Everyone has experienced some level of suffering. Whether it is the death of a family member or friend, getting sick, or being persecuted for their faith, suffering is something that many of us are familiar with. Why do people suffer?
What Is Theology of suffering? Theology of suffering is the study of what the Bible says about suffering while considering who God is and the current state of humanity. Many different cultures have their own interpretations of why people suffer. For Christians, it is important to have a Biblical view of why God allows suffering and how we are to go through it. As followers of Jesus, we get the opportunity to glorify God through our suffering until we meet Him face to face and live forever with Him.
In this blog, we will look at what the theology of suffering is, how suffering is to be viewed through a biblical lens, and why it matters to have a theology of suffering as a Christian.
Theogy of Suffering Definition
Theology of suffering is the study of what God says about suffering and how we are to respond to it.
As a Christian, it is important to know what the Bible says about suffering. If you have a correct view of who God is from the Bible, as well as the current state of humanity, then you can have a better understanding of why so many people suffer in our world today.
Theology of Suffering Explained
People often wonder why do good people suffer? If God is a loving God, why would He allow anyone to suffer?
To answer these questions, it is important to have a right understanding of who God is and who we are. Without knowing who God is in His sovereignty, you will be frustrated and angry at the events that are happening in your life and all around the world.
To develop a personal theology of suffering that is biblically-based, look at the character and nature of God. The Bible tells us that God is gracious, merciful, almighty, slow to anger, sovereign, loving, and powerful, and more.
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”Exodus 24:6-7 ESV
The Bible tells us that there is no darkness in God at all and that He cannot sin. When you understand the heart of God, you will see that it is not in His nature to torture or cause people to suffer.
Instead, we see that He uses suffering to draw us closer to Himself.
Secondly, Genesis 3:16-19 tells us that suffering is a result of the fall. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death.
No one is good because all have sinned. Thus, people do not deserve anything good because all human beings are inherently sinful.
When sin entered the world, pain and suffering were introduced as a consequence of sin. Because of this, you and I now experience many levels of suffering during our lifetime such as bodily pain, sickness, mental illness, death, and persecution for our faith.
Biblical View Of Suffering
What does the Bible say about how we are to view suffering?
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.James 5:13 ESV
God is as sovereign as He is loving. God does not enjoy watching you go through suffering, but He allows suffering into many different people’s lives to test them and to make His name glorified.
This life is the only time we get to glorify God through our suffering. In heaven, there will be no more tears, pain, or sorrow.
Our present suffering can help us look to God for help and make spending eternity with Him forever so much more meaningful.
Here are some Biblical views on suffering. These can be used to help you develop a theology of suffering in your own life.
God Uses Your Suffering For His Glory
Whenever I am going through a difficult time, I find myself running to God for everything. When everything is going well, I wonder where God is. Have you ever felt this way?
As you encounter suffering, think about how it pushes you closer to God. Suffering creates a dependency on the Lord that is not always there when everything is going well.
The Lord can use our suffering to cause us to run to Him for help. He promises He will answer us and be a refuge to us in the storm.
Going through suffering also makes you question what you really believe about God. God wants you to come to Him with your questions, doubts, and pain so that He can show you His purposes and plan.
God can grow you the most through suffering. He uses your sufferings to draw you closer to Him.
But how you chose to go through suffering can either push you to God or draw you away from Him.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I do it, for how should My name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.Isaiah 48:10-11 ESV
God is the only one who should receive all the glory for what happens in your life—including what happens in your suffering.
God can also use your suffering to purify you from sin and conform you more into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, bringing glory to His name.
Remember that your present sufferings are also not worth comparing to the eternal glory that you will receive when we get to see Christ face to face.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV
Suffering Grows The Body Of Christ
Jesus never told you that as soon as you gave your life to Him, it would be smooth sailing forever. Instead, He promised that you would be hated by all for His name’s sake
You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.Luke 21:17-18 ESV
The Church in many parts of the world has gone through fiery trials and suffering, and although many are facing persecution for their faith, the Lord is bringing more and more people to faith in Him.
Because you are an ambassador of Jesus Christ and an agent of redemption, you partake in His sufferings. The light of Christ dwells within you, and as a Christian, you will be disliked by all because you oppose the darkness which lies in the hearts of men (Matthew 10:16; Luke 21:16–18).
However, when you suffer by the hands of men and are persecuted for your faith, you are declaring God’s saving grace and faithfulness in your life. Revelation 12:11 also says that you have overcome the enemy—the devil—by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your testimony.
Enduring suffering is an act of choosing–intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally–that you will embrace opposition from the world and the devil for Jesus’ sake so that His name will be known in all the earth and among all mankind.
Also, when one member of the body of Christ suffers, all suffer, because Christ is the head of the body, which is the Church (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Likewise, members of the body of Christ all rejoice together in their sufferings because they are counted as worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name (Matthew 5:10-12).
Unbelievers, however, do not suffer or rejoice in their sufferings for the sake of Christ since the light of Christ does not dwell within them.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.1 Peter 4:12-14, 19 ESV
Suffering Keeps Your Eyes On Eternity
As followers of Jesus, we have this hope that this life does not last forever. We know the end of the story when Jesus shall come back and reign on the new earth for all of eternity.
