Click here to listen to an audio recording of this material
"Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble" (Job 14:1). We can especially appreciate these words when we think of the suffering endured by the one who spoke them. Different people deal with different problems and afflictions, and it seems that some suffer more hardships than others do. But we all know by personal experience and from the experiences of those we know, that Job's statement is true.
Troubles concern us, not just because hardship itself is a burden, but also because affliction can lead to spiritual temptations. We may be tempted to feel that our trials justify committing sin. We may become so discouraged that we blame God for our troubles, lose faith in Him, or begin to doubt His goodness and mercy. As Job's wife said, "Curse God and die" (Job 2:9).
The purpose of this study is to offer Bible answers to questions people often ask about suffering. Why do people suffer? Can good come from suffering? Is it possible to endure affliction with patience and faithfulness? How can God give us strength to endure our hardships and overcome our temptations? What does the Bible say?
There are several reasons, not just one reason, why people suffer.
King Saul lived a miserable life and eventually was slain because he had rebelled against God (1 Chron. 10:13,14).
Judas killed himself because he had betrayed Jesus (Matthew 27:3-5).
Likewise today, alcoholics may develop disease, thieves may be imprisoned, etc.
Some people think this is the only reason people ever suffer, but we will see that it is not.
This may result from cruelty or accident, as when innocent bystanders are killed by a drunken driver, or when a thief violently attacks his victims.
In other cases wicked people may harm righteous people because they resent them. This kind of religious persecution is described in many verses.
1 Peter 2:19-23 - Jesus is an example of one who committed no sin at all, yet He was persecuted and killed by wicked men. So we may follow His example and suffer, not for our faults, but when we do good.
John 15:18-20 - The treatment Jesus received should warn us of the treatment we can expect. The world hated Him and persecuted Him, and it will do the same to His servants.
2 Corinthians 11:23-26 - Paul's life shows that Jesus' followers truly often are persecuted.
2 Timothy 3:10-12 - All who live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution.
(See also 1 Peter 4:12-16; Heb. 11:35-38; 1 Thess. 3:2-4; Acts 14:22; John 16:33; Gen. 50:20)
God originally placed Adam and Eve in a state of bliss with no problems of any kind. But He warned them of the consequences of sin. When they sinned anyway, He decreed they would endure pain, suffering, hardship, and eventual death (Gen. 3:16-19). All people since that time have endured these same problems. In particular, because of Adam, all people die (1 Cor. 15:22; Heb. 9:27).
Much of the suffering people endure, therefore, cannot be attributed to any particular sin committed by anyone now living. It is just the common lot of mankind because sin is in the world.
This does not mean, as some teach, that people today are born guilty of Adam's sin or will be eternally punished for it (Ezek. 18:20; 2 Cor. 5:10). But we do suffer in this life because of it.
Job 1:1-2:10 expressly states that Job's suffering was a temptation from Satan. He hoped that, because he was suffering, Job would turn away from God.
Many other passages teach that Satan is responsible for the suffering of other people. (See 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38).
Some people think that only wicked people suffer, but God is on the side of the righteous and will remove all their troubles. It follows that, if a person is suffering, he must have committed some sin he should repent of.
This was the theory of Job's friends (Job 4:7-9); disproving this idea is a main theme of that book. This same false doctrine is taught by many "faith healers" who teach people that God must remove all their problems if they are right with Him.
But we have learned that even righteous people suffer. This is important for the following reasons:
* We should not conclude that we have been guilty of sin every time we have a problem. Maybe we are suffering because of sin, so we should examine our lives. But maybe we are suffering for other reasons, perhaps because we are righteous.
* We should surely never reject a Bible teaching just because it may lead to suffering. If all suffering was the result of our own sin, and if a course of action led to suffering, then we would conclude it was a sinful act. But we have learned that godly people often suffer for doing right.
* We should not become Christians thinking it will automatically solve all our problems. If this is our motive, we may fall away when the hardships come.
