There are many reasons why believers suffer mentally and physically. The following list is given to help the hearts of God’s people evaluate themselves when a meaning for tribulation is sought.
Not all pain and suffering is meant to punish, though some is. Much suffering is designed to correct character, guide the heart, or teach the lessons of life God would have known. This means, it is safe to say, that some pain and suffering could be avoided, as per 1 Corinthians 11:31. “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”
But, if, and when, we are judged, there is another principle to keep in mind. Every form of discipline and every cursing is designed by God to be a source of blessing according to 1 Corinthians 11:32 and Romans 8:28. “But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world….And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Therefore, consider the following reasons why Christians suffer.
First, Christians suffer when they engage in a frantic search for happiness in an inappropriate way. The book of Ecclesiastes establishes this principle through the life of Solomon. Solomon engaged in a frantic search for happiness, and then concluded in sorrow “all is vanity and a vexation of spirit” (Eccl. 1:14).
Second, Christians suffer from a guilty conscience. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: 6 From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling” (1 Tim. 1:5).
Third, Christians suffer from the suppression of sin in the self-consciousness of the soul. When inappropriate attitude and actions are engaged in, and then justified, ecclesiastical judgment is a real possibility. The apostle Paul delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan for physical and mental abuse, to teach them to learn not to blaspheme. Their story is briefly told in 1 Timothy 1:19-20. God wants His children to keep the truth in a holy vessel, and with a pure conscience.
Speaking to the Church of Ephesus, Paul tells the people to keep “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: 20 Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:19). The sin of Hymenaeus was that he claimed the resurrection of the dead had already occurred, much like those in the Preterist Movement today.
While many do not consider doctrinal error important, the Lord does. Some Christians are disciplined for the aberrant views they hold. It is possible to make a “shipwreck” of our faith. Our faith, and our testimony is lost, just as Lot lost his faith, and his testimony before the people of his generation in Sodom.
Fourth, Christians suffer because the Word of God is rejected. In 2 Kings 17:13-14 the prophet of God explained why there was going to be war with the nation of Assyria, and Israel was going to lose the contest. “Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets. 14 Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God” (2 Kings 17:13).
That nation, and those Christians in particular within the nation, who do not believe the Word of God, will discover God keeps His Word. God is not like those parents who threaten to punish the children, but never do. No, the Lord will cause pain and suffering for those who reject His Word.
Fifth, Christians suffer, and inflict emotional and physical pain on others, when particular acts of sin are not isolated and mortified, or put to death. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb. 12:15).
Much harm has come to self, and to others, because of bitterness. A look, a careless word, a slight snub, the failure to be recognized, or a gentle rebuff, that is all that is needed to sow a tiny seed of bitterness, which will spring up to defile many. For many years, Esau was bitter with Jacob. The Elder Brother was bitter against his Prodigal Brother. Each had a reason for their seething anger and resentment. Nevertheless, bitterness brings suffering.
Sixth, Christians suffer when divinely established authority is rejected, reflected in the story of Dathan (warring) and Abiram, as recorded in Numbers 16:1-35; Deuteronomy 11:6; Psalm 106:17.
Simply enough, Dathan and his brother Abiram, from the Tribe of Reuben, were jealous of Moses. They envied his power, popularity, and persuasive abilities. They wanted to be in a position of authority. But, here is the fact. If God does not promote you, you are not promoted.
For their rejection of divinely established authority, Dathan and Abiram, along with their families, were swallowed up by the earth.
Seventh, Christians suffer pain and sorrow by marrying the wrong person. “Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 2 Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, 3 And say, Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite” (Ezekiel 16:1). The Amorite and the Hittites were traditional enemies of the Hebrew people, and their God. What fellowship did the Israelites have with the pagan cultures around them? The people should not have intermarried with unbelievers.
Many years ago, as a pastor in Saltsburg, Pa, a beautiful young lady in the congregation was determined to marry a godless unbeliever. I refused to perform the marriage on Biblical grounds. Despite counseling, despite the fact her fiancé was arrested and had to go to court for abusing another woman, she was determined to marry the wrong person.
Eighth, Christians suffer because they are interrelated to others in the body of Christ who are hurting. There are many great metaphors of the Church in the New Testament, and each one illustrates the essential unity of believers to one another and to Christ. Romans 14:7 explains. “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself”. When one suffers, another suffers. We are to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and weep with those who are weeping.
In Nazi Germany, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw his brothers and sisters weeping. He saw people of the Jewish faith being executed. He felt he had to do something. He decided to try and help assassinate Adolf Hitler. Because of his involvement in the July 20 Plot to kill Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed on June 9, 1945. He was hanged just two weeks before soldiers from the United States liberated the concentration camp in which he was held.
Whatever questions might remain about his plot against Hitler, the larger point remains. Bonhoeffer suffered because others were suffering. “And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).
Ninth, Christians suffer from divine discipline.
Because God is merciful, His discipline is always administered in love and mercy so that the believer should not recoil against what is well deserved. “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: 12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (Prov. 3:11).
To be disciplined by God is to be loved by God, with a view to being useful in His service. Matthew Henry noted, “Those whom Christ intends to honour with his favors he first humbles with his frowns.” From discipline, comes discipleship, and from discipleship, comes the ability to change the world.
One question that arises is how to tell the difference between suffering and pain as a normal part of life, and when it is a direct result of God’s judgment.
There is a very simple answer. It may not please everyone, but I would suggest that the Holy Spirit will reveal to the heart whether or not pain and suffering in the life is the direct result of God’s divine displeasure.
Moses knew that he could not go into the land of promise because he struck the rock, which was a type of Christ.
Saul knew that the kingdom was taken from him because he did not finish the task God assigned to him.
David knew that his child died because of his inappropriate relationship with Bathsheba.
The list is long of those who knew why God was judging them.
However, it must be kept in mind that God does not judge every transgression, or to the same degree, for He is full of mercy and long suffering.
God has been pleased to hide many sins, and for good reason. Who could stand under total public revelation of all personal transgressions? No one.
To remember this truth is to understand that among the attributes of God, although they are all equal, mercy shines with even more brilliance than justice.
Therefore, when the Lord does move in judgment, and tells you for what reason He is doing so, do not despise His corrections. He loves you.