.e., as a consequence of their own actions. The principle that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7) applies in a general sense to everyone. If we drive our cars recklessly, we may get into serious accidents.
If we are undisciplined in our eating habits, we are likely to have serious health problems. God may use such suffering as a means of disciplining us so that we may achieve “the peaceable fruit of righteousness”. We must always act in wisdom and in accord with God’s Word, and we must avoid whatever will remove us from God’s protective care. Believers also suffer, at least in their inner selves, because they live in a sinful and corrupt world. All around us are the effects of sin; we experience distress and anguish as we see the power that evil holds over so many lives. We must pray to God that He will demonstrate His victory over the power of sin.
Believers suffer at the hands of the devil. Scripture makes it clear that Satan, as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), controls this present evil age. He has been given power to afflict us in a variety of ways. The story of Job centers around an upright, God-fearing man whom God permitted to be tormented by Satan with unspeakable sufferings (see especially Job 1-2). Jesus testified that one of the women he healed had been bound by Satan for eighteen years (Luke 13:11; 16). Paul recognized that his thorn in the flesh was ‘the messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor 12:7). As we engage in spiritual warfare against “the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12), we will inevitably suffer adversity. In order to deal with such assaults, God has given us spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) and spiritual weapons (2 Cor 10:3-6). We must put on the whole armor of God and pray Ephesians 6:10-18, resolving to persevere faithfully in His strength.
Satan and his followers delight to persecute believers. Those who love the Lord Jesus and follow His principles of truth and righteousness will be persecuted for their faith. In fact, such suffering for righteousness sake may be an indication of our genuine devotion to Christ. Since all true believers are called to suffer persecution and reproach for righteousness’ sake, we must remain steadfast and immovable, and keep on trusting Him who judges righteously (Matt 5:10-11; 1 Cor 15:58, 1 Pet 2:23). More positively, another reason why believers suffer is that “we have the mind of Christ”. To be a Christian means to be in Christ, to be one with Him; as a result we share in His suffering. For example, just as Jesus wept in agony over the wicked city of Jerusalem and their refusal to repent and accept salvation, so we are to weep over the sinfulness and lostness in humanity. We must thank God that just as the sufferings of Christ are ours, so also is His comfort (2 Cor 1:5).
God Himself may use suffering in our lives as a catalyst to spiritual growth or change. He often uses suffering to call His straying people to repent of their sins and renew their faith and trust in Him. We must confess known sin and examine our lives to see if there is anything that displeases the Holy Spirit. God sometimes uses suffering to test our faith, to see whether we will remain faithful to Him. To test Job’s faith was the reason He allowed Satan to afflict him (see Jon 1:6-12; 2:1-6): would Job remain committed to the Lord, or would he curse God to His face? James calls the various trials we face “the trying of your faith” (James 1:3); through them our faith in Christ becomes more mature. We must realize that the genuineness of our faith will result in “praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 peter 1:7). God uses suffering not only to strengthen our faith, but also to help us to grow in Christian character and righteousness. According to both Paul and James, God wants us to learn patience through suffering.
In suffering we learn to depend less on ourselves and more on God and His grace. We must be attuned to what God may want us to learn from our suffering. God may also send us pain and affliction so that we might be better able to comfort and encourage other sufferers. Thus, the effectiveness of our ministry deepens and increases. We must use our experience of pain to encourage and strengthen other believers. Finally, God can and does use the suffering of the righteous to further the cause of His kingdom and His plan of redemption. For example, all the injustices that Joseph experienced at the hands of his brothers and the Egyptians were part of God’s plans “to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance”. The prime example of this principle is the suffering of Christ, “the Holy One and the Just’ (Acts 3:14), who experienced persecution, agony, and death so that God’s plans of salvation might be fully realized. This does not excuse the wickedness of those who crucified Him (Acts 2:23), but it does indicate how God can use the suffering o0f the righteous at the hands of sinful people for His own purposes and to His own glory.
GOD’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE SUFFERING OF BELIEVERS The first thing to remember is this: God is involved in our sufferings. Even though Satan is the god of this world, he is able to afflict our lives only by the permissive will of God. God has promised in His Word that He will not allow us to be tried above what we are able to bear. God has also promised to bring good out of all the sufferings and persecution of those who love Him and obey His commandments. Joseph recognized this truth in his own life of suffering, and the author of Hebrews shows how God uses the painful parts of our lives for our growth and benefit. In addition, God has promised to stand by us in our pain, to walk with us “through the valley of the shadow of death”. He does so by His Holy Spirit, who comforts us in all our trouble. To each one of His children, He sends sufficient grace so that they can bear the trials of life.
Finally, do not forget that the Lord Jesus shares your pain. When we pray to Him, we have sympathetic high priest who Himself experienced the various dimensions of our trials and sufferings (Hebrews 4:15). He has indeed “borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4); there is healing for our own sufferings through the sufferings that He bore on our behalf (Isaiah 53:5)
VICTORY OVER PERSONAL SUFFERING Now we must address an important issue: when experiencing trials and affliction, what steps can we take to cope with such suffering so as to be victorious over it?
(1) First, consider the various reasons why human beings suffer and how those reasons apply to you. If you can identify a specific reason, then follow he appropriate response.
(2) Believe that God cares deeply for you, regardless of how severe your circumstances are. Suffering should never lead you to deny God’s love for you or to reject Him as your Lord and Savior.
(3) Turn to God in earnest prayer and seek His face. Wait upon Him until He delivers you from your affliction ( see Psalm 27:8-14; 40:1-3; 130).
(4) Expect God to give you the grace that is necessary to bear your affliction until deliverance comes (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Cor 12:7-10). Always remember that “we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us”. The Christian faith lies not in the removal of weakness and suffering, but in the manifestation of divine power through human weakness.
(5) Read the Word of God, especially those psalms that give comfort in times of affliction (e.g., Psalms 11; 16; 23; 27; 40; 46′ 61; 91; 121; 125; 138).
(6) Seek revelation and discernment from God regarding your particular situation through prayer, the Scriptures, the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, or the counsel of a godly and mature believer.
(7) During the time of your suffering, remember the prediction of Christ that you will suffer trouble and affliction in your life as a believer (John 16:33). Look forward with eager anticipation to that time 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” (Revelation 21:4).