We all experience human suffering at one time or another. It may be sickness, injuries, pain, loss, failure, heartache, disappointment, sorrow, tragedy, disasters, crime, evil, disappointment, accusations, betrayal, misunderstanding, persecution, abuse, or death.
Everyone asks this question sometime in their life. What is the purpose of suffering? Suffering is a real challenge to Christians and a hindrance to trusting Christ for salvation. Many Christians feel secure in their faith until something bad happens; then this question becomes painfully relevant.
The Bible says, “Dear friends [Christians], do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed” (1 Pt. 4: 12-13NIV1984). This is saying that Christians should expect to suffer. Suffering goes along with being a Christian. Like Jesus Christ they will be rejected and persecuted. But Christians also have a wonderful future and look ahead to Christ’s second coming with joy.
Why is there suffering in the world and why doesn’t God stop our suffering? Here are four possible reasons. Some other reasons for suffering are given in the Appendix.
God grants humans free will, which allows for the possibility of both good and evil actions. God does not interfere with the freedom that He has given to people. We cannot have free will (to choose between various options) and also have God interfere and micromanage our life. These are not compatible. If we want to exercise free will then we can’t expect God to step in when things go wrong.
Suffering can arise from the choices humans make, and the consequences of those choices affect not only the individuals involved but also others around them. We have to be careful and make wise choices because it can affect our family and the next generation. God has given us the power to choose without His interference.
God told the Israelites, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Dt. 30:19). They were given a choice. Likewise we have different options to choose from. According to how we choose it affects us and people around us. We live in a broken world because of the choices people make independent of God. Like the decision to go to war. Human error can lead to tragedy. And we can’t blame God for that. Because we can’t have free will and expect God to intervene at the same time.
Imagine a person who chooses to commit a harmful act, such as theft. The suffering that may arise from this action is a consequence of the person exercising their free will to make a morally wrong choice.
Just as a parent may give their child the freedom to make choices, knowing that they may make mistakes and face consequences, God, in His love, grants humans the ability to make choices, even though some of those choices can lead to suffering.
So, the first reason is that suffering can be the result of exercising our free will.
According to Bible, the existence of suffering is linked to the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As a result of this original sin, human nature became fallen and subjected to suffering and death. Every human being born into this world (except Jesus Christ) is born with a sinful nature. We naturally do what we want to do rather what God would always have us to do.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12)
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
This is similar to a genetic condition that is passed down through generations. Our sinful nature is a spiritual condition inherited from the first human beings. Because of this, we sin and this sin leads to suffering like the first sin caused suffering in humanity and the rest of creation (Gen. 3:17-19; Rom. 8:18-22). So we live in a broken world. But we can get victory over sin (even though we have a sinful nature) through trusting Jesus Christ. That is the gospel (good news about Jesus).
Consider the experience of a person who struggles with addictive behavior, which leads to personal suffering and negatively impacts their lives and relationships. This struggle can be seen as a consequence of the fallen human nature inherited from the original sin of Adam and Eve.
Paul writes about his own struggle with sin as we all have, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7: 21- 25).
Jesus is the only person who can deliver us from this inner struggle that is in us. So if you are struggling with an addiction or going through personal suffering, the Lord can give you victory and a breakthrough that is lasting and sufficient. We can surrender our lives to Him and be victorious. The gospel (good news about Jesus) is the only solution to our sinful nature.
So, the second reason is that suffering is the result of our fallen world and sinful nature.
The bible teaches that suffering serves a purpose in the spiritual growth and development of individuals. It is seen as an opportunity for individuals to draw closer to God, develop empathy, cultivate virtues, and demonstrate resilience in the face of adversity. It can be God’s way to bring us back to Him. Sometimes it’s the only way for God to get our attention. He intervenes in our lives to stop us preceding in the wrong direction. If we come back to God, it can change our lives forever.
The Bible says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas. 1:2-4).
