What does the Bible teach about Suffering?
Christians are NOT promised a life free of suffering
Nowhere in the Bible are people promised a life on earth that is free from suffering. It’s part of the human condition. Such suffering can take many forms. Some suffering is the consequence of our own choices and actions. Some is caused by the choices and actions of others. Suffering is also part of living in a fallen world that is groaning for redemption.
We will experience suffering in this life, but God will work everything, including our suffering, for our ultimate good: conforming our characters to the image of Christ.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us[b] with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. Romans 8:18-23
Paul wrote the following passage to the believers in Rome. It shows that “the Lord’s people” can be in need, in affliction, mourning and persecuted. Paul does not promise that believers will be rescued from these circumstances and doesn’t encourage them to escape these situations. Instead, he encourages them to choose a positive attitude amid these situations and respond to others with love.
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:9-15
How should we respond to suffering in our own lives?
We are encouraged to pray about everything and intentionally focus our thoughts on what is good and praiseworthy. Doing so will lead to peace that surpasses understanding, in spite of our circumstances.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:6-9
Paul reminds that, as we trust in God, God will fill us with joy, peace and hope.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 NIV
How should we respond to other people’s suffering?
We are called to love others as Christ loved us – by giving of ourselves sacrificially.
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 NIV
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 NIV