But the main lesson to learn is the next point:
If we believe that all suffering results from a person's own sin, and if we see good people suffering, we may be tempted to blame God or to think He is not keeping His promises. But we have learned that all people suffer, whether or not they are righteous.
The command to endure suffering is just another part of a Christian's life, like the command to study the Bible, pray, worship, etc. Faithful Christians of all ages have suffered; we are not the only ones. We should expect suffering to come, so our faith will not be shaken when it does.
The ultimate and primary blame for suffering rests on Satan who tempts people to sin and thereby brought sin into the world. The secondary blame rests upon people, ourselves included, who have given in to temptation and committed sin that led to suffering.
Yes, God did create suffering as a punishment for sin, but only after He had given people a life without problems and had warned them of the consequences of sin. When they chose to sin, He should no more be blamed for punishing them than a parent should be blamed when he must punish a rebellious child. (Cf. James 1:13,15.)
Remember, if you blame God and reject Him because you are suffering, then you are doing exactly what Satan wants you to do. He has defeated you! The only way to defeat Satan and really overcome hardship is to maintain your faithfulness to God in spite of it.
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted" (Psa. 119:71). Usually when we suffer we can only see the problems involved. Surely if we commit sin as a result, then the suffering is harmful. But if we remain faithful, there are favorable results that can occur. Consider a few.
1 Peter 1:6,7 - As gold is purified by passing through fire, so the genuineness of our faith is proved by trials. If suffering was limited to sinners and Christians never suffered, all people would want to be Christians, not because they really loved God, but just to avoid earthly problems.
The fact that Christians suffer too means that suffering "separates the men from the boys" - it shows who is willing to remain faithful even when it is hard to do so. (Acts 5:40-42; 1 Cor. 11:19; 1 Peter 4:12)
James 1:2-4 - Count it joy when we face trials (hardly the natural reaction), because this leads to patience and completeness in God's service. Whoever developed patience when his patience was never tried?
Romans 5:3-5 - Rejoice in tribulations because they work steadfastness, approvedness, and hope.
Even in the physical realm, which bones and muscles are the strongest? The ones that face the most hardship. If you lay a block of ice and a block of clay in the sun, one is melted and the other is hardened. The same circumstance produces opposite results.
The story is told of two sons of an alcoholic. One son became a drunkard, the other became a teetotaler. Both explained their conduct the same way: "What can you expect with a father like mine?" The same problem produced opposite results.
Trials defeat some people but strengthen others. It depends on how we deal with them.
2 Corinthians 1:8-10 - Affliction taught Paul not to trust in himself, but in God. God has repeatedly allowed countries to face wars, famines, and hardships when they became independent and failed to trust Him. Often this shows people their need for God.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 - Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was a messenger from Satan, yet God allowed it to remain because it kept Paul from becoming too proud over the many revelations he had received. From weaknesses, God can produce great strength.
Genesis 50:20 - Joseph explained that his brothers had mistreated him, but God used that as a means to save the family from famine.
Satan puts trials in our lives to harm us. Yet one of the greatest demonstrations of God's power is His ability to take those problems and use them to accomplish good. The greatest example of this is the death of Christ. Satan intended it as a defeat for God and all mankind, yet it ended up as the salvation of all mankind. (1 Peter 2:21-24)
Think for a moment of the really important things in life. How many of them are accomplished without hardship? Birth of a baby? Working to care for our families? Our eternal salvation? Suffering is an inherent part of everything good!
So Satan sends trials to harm us, but God can make them come out in the end for our good (Romans 8:28). But this works only if we remain faithful.
When facing hardship we may think, "I just can't hold out." We may convince ourselves that, to expect someone to continue under our circumstances without sinning, would be expecting the impossible. So we may justify ourselves for disobeying God. But consider the Bible teaching that we can endure.
1 Corinthians 10:13 - God will not allow you to face a temptation that is beyond your ability to endure. Every temptation will be accompanied by a way of escape so you can endure it.
This means we can endure every trial without sinning. If you think you "can't do" what God said to do, or if you ever justify disobeying God, you have believed the Devil's lie. What we need to do is to quit looking for excuses and look instead for the way of escape!
