Some Christians may suffer in order to be kept from more sin. “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matt. 5:29). When a person is suffering emotionally or physically, there are some sins that are not attractive. If God is gracious, He will stop us from doing wrong as He stopped Abimelech from sinning with Abraham’s wife, Sarah. One day Jesus found a crippled man whom he had healed in the Temple. The Lord had something to say to him. “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” John 5:14). The Psalmist said, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray: but now have I kept thy word” (Psalms 119:67).
Some Christians suffer in order to empathize with others. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Empathy can be defined as “Your pain in my heart” (Jess Lair). It is one thing to be sympathetic towards someone who has lost a loved one, or is going through severe pain. It is another to be able to enter into their suffering with them. This includes being sensitive to embarrassing moments. British statesman and financier Cecil Rhodes, whose fortune was used to endow the world-famous Rhodes Scholarships, was a stickler for correct dress—but apparently not at the expense of someone else’s feelings. A young man invited to dine with Rhodes arrived by train, and had to go directly to Rhodes’s home in his travel-stained clothes. Once there he was appalled to find the other guests already assembled, wearing full evening dress. After what seemed a long time Rhodes appeared, in a shabby old blue suit. Later the young man learned that his host had been dressed in evening clothes, but put on the old suit when he heard of his young guest’s dilemma (Today in the Word, February, 1991, p. 10). Jesus is able to not only sympathize with us in our sorrow, but to empathize with us as well, for “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:5).
Christians suffer in order to preserve the life of others. Though Joseph was hated by his brothers, and sold into slavery where he was wrongly imprisoned, God worked all things for good. The day came when Joseph was able to say unto his brethren, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5).
Some Christians suffer to demonstrate the theological truth, that God is the sovereign Ruler of the universe, and can dispose of it as He pleases. God revealed His sovereignty to Moses. “And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?” (Ex. 4:11).
God revealed His sovereignty to the Pharaoh of the Exodus Generation and liberated over a million Hebrew people in captivity.
God revealed His sovereignty to Nebuchadnezzar. “Nebuchadnezzar was a man of vast military and political power. He ruled the nation of Babylon as a dictator while dominating all other world powers of that day. Nebuchadnezzar was the commander who defeated and destroyed Jerusalem and who led most of the Jews into Babylonian captivity in 586 BC. The people of Judah seemed insignificant and impotent against Nebuchadnezzar. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the One true God, and the One great God. One day the Lord God chose to demonstrate His sovereignty over history, and over all the nations of the earth by bringing Nebuchadnezzar to his knees in abject submission to, and the worship of Himself. The great king was made to eat grass like an animal. “At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (Daniel 4:36, 37).
What is a Christian’s Mature Response to Pain and Suffering?
First, sometimes a Christian should give thanks to God for the privilege of suffering if the suffering is a result of righteousness. “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41).
Second, every Christian can give thanks to God even in their sickness and sufferings, if not for their sickness and sufferings. “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Of course, some of the commandments of the Bible are not easy to obey. This is one. Nevertheless, the time might come when thanksgiving can come for the sickness, and pain, and sufferings of life for it is in suffering that God can teach us spiritual truths.
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience” (Rom. 5:3).
What is comforting to know is that no suffering, and no sickness can come into the life of the believer apart from the sovereign will of God, for He works all things after the counsel of His own will. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11).