Suffering

Preaching and Worship Resources about Suffering

Suffering is protracted and unwelcome pain, arising from, among other causes, punishment, disease, loss, injury, injustice, persecution, or want.

In Scripture

Original Sin "To the woman he said, `I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.' And to the man he said, `Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, "You shall not eat of it," cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field" (Gen. 3:16-18).

"The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, `The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.' Gideon answered him, `But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, "Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?" But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian" (Judg. 6:12-13).

"Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures?" (Job 3:20-21).

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest" (Ps. 22:1-2).

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you" (Isa. 43:2).

Persecuted for righteousness' sake "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:10).

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? "And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, `Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' that is, `My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Matt. 27:46)

"Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27).

"Jesus began to weep" (John 11:35).

They had them flogged "And when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name" (Acts 5:40-41).

"We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom. 5:3-5).

"Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, `For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35-39).

"No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13).

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4).

Points to Ponder

Suffering is so predictable, widespread, and familiar that we think it's normal. But in a biblical worldview, suffering is an anomaly introduced by human disobedience to God and destined, one day, to be ended when "mourning and crying and pain will be no more."

Meanwhile, it generates endless lament by the people of God, including, classically, by the psalmists. They still have faith. It's not unbelief that shouts its hurt or bewilderment at God. Unbelievers shout their fury at the blind, dumb workings of fate. But believers have to contend, somehow, with a faithful God who seems at times so absent, so willing to tolerate horror, so far from helping. Generation after generation, believers turn to heaven with their distress: "If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?" "Why is life given to one who is bitter?" "Why are you so far from helping me?" "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Believers today ask all the same "why" questions. Why did God create a world destined to fall into terrible sin and evil? Why does God allow this, or this much, pain? Why here and now? Why does God permit children to suffer? Or animals? Why do people seeking justice often suffer on account of it? Why did Beethoven lose his hearing while heavy metal rock fans keep theirs? Why is this gentle person sick and that careless clod healthy?

The most truthful answer to our "why" questions is that we do not know. We commit ourselves to a God who loves and cares, and by grace the commitment stays fastened, though the mountains shake and the earth moves. We believe that "in all things God works for good."

But let's face two facts. One is that this good is often hard to find. We can't see it or tell it. God has to have reasons for permitting this humiliation or that demonic target practice, but we don't know what the reasons are. It often seems that we are given a little courage rather than much knowledge.

But there's a second fact. On the day he died, our Lord shouted, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Two days later he appeared to his disciples and said, "Peace be with you."

Suffering believers have always sought comfort from the knowledge that God does not stay aloof from suffering, but in Jesus Christ enters into the worst of it. When Jesus is resurrected from suffering, the hopes of believers rise. It seems that new life, new hope, new peace is in our future. In fact, following the apostles, some believers have felt ennobled by "sharing the sufferings of Jesus," including being persecuted on account of him. If we die with him, they believe, then we will also rise with him. "With him," always "with him."

I am with you always Meanwhile, we have Jesus' promise "I am with you always" (Matt. 28:20) and, when it seems he isn't, we have the psalms of lament.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.