By Richard Barnett

All of us wish that we could live in a world without suffering, where, figuratively speaking, the sun was always shining; the sky was always blue; and there were no dark clouds. But the sad reality is that suffering is all around us and has become a part of our existence. Its effects are seen in natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes that have devastated countries like Haiti. Wars and conflicts in such places as Syria, Iraq and South Sudan have brought tremendous suffering, causing vast numbers of refugees to flee for safety, often with the loss of lives. Additionally, people suffer physically and emotionally through sickness, starvation, rejection, abandonment and bullying. Many children suffer from alcoholic parents and through marriage breakups. The list could go on and on.

It is unfortunate that God is often blamed for all the grief and pain in the world. The Bible is God’s handbook, even on suffering. Therefore, let’s take a look at suffering from the biblical viewpoint.

The Origin Of Suffering
At the beginning of time, God made Adam and his wife and placed them in an earthly paradise He had prepared: the garden of Eden. One definition of Eden is “delights.” The garden was furnished with everything for which the heart and eye could wish: “Every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9 KJV). God, in His goodness and tender-loving care, assured man’s enjoyment, comfort and well-being. When God surveyed His work He pronounced everything “very good” (1:31). The finishing touch was the presence of God Himself with Adam and his wife, visiting in the cool of the day to have fellowship with them. I want to emphasize that they were living at this point in an ideal environment, where suffering did not exist and was therefore unknown in their experience.

God gave to Adam one command: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (2:16-17). Since God was man’s Creator, He had every right to demand obedience from Adam. Therefore He put him under the responsibility of obedience.

Most of us are familiar with the sad events that followed, as recorded in Genesis 3. Satan appeared on the scene in the form of a serpent – full of craft and deceit – and questioned Eve as to God’s command. This one who is a “liar” (Jn. 8:44) suggested God was holding back something from them which would actually enhance their happiness, and that He was lying when He told them that they would die if they disobeyed. Adam’s wife believed Satan, took of the fruit of the tree and ate it. Offered some of the fruit by his wife, Adam also took of it and ate, willfully disobeying God. Observe in Genesis 3 the vast and sudden spiritual, moral and social change that took place because of that one act of disobedience:

  1. Their eyes were opened (v.7), meaning there was now an awakened conscience.
  2. They had become alienated from God, for they hid themselves (v.8).
  3. They were afraid of God (v.10).
  4. Adam blamed God: “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (v.12).
  5. There would be enmity between the Seed of the woman – that Seed being Christ – and the serpent’s seed, or followers (v.15).
  6. Christ would “crush” (JND) the serpent’s head but would Himself be bruised (v.15). This was the first prophetic announcement that Christ would suffer. Isaiah predicted that it would be on account of our sins: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5 KJV). Peter confirmed what Isaiah had written: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18). This is what we mean when we say that He suffered vicariously – that is, He suffered on our behalf – in order to put sin away and reconcile us to God.
  7. God said to the woman, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow” (Gen. 3:16), which was something that they had not known before.
  8. The ground was now cursed, causing Adam to labor and toil for the rest of his life (vv.17-19).
  9. Death was pronounced upon mankind: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (v.19).

All these changes are found as we read of man’s fall into sin, and therefore we can rightly conclude that suffering is a result of the entrance of sin into the world.

Expect Suffering
For that reason, we must expect suffering. Job said that “man born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble” and “yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 14:1, 5:7). Before Jesus went to the cross He told His disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). After the Church was formed, Paul told the followers of Christ, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Clearly suffering is a part of God’s ways with us – His children. Therefore we should not despair or be filled with a sense of hopelessness, even when things seem out of control, for God is still the Omnipotent – the All Powerful – One who is for us and with us. In all our afflictions, He is afflicted (Isa. 63:9); He enters into our sufferings like no other. He is “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).

Old Testament saints such as Job, Moses, Joseph and David provide examples of suffering. In Job’s case, he lost his children, possessions and health. Compounding his suffering, his wife suggested that he “curse God and die” (Job 2:9); but Job’s response proved his confidence in God’s wisdom and care. This greatly suffering man knew nothing of what was taking place behind the scenes, that Satan wanted to destroy his soul. Job, however, knew that God was in control of his life and circumstances, and he would trust Him unreservedly. The end result was that God blessed Job even more than at his beginning.

The great thing to remember in our sufferings is that Christ is our sympathetic Great High Priest who is interceding for us in heaven (Heb. 4:14-15), while the Holy Spirit is doing the same for us on earth (see Rom. 8:26,34). Furthermore, the love of God is a banner over us from which nothing can separate, for “who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life … shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv.35-39).

