Oct 152013 19 Responses

How We Respond to Suffering

Chapters 3 through 32 of the Book of Job record a series of conversations between Job and his three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. The conversation contrasts the prevalent thinking about suffering in Job’s day with the truth about suffering from a Biblical perspective.

To understand how to best interpret Job 3–32, watch this video (If reading via email click here):

How they got it wrong: The friends of Job made the wrong conclusion when they assumed suffering was always a sign of God’s displeasure with a person. Because they believed in karma, they assumed God was never present in someone’s suffering. Sorrow was a sign that God has removed himself from a person.

How we get it wrong: This belief is still very present today. It exhibits itself in many forms:

  • The friend diagnosed with cancer is asked what they’ve done to deserve it.
  • The mother who miscarries wonders if she has caused it.
  • The televangelist proclaims God’s greatest desire for you is to be healthy, wealthy, and happy.

In all of this, the belief is that God would never allow bad things to happen unless we deserve them, that he would never be present in the midst of suffering, and that his plan for our lives would never include hardship.

They say, “It’s not God’s plan for you to be sick.” But what about Job?

They say, “Suffering is never the will of God.” But what about Job?

They say, “Pray the right thing” or “Give the right amount” or “Learn the right lesson” and “God will remove your suffering.” But what about Job?

The friends of Job got it wrong and we continue to get it wrong when it comes to understanding the relationship between God and suffering.

How the Bible gets it right: The Bible tells a different story. It doesn’t reveal a God who is separated from suffering. 

It is only because of the suffering of Jesus that we can know God. It is often through our own experience of suffering in which we come to know God.

Through the centuries, some have come to understand that God makes himself known through suffering so they have wrongly concluded that suffering is something humanity should seek out. They have sought self-inflicted pain, persecution, and even martyrdom in hopes of knowing God better. Yet there is no need for us to seek out suffering.

We don’t need to find suffering because suffering will find us:

1. Suffering will find us because we are fallen people. Because we are not perfect people, we will make bad choices which will create negative consequences. As fallen people, our genetic code is fallen making us susceptible to disease and illness.

2. Suffering will find us because we live in a fallen world. Because the world is fallen, we can experience suffering due to the poor decision making of others. Accidents, natural disasters, and terrorism are all consequences of living in a fallen world.

3. Suffering will find us because we are Christians. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us we would be persecuted in this world. As we obey him, we will experience negative consequences by those who do not follow him.

Suffering is a guaranteed aspect of living in this world. It is also an assured characteristic of following Jesus. Yet, because of the Christian story, we can approach suffering differently.

While most people try to avoid suffering or deny it, Christians can lean into suffering.

Three ways we lean into suffering are:

1. Expect it. Just knowing that suffering will come can help us endure suffering. It should never surprise us. Because we know the Biblical story, we expect suffering to be a part of our lives so when it comes it does not create tremendous doubt. The Book of Job shows us that suffering is not a sign of God’s absence. It is not always a result of our poor decision-making. Suffering will occur and when it happens we do not have to be shocked by it.

2. Embrace it. While others try to deny it or avoid it, Christians can embrace suffering. There is no need for us to pretend like everything is okay. Because we know that God works through brokenness and suffering, we can admit when we are broken or hurting. We can reveal our suffering to the world, knowing God can use us. If God and suffering are polar opposites, we should run from suffering in order to run to God. Yet because God comes near the brokenhearted, we can run to those who are suffering and in so doing we can embrace them and find God.

3. Hope in the midst of it. One of the great gifts Christianity has to offer is hope in the midst of sorrow. Our hope is born in two facts: suffering will one day end and God can be known through suffering. The promise of heaven shows us that what we endure in this world will one day come to an end. For those who love Jesus, a day will come in which he will wipe every tear away—there will be no more death, sorrow, or suffering. Yet our hope is more than just in a future in heaven; it is also found in the promise that God is with us in the midst of our suffering. We can hope because we know he is with us, will empower us, and can reveal himself to us in the midst of suffering.

Here is a three minute video review of Sunday’s sermon (if reading by email, click here):

19 Responses to How We Respond to Suffering
  1. […] hurts, our attention awakens. Pain often forces us to consider questions which we normally ignore. S... https://www.kevinathompson.com/7-recommended-books-life-hurts
  2. […] network – an article called “How We Respond to Suffering” by Kevin A. Thompson (ht... lateraliteral.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/what-no-really-what
  3. […] But do you know the context of Jeremiah 29? It’s in relation to God’s people being in e... https://www.kevinathompson.com/dangerous-assumption-gods-will
  4. […] What is the difference between the two? (See: How We Respond to Suffering) […]... https://www.kevinathompson.com/soar-suffering
  5. […] And the book of Job reminds us that one of the most likely places for us to hear God is in the midst... https://www.kevinathompson.com/god-speaks
  6. […] But do you know the context of Jeremiah 29? It’s in relation to God’s people being in e... kevin-thompson.preview47.rmkr.net/dangerous-assumption-gods-will
  7. […] Biblical understanding of suffering not only changes how we individually respond to suffering, it al... https://www.kevinathompson.com/always-suffer-together-never-alone

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Please enter your name, email and a comment.