Suffering Refs
Whether it is a twisting knife or an aching heart, suffering is painful. Yet, it is necessary for salvation. Like Jesus, we must suffer if we wish to learn.

Isaiah 53

“Despised and rejected. . . a man of sorrows . . . led like a lamb to the slaughter. . . yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” The cruel death of Jesus was the climax of his short life, a life involving suffering and hardship. He chose
a difficult path knowing the pain and suffering it would bring.

1. Describe Jesus’ suffering in your own words. How does this make you feel?
2. Was his suffering unique? If so, why?
3. What did Jesus learn from his suffering?
4. How did he cope with his sorrow? What can you learn from this?
5. Why did Christ willingly suffer?
6. God crushed his son. Did God rejoice or suffer?

An ideal world?
The mother lovingly kisses the limp child goodbye, her crumpled face looks up and whispers, “Why?” The mourners nervously shuf?e their feet and avoid her questioning glance. “Will anyone answer?” Desperately she asks again, “Why?” This simple question has no simple answer. Why does a loving God allow people to suffer?

Before answering this question, consider what the world would be like without suffering. Imagine a world where there were always food, clothes and shelter for everyone, a world without pain and sorrow-an ideal world. In this ideal world everyone would grow up healthy, wealthy and wise. Or would they?

God gave the Israelites in the wilderness what they wanted- food from the sky, water from rocks, clothes that did not wear out, feet that did not swell, miraculous signs of God’s presence and the promise of a land of milk and honey. The Israelites did not need anything, yet they grumbled and complained:
Exodus 16:4; Numbers 20:11; Deuteronomy 8:4; Exodus 13:21; Numbers 13:27

All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! . . . Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:2-3)

Having everything they needed did not stop the Israelites want­ing more; it did not teach them the value of daily food or the blessings of God’s presence. Rather, they grew to despise the manna and disregard the word of the Lord. This experience did not bring happiness and wisdom to the people.

A world without suffering is not ideal. It does not teach people patience, determination, forgiveness, generosity, wisdom and obedience.

Learning through suffering
In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were free of suffering and want. However, in this “ideal world” there was no opportunity to show generosity, as they had everything in abundance; they had nothing to be patient for; and they had nothing to strive towards in developing determination. Without suffering they did not learn these things.

Cursed by God, Adam and Eve left the garden to learn-to learn the value of obedience through the trials of life. Likewise, the Israelites eventually left the wilderness and entered the promised land to face temptations and trials.

Paul experienced much suffering and understood its value. He wrote

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

Isaiah 53 is a poignant reminder of the great suffering Jesus endured in order to learn full obedience. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered”. We too must Hebrews 5:8 overcome the temptations and trials set before us.

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.(2 Thessalonians 1:4-5)

The life we live is a testing ground of faith; through the joys and sorrows of life we can choose God’s ways or reject them. Instead of placing us in an “ideal world”, God has blessed us by giving us the opportunity to learn and choose through suffering. Like Paul, we should rejoice in our sufferings for without them we have no hope.

Rejoicing in trial
Habakkuk 3:17-18; Matthew 5:11-12; James 1:1-4.
Suffering for Christ
Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Peter 4:1.
Discipline of God
Proverbs 3:11-12; 1 Corinthians 11:32; Hebrews 12:5-6.
Christ’s suffering
Matthew 16:21; 26:37-38; Hebrews 2:10; 1 Peter 2:21.
God heals
Psalm 34:18; 147:3.
Do not worry
Matthew 6:25-34; John 14:1; Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 5:7.

Time and chance

I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.(Ecclesiastes 9:11)

This verse gives a clear message: good and bad things often happen by “chance”. Matthew 5:45 As Jesus said “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” In a chaotic world of good and evil, “time and chance” give us countless opportunities to learn the wisdom of God.

If God chooses to intervene to direct our paths, to bless us or test us then we can praise him in the knowledge that in “all things God works for the good of those who love him”. Romans 8:28 The ever-watching eyes of the Lord mean that a believer can rest in assurance that God is in control.

Being there for others
In the 5th century B.C., Aeschylus penned these words:

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. (Agamemnon, l.177)

Life can be hard. The aching pain of loss is hard to bear alone; so too is loneliness, depression, confusion, rejection and all the other myriad feelings we experience. By just listening to the pain of others and being there for them, we can greatly ease the burden of suffering.

Often the best way we can help others is just to listen, to care and show love: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

What would you do?

Your friend’s parents were recently killed in a car accident. You have been spending time with her, helping her in dealing with her grief. Now she has telephoned you to say she has been diagnosed with cancer. She says she can’t believe in a God who would allow this to happen to her.

1. How would you respond?
2. If you were in her position, would you feel the same way?
3. Is it possible to rejoice in suffering of this kind? (Romans 5:3)
4. What would you say to God in these circumstances?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

The end of suffering
Suffering is a necessary part of growing in godliness as we prepare for God’s kingdom. But once we are made immortal, the suffering we endure now will be over. Revelation describes the people of the kingdom like this.

They will be [God’s] people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)

• A life without suffering does not bring contentment.
• Suffering gives us opportunities to learn and develop a passionate love for God.
• “Time and chance” happen to all but a believer’s path is always guided by God.
• Comforting others who are suffering is a believer’s duty.
• In God’s kingdom, we will no longer suffer as we do now.

1. Do you pray more frequently or less frequently when you are being tested? What does this reveal about your relationship with God?
2. Discuss the following verses and what impact they have on you.

(a) Hebrews 12:4-13. The discipline of the Lord.
(b) 1 Corinthians 10:13. God will limit trials.
(c) Psalm 26:2. Asking for tests.
(d) Exodus 20:5. The consequence of sin.

3. Explain in your own words why God allows suffering.
4. Sometimes suffering comes about because of a punish- ment from God. At other times, we bring our sufferings on ourselves as a result of our sins (even after God has forgiven us). Suffering also occures when no specific sin is involved. When we suffer, how can we tell if it is punishment or not?
e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, e.g. 2 Samuel 12:13-14; Galatians 6:7, see Luke 13:1-5 and John 9:1-3

1. Job learnt through great suffering. Read Job 30:20-23; 42:1-6. Did Job sin while he was suffering? What did he learn about himself and God?
2. Read Psalm 25. What was David’s view on suffering? What did he ask God for?

• Where is God when it hurts by Philip Yancey (published by Strand Publishing, 2001. First published 1977). This is a very good and thought-provoking book on suffering. There are places where the author’s incorrect beliefs about the nature of Jesus and life after death intrude into the text, but the basic message of the book is still true.
• Why does God allow suffering? by L.G. Sargent (published by The Christadelphian).
• God’s truth, by Alan Hayward (Printland Publishers, re­vised ed., 1983). Chapter 24.
• The Christadelphians: what they believe and preach by Harry Tennant (published by The Christadelphian, 1986), Chapter 15: “A world of evil”. 10 pages.

11. Faith
17. Sin
35. The sacrifice of Jesus
55. The law of love