Suffering is one of the serious problems that will eventually confront any Christian couple or family. A question that is often asked, especially by non-Christians, is, "How can you look at all the misery in the world and then preach that God is good?" Furthermore, when the recipient of suffering is a Christian, then the question is asked,
"How can your so-called God, whom you claim is good, permit His children to suffer?"
The purpose of this article is to discuss the origin of suffering, God's purpose in allowing people to suffer, the rationale and hope for Christians who undergo suffering, and how suffering strengthens the spiritual, physical, and emotional bonds between the members of a Christian family.
When God created man in His own image, He placed him in a specially prepared paradise on earth, the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8-17). However, God also gave man a free will to either obey or disobey his Creator. The Bible tells us that it was man's willful disobedience to God's will that resulted in his sin (Gen. 3:1-15) and that human suffering is a by-product of man's sin (vv. 16-24).
Although suffering is a by-product of man's sin, God uses suffering to make a person aware of his own finiteness and inadequacies and his dependence on his Maker. Thus, suffering serves the divine purpose of bringing the individual to a state of repentance. God demonstrates His goodness by the grace, love, and mercy that He extends toward man in his sin.
Christians suffer because Christ himself suffered and because God uses suffering to perfect the Christian's faith.
These facts can have profound significance for the Christian family because they provide a rationale for the Christian who is suffering, and the sufferer can find solace in the fact that his suffering brings him into a closer identification with Christ and serves God's purpose of perfecting the Christian. Knowing that Christ underwent great suffering and agony, strengthens the Christian's identity in Christ, which provides the Christian with hope and encouragement that his suffering is not in vain.
When one member of a Christian family suffers, all the members suffer. By strengthening the family's spiritual ties with their Lord and Savior, suffering also strengthens the family's physical and emotional ties with each other. In 1 Corinthians 12 we read that each believer is a part of the body of Christ, and when one part of the body suffers, the entire body is adversely affected (12:13-31). Thus, a Christian's suffering is not limited to the individual undergoing physical suffering; but rather, it affects the entire Christian family. Therefore, the rest of the family should do everything possible to console and encourage the suffering member. This consolation and encouragement should begin with the Christian's biological relationships (Eph. 5:21-6:4).
While Jesus was ministering on earth, His attitude toward those who were suffering was always one of compassion and mercy.
When He told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven (Matt. 9:2), and when He said, "'Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you'" (John 5:14) to the invalid He had healed, He demonstrated God's great mercy in affording the person the opportunity to accept God's forgiveness and to change his lifestyle.
Christians should follow the example of their Savior in demonstrating His love, compassion, and mercy toward the family member who is suffering. If there have been tears in the fabric of the family, and the members find themselves out of touch and out of fellowship with each other, following Christ's example in granting forgiveness to each other can bring greater unity among family members and "redeem" the suffering that God has allowed.
In addition, suffering affords each family member the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to do a deeper work within them, and then for His work to be lived out through them in demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
As the Christian who is suffering draws closer to God, the reality of heaven will become more real and certain to him.
As the apostle Paul said, "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor. 4:16-17). As family members minister to the sufferer and observe this work of the Holy Spirit in that person, their relationship with God will grow stronger and their perception of heaven and eternity will change from an intellectual one to a "blessed hope" that is a divine certainty.
As those in the body of Christ assist the sufferer and his family members by "weeping with those who weep," providing encouragement, and ministering help in practical ways, their relationship with Christ and with each other will also be strengthened.
In conclusion, God uses suffering to bring lost sinners to repentance, to strengthen the Christian's faith in his Savior and Lord, and to strengthen the family unit and the body of Christ. Although suffering is not pleasant in itself, when it serves to solidify the ties between the members of the Christian's biological family and to strengthen the ties between the members of Christ's church, God's redemptive purpose in allowing suffering becomes evident.
© by Howard W. Stevens
All Scripture verses are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.