Psalm 34:19 - "Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all." God may not remove all the afflictions, but He makes sure we are able to endure them faithfully - all of them.
Romans 8:35-39 - No temptation or trial can separate us from God. In them all, we are "more than conquerors." If we endured the temptation without sinning, we would just be "conquerors." But we are more than conquerors because the problem can actually make us better people. (See also 1 Pet. 5:8,9; James 4:7; Eph. 6:10-18; Prov. 24:10.)
Not only does the Bible promise that we can endure faithfully, it gives us examples of many people who DID so. If they did, we can too.
James 5:10,11 - Job and Old Testament prophets are our examples of suffering. Have we suffered as much as Job? Surely not. Yet he remained faithful and so can we.
2 Timothy 1:8 - Paul suffered great hardship for the Lord, and we should share in those sufferings. If he endured without falling away, we can too. He is the example we should imitate (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Hebrews 12:1-4 - Jesus (and faithful Old Testament characters) are witnesses to what we can do under trying circumstances. Our temptations are no worse than theirs. All these examples show that God will keep His promises to help His people endure faithfully. (1 Pet. 2:19-23)
"God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). God has promised to help us endure, but we must make use of the help He provides. Let us summarize a few of the ways God helps.
Romans 15:4 - "...through patience and comfort of the scriptures we might have hope." We have already learned several ways the scriptures comfort and strengthen us when we are suffering:
* They help us understand that we will have to suffer, but good can result from our suffering.
* They give us assurance that we can endure like others have.
* They give evidence of God's wisdom, power, and faithfulness to his promises. This strengthens our faith that God can and will help us endure.
But the Bible gives us none of this help unless we regularly study it.
James 5:13 - "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray."
Philippians 4:6,7 - "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God."
Job 1:20 - When Job suffered, he went to God in worship. Far too often when we suffer, we do the opposite. We neglect to worship, because we don't feel like it.
(1 Peter 5:7; Matt. 7:7ff)
These passages do not promise that God will remove our problem, but they do promise He will provide the strength we need to be faithful despite the problem. Jesus and Paul both prayed about problems, and God answered their prayers, but the problem was not removed. Instead, God gave them strength to endure (Matt. 26:36-46; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).
2 Corinthians 1:3,4 - Not only can God comfort us, so can other Christians. And we should strive to comfort others.
Galatians 6:2 - "Bear one another's burdens." We should never allow another Christian to suffer alone through serious problems, if there is any way we can help.
One of the best places to get encouragement in time of trouble is the public worship assemblies (Hebrews 10:24,25). Again, however, we must come to the assemblies and talk to other Christians to gain the help we need. (See also 1 Cor. 12:26; 1 Thess. 5:11,14.)
Romans 8:16-18 - We are heirs of God if we suffer with Jesus. The sufferings of this life are unworthy to even be compared with the future glory awaiting us.
James 1:12 - The man who endures is blessed, because the result will be a crown of life.
Matthew 5:10-12 - Rejoice and be glad (don't gripe and complain) when you are persecuted, because you are suffering as God's people always have. And great is your reward in heaven. (2 Cor. 4:16,17; 2 Tim. 1:11,12; 2:12; 1 Peter 1:3-7; 4:13)
Faithful Christians will suffer. Yet the Christian's life is still the best, because only faithful Christians have the assurance that we can endure, that God will help us, that the result will be for our good, and that in the end we will have eternal life.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" - Philippians 4:13. (See also Psalm 23.)
Copyright 1998, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale. Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.
This material is available if you wish to purchase it in printed form. For a complete list of prices and other titles available, visit Light to My Path Publications.
The Importance of Bible Knowledge
The Meaning & Purpose of Life
How to Study the Bible
Why We Need Salvation from sin
How Can You Be Sure of Forgiveness?
Is Jesus Really Your Lord?
Go to the Bible Study Online Library (the Gospel Way)
Free audio Bible
Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.