The Value Of Suffering
God in His perfect wisdom and His abundant mercy uses suffering as a tool to benefit us. He turns something bad into something good. The principle of suffering and its merits are seen even in nature:

  • Bitter medicine must be administered to one who is sick, but when received it does its work and the sufferer is made well again.
  • Wheat has to be ground into flour, made into dough and then placed into the oven before it becomes bread to feed the hungry.
  • Gold must be melted by intense heat and the impurities skimmed off before it is made into beautiful jewelry to adorn the hands and necks of its wearers.

In like manner God uses suffering to prune and cleanse us that we might become fruitful for His pleasure (Jn. 15:2). Such fruit as purity, love, patience, meekness and compassion are what God desires to see in us. In Genesis, Joseph suffered unjustly at the hands of his brothers and later through the lies of Potiphar’s wife, but in time God delivered and promoted him to a place of great prominence in Egypt. Out of his own experience he said, “The LORD has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (41:52). God used him as an instrument of blessing to many.

David was despised by his brothers and hated by King Saul, who attempted to take away his life. He lost sons and friends in tragic ways; he suffered and wept much. In Psalms, he poured out his inner feelings – and these are written for our “encouragement” (Rom. 15:4 JND). Did David gain from his sufferings? Listen to his testimony as he spoke of the faithfulness of God and the blessings that he obtained:

  • “Trouble and anguish have taken hold upon me; yet Thy commandments are my delights” (Ps. 119:143 KJV).
  • “I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (v.75).
  • “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept Thy word” (v.67).
  • “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto Thy testimonies” (v.59).

I remember when I went through a very painful time of suffering. It compelled me to draw closer to the Lord, and to pray and search the Scriptures like I had never done before. With these resources I was mercifully sustained during that dark period in my life. I was also helped by many of my Christian brothers and sisters who prayed for and encouraged me. Did I enjoy suffering? I did not, and there were times when I wondered if God had forgotten me. I am convinced that Satan tried to discourage me, but “the righteous cry and the LORDheareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles” (34:17). So speaking for myself, “This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles” (v.6).

Peter saw suffering as a trial of faith which will ultimately end when the Lord returns (1 Pet. 1:7). He looked at suffering in three ways:

  • “Suffering for righteousness sake” – to be scorned and persecuted for doing what is right (see Mt. 5:10-11);
  • “Reproach for the name of Christ” – not to be ashamed to own Him as our Lord and Savior even when someone might make fun of us, and to gather simply to His name in spite of what the majority does; and
  • “Suffering as a Christian” – to respond to insults and injury in a Christ-like manner and by the denial of self.

In all these things we become partakers of Christ’s sufferings “that, when His glory shall be revealed, we may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 3:14, 4:13-16). There is great consolation in the way Peter ended his first epistle: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered awhile, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, and settle you” (5:10).

The End Of Suffering
When the redemption of our bodies takes place, suffering will be one of those “things” that will pass away forever from us, and we shall enter into the joy of our Lord. Then will follow for the earth a period of trouble such as it has never seen before: the seven year tribulation period.

After this, the Church, previously caught up to heaven, will return with the Lord Jesus to reign with Him. His reign will result in this groaning creation being brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:21). The prophet Isaiah wrote in glowing terms of that age to come: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:6-9). “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing … Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert … And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (35:1-10). Isaiah 65 adds, “The voice of weeping shall be no more heard, nor the voice of crying” (v.19), and God will “create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (vv.16-17).

The first heaven and the first earth will pass away, and with them all that sin had brought in. They will be replaced with a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1) where only righteousness will dwell. God will restore things far beyond what they were at the beginning, “and there shall be no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).

The end of it all, that for which we long and which has encouraged millions of suffering saints down through the centuries, is what we read in Revelation 21:4: “And 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; for the former things are passed away.” God Himself drying our tears – just think of it!

Paul, who suffered like no other New Testament saint (2 Cor. 11:23-33), wrote: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). That day of glory is coming soon when we will “bless the hand that guided, we’ll bless the heart that planned, when throned where glory dwelleth, in Immanuel’s land” (Anne Ross Cousin, 1824-1906).

Finally, I must give a word of caution to you if you are not saved. The sufferings you are experiencing now are just the beginning. They will last eternally and be intensified should you die in your sins. But by repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21), you will be saved now and for all eternity; and thus you too can look forward to an eternity of bliss with Christ our Savior.

Two Men Contrasted (Lk. 16:19-31)
The Rich Man Lazarus
Before Death A man rich by the world’s standards, who dressed in fine clothes and lived cheerfully in splendor every day in his gated home. A poor man who had listened to the word of God shared through Moses and the prophets. He was covered in sores and laid at the rich man’s gate, longing to be fed with crumbs.
After Death Was in a torment of flame in hades. Able to see Abraham and Lazarus afar off, this man was unable to have even a drop of water to cool his tongue or warn his brothers as to judgment for unbelief. Was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom in heaven, and he was comforted there.