No one likes to suffer! But suffering is an inevitability of life. We can get into a lot of discussions about why there is suffering and evil, but that is not going to change the fact that there is suffering. As Christians, we believe that there is general suffering that everyone experiences as a result of man’s (Adam’s) fall and the resulting curse (Genesis 3:14-19). Death, war, famine, disease all fall under this category. But, there is another kind of suffering that Christians experience because of our faith in Christ Jesus. This suffering may manifest itself because: you take a Biblical stand on a moral issue; you live by an ethical standard that is not compromised even when coerced by employer, friend of family member; or you seek to share your conviction that Jesus is the exclusive way, truth and life (John 14:6) and not one of many ways to God.
In Romans 8:17-18, Paul deals with this second kind of suffering:
17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
We talked Sunday about how our shared sufferings with Christ: 1) validate our relationship as children of God; 2) will be temporary (present not eternal); and 3) will add to our reward in the glory that is to come. Then, when our sufferings are complete, we will finally realize the reward of being co-heirs with Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17).
When it comes to suffering, I tend to be a pragmatist. Since I know we are going to suffer, I want to find an answer to the question “what is to be our response to suffering?” I found a paper by a fellow seminary classmate in Apologetics and now a leading biomedical ethicist, C. Ben Mitchell, in which he responded to the question, “From what perspective should Christians view suffering?”  I think Mitchell’s comments hit the mark. Let me highlight them.
1. Christians alone understand the cause of suffering. We are better prepared to deal with and endure suffering because we understand its basis as part of the curse. What was “good” in Creation became cursed after Adam and Eve’s sin. As a result of the Fall, all things await the glorious freedom to come (Romans 8:19-21).
2. Christians alone know the Father’s love and purpose in suffering. Our study in Romans is quickly approaching that wonderfully reassuring verse: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, NIV). What confidence it gives us to know that God loves us and will use suffering for good. There must, then, be a purpose in our suffering, and it is at least two-fold: to glorify God and conform His children into the image of Jesus.
3. Christians alone have been granted faith to trust God and believe His loving purposes will prevail. While unbelievers may reject the notion of a good and loving God in times of suffering, believers, while not always understanding our present suffering, have faith in the promise of God’s future goodness. Even the long-suffering Job attested:
25 I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27, NIV)
4. Christians have hope; hope that enables them to see through the suffering to the goal of suffering. Just as Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2), we keep the hope of eternal life in view.
- When you consider the times of suffering in your life, can you say that some of it has been because of your identification with Christ? If not, you may have cause to question your “sonship.”
- In what ways have you seen suffering refine you? In what ways have others seen your actions, words, and attitudes become more like Christ’s as you have gone through difficult times? If you don’t know, ask a family member or close friend if they have seen such transformation.
- Check out this great video by the Skit Guys entitled God’s Chisel.
Thanks for putting this aspect of suffering into perspective. The God’s Chisel video is a must-see.
Thanks, William. I saw the Skit Guys perform God’s Chisel live at a Celebrate Recovery Summit two years ago. A powerful skit/drama!