Such a person goes through a period of intense personal loss and grief. Through their suffering, they find solace in prayer, seek support from their faith community, and ultimately experience personal growth, increased empathy, and a deeper relationship with God.
Suffering can serve as a refining fire that molds and shapes individuals, helping them develop qualities such as compassion, resilience, and reliance on God. It becomes an opportunity for restoration, where God’s transformative power can bring good out of difficult circumstances.
None of us choose to suffer, but when we suffer we always learn something from it. If God loves us, He also improves our character and our life values. The Bible says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God can bring good out of difficult circumstances.
So, the third reason is that suffering results in spiritual growth and restoration.
Another perspective of suffering acknowledges that human understanding is limited, and God’s ways are beyond complete human comprehension. There may be reasons for suffering that are beyond our current understanding, and God’s ultimate plan may involve aspects that we cannot fully grasp.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9).
When he suffered, Job lost everything except his life. He complained to God. After God listened to all his complaints, He asked Job 66 questions that Job couldn’t answer. The first question was, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (Job 38:4). If you understand that, I will tell you why you are suffering. But Job couldn’t answer that rhetorical question. Because our minds are finite, there are many things we just don’t know in this world. We can’t understand the things of God beyond what we are allowed to.
Imagine a person who faces a series of setbacks and failures, which they cannot understand or explain. Years later, they realize that those very challenges and disappointments redirected their life path, leading them to a more fulfilling and purposeful journey.
Similar to a person looking at the backside of a tapestry, where the threads seem tangled and chaotic, we may not comprehend the full picture of God’s plan in the midst of suffering. It is only from the perspective of eternity that we might grasp the purpose and intricate weaving of His plan.
So, the fourth reason is that God has not allowed us to know all the reasons we suffer.
God Joins us in our suffering
Lesley suffered alone with stage 4 melanoma. Then she realized what it might have felt for the Lord Jesus to have been left all alone on the cross. All the 5,000 people He fed left Him, all His followers had left Him, all the disciples except John left Him, and then in the darkest hour, even God the father left Him.
As a Christian, even if everyone leaves you, you still have God right there with you. Jesus did not have that luxury of God’s company. Leslie experienced what it must have felt for God the Father to have left Jesus. She said until I suffered, I did not know the love God had for me was far greater than what He had for His only begotten son – Jesus.
No other god or philosophy will join you in your suffering. This is unique to Christianity. Even through grief, God has the capacity to lift us up and flood us with His peace that transcends all understanding (Phil. 4:7). It’s a wonderful thing to know that God would give us the strength to go through the suffering because He will not test us beyond what we are capable of bearing (1 Cor. 10:13).
God lets us choose to get out of this suffering
If we are going to endure or overcome suffering, we desperately need hope, a belief that things will get better, that this is not the end of our story. The Bible offers hope in the midst of suffering through God’s plan to end suffering for all who accept it.
There will be no more crying, pain or death in heaven, “He [God] 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” (Rev. 21:4). But there will be crying in Hell (Mt. 25:30).
God has provided for personal salvation – the promise of eternal life in heaven where there is no suffering. This is available by putting your trust in the payment for sin God provided through Christ’s sacrificial death (Jn. 3:16-18).
We have looked at four reasons why there is suffering in the world and why doesn’t God stop our suffering. Suffering can be the result of exercising our free will. Suffering is the direct result of our fallen world and sinful nature. Suffering results in spiritual growth and restoration. And God has not allowed us to know all the reasons we suffer.
Because Jesus has suffered for us, we can look forward to being freed from suffering.
If you would like your life to change in an instant, consider giving your life to Jesus Christ. Jesus died for you, me, and everyone who has ever been or will be on earth.
To learn more about this amazing God who gave His life so you may live, go to: https://www.asafeplaceonline.
“For if a man belongs to Christ, he is a new creation. The old life is gone. New life has begun.” 2 Corinthians 5:17