If you understand who God is, and His purposes in using suffering for your good and His glory, you can keep your eyes fixed on Christ and the hope you have in Him.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.Romans 8:18 ESV
Everything you experience now is only temporary. The body you have now is only temporary.
One day Jesus will come back and your body will be made like His glorified body. You will no longer experience any pain or suffering. What a glorious day that will be!
Suffering Forms Character
As followers and representatives of Jesus Christ on earth, we are called to suffer for the sake of Christ. In our calling, we are to rejoice when we meet trials of various kinds, including suffering, so that it may point others to God and give glory to His great name throughout all the earth.
Your suffering is a testimony to what Jesus did on the cross. Since He is the head and the Church is the body, you partake in His sufferings to proclaim outwardly of your love and dedication to Him just as He did for us (Colossians 1:24).
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.John 15:13 ESV
God’s purpose in having His followers suffer is not to punish them. Instead, it is a glad burden of honor we get to bear as Christians who are reflectors of the image of His Son, who lives in us.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.Romans 5:3-5
God is faithful, and He will not leave you stranded in your suffering. Seek after God’s heart and trust in Him to fulfill the work He started in you.
He will use suffering for His glory and your good.
Becoming More Like Christ
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV
God allows suffering into the lives of those who are His to grow them closer to Him. He does not delight in our suffering in that He is glad that we go through pain, but because we choose Him over the comforts of the world.
As Christians, we are called to suffer for Christ. Just as Jesus exchanged His life for our own, in the same way, we are to also abandon our lives to Jesus (Philippians 2:5-11). This means counting the cost and knowing that God is worth it.
If it is in God’s will for us to suffer, then so be it, for it is for His glory.
We have only to be willing and obedient to the call of God–that is, to embrace our suffering for the sake of Christ (1 Peter 4:19).
God can use the suffering you are going through to conform you more into the image of His Son, Jesus.
The more willing you are to let this shape you into who He wants you to be, taking joy in the fact knowing that He is going through it with you, will effectively grow your faith in Christ.
God is constantly working on you and in you for your sanctification. It is never a fun process to go through, but trust that He is doing something beautiful through your suffering right now.
Suffering Produces Endurance
There are different kinds of suffering that you will need to endure in your lifetime. But it is how you go through suffering that can bring glory to the name of Jesus.
Suffering will grow your character and faith when you choose to put your trust in Jesus and let Him take the reigns on the outcome your suffering will produce.
What will your attitude be when you go through suffering? The Bible commands us to be steadfast in our faith, unmovable in the Lord, rejoicing always, knowing that all things are not in vain in the Lord.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV
Your present suffering shows you that God is powerful and that He can use your weaknesses for His glory as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:8–11; 4:7; 12:9.
If you are going through suffering right now, take some time and ask God to help you endure in faith and love and for His name and glory to be made known during this time.
Why Having A Theology Of Suffering Matters
Having a biblical theology of suffering matters because it helps you remember who God is in the midst of your suffering. You can also remember that God uses your suffering for His glory and your good.
Though we may not understand why we are going through suffering, we must trust that God is still good and that we can never be separated from His love as Romans 8:31-39 states.
We can always cry out to Him and He will always hear our prayers just like in Psalms 145.
As a Christian, it is critical to have a theology of suffering for life and ministry. When you go through hard things in life, it is important to know what you believe about suffering because it will either push you to the Lord or draw you away from Him.
A missionary who experienced a lot of pain and suffering once wrote:
Feeling immovably assured that my God and Father was too wise and loving to err in anything that He does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in His work.John G. Paton
This man knew without a doubt that the Lord has called him into his ministry, and that the Lord would take him out when it was time. Though often afraid, he didn’t let fear rule his life.
Instead, he trusted that the Lord knew what was best and embraced the hardships that came his way as the Lord’s refinement of his character.
God remains consistent and does not judge us according to our trials of suffering. Instead, God brings us through difficult seasons of suffering so that our faith can be strengthened.
Then, we are able to see the refinement in the faithfulness of God and be prepared for the next challenge.
God gives us courage and joy in the midst of our trials of suffering. However, choosing joy in the midst of suffering is a daily choice that we have to make.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.James 1:2-4 ESV
We must also consciously thank God for who He is during our times of suffering. Philippians 4:4-7 reminds us that in prayer and supplication we are always to make our requests made known to God with thanksgiving.
It can be so easy for our minds to get narrowly focused on our situations instead of thanking God for how He’s blessed us and being grateful for the things He’s given us.
In the midst of our trials of suffering, we must look to Him and trust that He is still who He says He is. We must hold fast to His promises, that He is always with us and will never leave us or forsake us as Jesus said in Matthew 28:20.
How you encounter suffering may look different than someone else you know, but we are not to compare our sufferings with one another.
Instead, we are to thank God for working in and through us so that we can shine His light and give glory to His name and not our own.
It does not matter if we or our work is rejected, so long as we are obeying God and following His guidance in our lives.
May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.