{8}           Suffering (2): Responses to suffering

33.            Why does God allow Christians to suffer? Doesn’t He love His children?

§        God as a loving, caring, and omnipotent Father will never allow His children to suffer for no reasons. Yet, He sometimes permits His children to suffer (Ac 14:22) because of benefits.

A.  Suffering is an avoidable part of life. (1) Suffering is a natural consequence of being human, including Christians. (2) Suffering is also a natural consequence of being a Christian (1Pe 2:21). Christians may be persecuted because of their faith (Mt 5:11-12; Lk 3:16; 2Ti 3:12).

B.  Suffering can have positive effects for the Christian who suffers. It has educational value for spiritual and psychological growth. It is a refining process for deeper faith (1Pe 1:6-7).

     C.S. Lewis says, “God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

(1)  Training (rebuke) and purification: [1] Force us to leave sin, repent and be holy; [2] Prove that God still loves (Heb 12:5-6,11; Rev 3:19).

(2)  Humility and reliance: [1] Keep us from pride; keep us humble (2Co 12:10); keep us out of illusory contentment; [2] Force us to break down self-reliance and rely on God; [3] Force us to obey and receive subsequent blessings (Rom 8:17).

(3)  Strength and steadfastness: [1] Strengthen moral character, such as courage and higher tolerance; [2] Produce steadfastness and patience (Jas 1:3-4); [3] Remind us of Christ’s suffering for us.

(4)  Compassion and empathy: Help one to learn compassion, sympathy for suffering people, and self-sacrifice in providing help.

(5)  Hope: [1] Cause us to look beyond this brief life; remind us that the world is not our permanent home and we should not love the world (Heb 11:13-16; 13:14); [2]  Help us to reconsider the true meaning and value of life, the changeability of the world and the non-changeability of God

C.  Suffering may be beneficial for others.

(1)  Evangelism: [1] Suffering leads to conversion; persecution leads to evangelization. For example, martyrs in early church demonstrated their courage in facing death for their faith attracted many non-believers to seek the gospel. [2] A non-believing person is forced by suffering (such as terminal illness) to think about meaning of life and may subsequently come to Christ.

(2)  Witness: Our courage in encountering suffering with peace (even joy) can demonstrate our faith to non-believers and attract them to the gospel. It can also encourage other Christians.

(3)  Ability to help: One’s suffering will enable one to later comfort others who have similar sufferings (2Co 1:3-5). Those who suffer are more willing to listen to someone who suffered in the past.

(4)  Fellowship: [1] The fellowship will be stronger after passing through the same suffering together, including praying, spiritual encouragement, emotional support, practical help. [2] Tragedy is often what binds hearts together, forces people to overcome differences and causes individuals to truly appreciate each other.

D.  Sufferings sometimes give God the opportunity to demonstrate His power (Jn 9:1-3; 11:4), thus bringing glory to God and affirming the sovereignty of God.

e.  Because of the above four reasons, God permits us to suffer. Yet, even during our suffering, God’s love is always with us (Rom 8:38-39); God’s grace is sufficient (2Co 12:9); all things work together for the good (Rom 8:28).

F.   It is important that we should not simply emphasize the benefits of suffering. Suffering can also break the spirit, destroy the character, and sap the energy for spiritual growth.

34.            Is suffering a temptation from Satan?

§        Suffering could be a temptation from Satan, or it could turn into a temptation.

A.  Three sources of temptation (see temptation of Jesus in Mt 4:1-10): [1] Satan the tempter (through subconscious suggestions, 1Th 3:5); [2] ourselves (from our own desires, Jas 1:14; 1Ti 6:9); [3] the world (visible suggestions from our surroundings, 1Jn 2:15-16)

B.  God is never the source of temptation (Jas 1:13). He will only permit those temptations that we can bear and He promised to provide a way out (1Co 10:13).

C.  Sometimes, suffering can turn into a stumbling block to our spiritual journey (for example, blaming God) and in effect becomes a temptation.

35.            How should we respond to our own suffering?

§        Most important attitude: Do not blame God or man but rely on God.

A.  General attitude: [1] Avoid the suffering that can be avoided rightly. [2] Remedy the suffering that can be remedied rightly. [3] Accept and make use of the suffering that, without doing evil, can neither be avoided nor remedied.

B.  Passive actions: [1] Must avoid improper reaction: blame men (or self), blame God, feel helpless; [2] Stop wrong attitudes, such as attitude of “hang on to” something; [3] Dispel feeling of unfairness; forgive those who hurt us; [4] Clear up own sins

C.  Active actions: [1] Remember how Christ also suffered (Isa 53:4-5; Heb 2:18; 1Pe 2:21); [2] Think of suffering as following Christ’s suffering (Mt 16:24; Php 3:10); [3] Find values in suffering and be joyful (Php 4:4; Rom 12:12)

D.  Rely on God: [1] Remember that God’s love is always with us in sufferings (Ro 8:38-39; Mt 5:4); [2] Hold onto God’s promise: He is our refuge (Ps 46:1), our strength (Ps 28:7), our shepherd (Ps 23:1; Isa 40:11); [3] Be assured that God’s grace is sufficient (2Co 12:9); [4] Abandon self (Gal 2:19-20) to the will of God (letting-go, not hanging-on, Job 1:21); [5] Think about the glorious future that God prepared for us (2Co 4:16-5:3; Ro 8:18; Rev 21:4).

36.            How do we help those who suffer?

§        Ask for God’s guidance and use your wisdom to select the appropriate actions.

A.  Be available: visit the suffering person, only if it is agreeable as some suffering persons prefer not to see visitors. If so, do not insist.

B.  Share the suffering: remain with the person and stay quiet. (Job 2:12-13)

C.  Be sensitive: do not ask questions about causes and details of suffering. If the person shares about the suffering, listen patiently and attentively but do not ask questions. (Job 16:1-4)

D.  Offer support: where appropriate, offer verbal support (encouragement) and offer practical help (share the required work such as chores and transportation).

E.  Read the Bible: when appropriate, ask for permission to read the Bible together.

F.   Offer to pray together: ask God for strength (to overcome the suffering) and for deliverance.