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. dennyneff Reply

    This message resonated with me in such a deep way, perhaps because like so many of us, I can say that suffering has been an acquaintance of mine for decades. It is so true that suffering is the hammer and chisel that is making this rough piece of rock into a diamond for His glory. I think it’s through suffering that our eyes are opened to the magnificent Grace God offered us through Jesus Christ and suffering is the hand of God pressing on our clay beings which is forming us into that special vessel for His use. Thanks again for investing the time and sweat into growing disciples such as myself.

    Romans 5:3cf “And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, 4 endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. 5 This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”(HCSB)

  2. Em Reply

    Kevin, thanks for posting on God’s view of suffering today.
    It helped encouraged me greatly. No one like to suffer, but it makes us stronger Christians. I’m seeing how I’ve had the wrong mindset before.
    I hope you will post more videos. Like your preaching style

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Thank you Em. If you want more videos, go communitychurch.com/sermons The full sermons are there. Thanks for reading.

  3. […] hurts, our attention awakens. Pain often forces us to consider questions which we normally ignore. S... kevinathompson.com/7-recommended-books-life-hurts
  4. Jenn Reply

    Many people have said to the physically beaten spouse “what did you do” or “you knew not to make (him/her angry)”….Embracing pain and allowing someone to beat you are two different things. I loved the article, but sometimes telling someone to embrace suffering, get taken the wrong way. I have met women who have stayed in relationships where they and their children have been physically beaten so bad that the hospital is almost a second home, and they go back to the same situation because they believe since they are Christian women they are supposed to endure it silently…

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Jenn, your words are very true. I hope no one takes my article that way. “Suffering” covers a lot of different things. I never had abuse in mind.

  5. Tami Judy Reply

    Thank you for this article. I linked in to it sort of by “accident.” I needed to read this. I have a very dear friend who is physically suffering with immense amounts of pain. I’m tired of all the people telling her and her family that it’s not God’s will for her to suffer and constantly praying for her to be healed. This article helped me better understand suffering in light of what God’s Word teaches.

  6. Hong Reply

    Because they believed in karma, they assumed God was never present in someone’s suffering. <— believed in karma doesn't mean assuming God is never present in someone's suffering

  7. donna clemons Reply

    Donna Horton Clemons I am seriously ill with a chronic condition, lupus, for 15 years. But on top of this I contracted a severe bacterial infection two years ago while visiting a long time find in a nursing facility. I was already seriously ill, but within hours I faced a battle for my life of paramount proportions. Admitted for 21 days then and 15 times since, just being discharged Sunday, still very ill, I was told this time that my lives were twice that of a cat. He recommended removal of the bowel this as he did not see how I could sustain this level of suffering. My long time doctor spent the next 30 hours studying and saying no. We are not doing this. He proceeded to tell me that I had incredible strength and an attitude unseen by those who have been sick this long. I was given great and mighty gifts as a child by the Lord. One of discernment and compassion. I paid every dime of college waiting on tables at the Sizzler. I vowed to put every dime toward my education to become a Licensed Professional Counselor. I was privileged to do crisis intervention for my hometown of Cobb and Douglas Counties through the ERs and over the phone. I was honored to spend time with all my patients and the fact that they could disclose the intimate details of their lives with me was a powerful quiet presence of the Lord in my life. I have never been one to push something on someone, I prefer to listen with the gifts God had given me. I was injured on my job while taking a mandatory class on taking down violent patients by the person teaching the class. Never was I afraid of my patients. I tell the story that God always went before me to prepare the way and one time when I was pregnant with my first child on my last week or so before giving birth, I was doing my job and entered and was locked into a room with a man high on cocaine. We were doing fine, but I knew he was altered and the security was posted outside the locked little room. All the sudden he whipped out this huge long knife and pointed right to my huge tummy ready to give birth. The security guards almost fell outside the door. I calmly told him how much I appreciated his honesty and that he knew he could not take that to the psychiatric unit. He was disarmed and dismayed and handed over the knife obediently and I just praised him and the Lord. The security guards were then able to unlock the door and we all without incident or conflict proceeded with the process. God is so good. I thought after my injury by the security guard that caused the trigger for lupus that I was done. But this week while critically ill, staff and doctors continuously told me what a blessing I am and that there is just something different, a sweet presence in my hospital room and rather than be bitter and hopeless I was able to stay mightily strong and of good courage and always compliant with my healthcare. God tenderly was giving me sweet kisses silently and speaking volumes to the staff and physicians wanting to spend more time and confirming and renewing them as to why they got into the field of healthcare. I always carry note cards with me and I am aware to recognize the deeds of kindness to everyone. I try to make it my mission to understand a staff’s bad attitude. I meet them where they are and try in Gods simple little ways to help them along. God is so good and so gentle, ever-present. He will never leave us hanging with the gifts he has bestowed upon us, even when I can not even tell them my name or where I am. Thanks for your prayers.

  8. […] network – an article called “How We Respond to Suffering” by Kevin A. Thompson (ht... lateraliteral.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/what-no-really-what
  9. […] But do you know the context of Jeremiah 29? It’s in relation to God’s people being in e... kevinathompson.com/dangerous-assumption-gods-will
  10. Teresa Fendley Reply

    Teresa Fendley

  11. Teresa Fendley Reply

    Thank you Kevin Thompson and Donna Clemons! I have 7 children (5 adopted). A month ago I lost my cousin which was like my own child in many ways because I helped raise her. She was killed in a car accident. She was 27 and probably loved me better than anyone except my mother. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was taken from us because I’ve taken children that were not originally mine. Karma I suppose… Yet, I felt in my heart that the children belonged with me and God meant for me to have them. Her death had made me have new doubts. Then a friend that I think a lot of sent me this posting. She told me God put it on her heart to send this to me. Mind you my friend and I have never discussed my doubts or my children. I can’t even say she knows me that well but Thank Goodness God Does. You both helped me today and like I tell God everyday I sure need His guidance with this many lives entrusted to me. God is good and as hard as it is to say in this much pain, suffering has a place in our lives for a reason. God brought me to it and you both helped me remember He plans to bring me through it! God Bless

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  13. […] And the book of Job reminds us that one of the most likely places for us to hear God is in the midst... kevinathompson.com/god-speaks
  14. […] 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
  15. […] Biblical understanding of suffering not only changes how we individually respond to suffering, it al... kevinathompson.com/always-suffer-together-never-alone

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