The Bible does not shy away from the reality of suffering. In fact, it is one of the most common themes throughout Scripture.
Some Christians believe that God is the author and orchestrator of all our suffering. They believe that God allows suffering to happen for a reason, even if we don’t always understand what that reason is.
From the book of Job to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, we see that suffering is a part of the human experience. It is time I get back to my series on the Suffering Spectrum and how Christians have different views on the way in which God is involved in our pain.
But how do Christians understand suffering? How do we reconcile the existence of a loving God with the reality of pain and evil There is no easy answer to these questions. We will explore some of the different ways that Christians have tried to understand suffering. There is no one right answer to the question of why suffering exists. But by exploring different perspectives, we can gain a deeper understanding of God’s love and compassion on the one hand, and his sovereignty and purpose on the other.
Suffering is a difficult subject to talk about. But it is an important one.
By exploring different perspectives on suffering, we can gain a deeper understanding of God’s love and compassion. And when we do, we can find hope in the midst of our pain. There is no easy answer to these questions. But there are a few different ways that Christians have tried to understand suffering.
It is helpful to learn more about some of the theological labels we look into during this series, but we need to understand that many authors may actually find themselves somewhere along this spectrum and possibly even seem to contradict themselves at different points of their writings.
The view that God is in charge of suffering is often based on passages like Job 2:3, which says, “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.'”
In this passage, God seems to be saying that He allowed Satan to test Job’s faith. This seems to suggest that God is ultimately responsible for all suffering. This leads us to the sense that God is at work behind all our sufferings, has a purpose for it, and therefore in some way suffering is part of his plan for our lives.
In James 1:2-4, it is written: “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”
This passage suggests that suffering can help us grow in our faith and become more mature in our relationship with God. By depending on Him during difficult times, we can learn to trust Him more and find strength and comfort in His love.
But the concept of God directly sending us troubles to teach us a lesson can be an incredibly difficult idea to get your head around, especially in a time of great personal pain, and even leads to some losing their faith altogether, but some Christians find great comfort in it:
“God never wastes a hurt.”
This is a common saying that suggests that God can use our pain and suffering for a greater purpose. Bing’s AI tool found several references that discuss this idea.
- One reference is from Proverbs 31 Ministries, where Glynnis Whitwer writes about how God can use our pain to bring about good 1. She explains that when we are honest about our struggles and rely on God, He can use our pain to bring about healing and transformation in our lives 1.
- Another reference is from Jim Reeve’s book “God Never Wastes a Hurt” 2. In this book, Reeve shares stories of people who have experienced hurt and how they responded to it. He suggests that when we trust in God and allow Him to work in our lives, He can use our pain for our good and for the good of others 2.
- Pastor Rick Warren also discusses this idea in one of his daily devotions, where he writes that “God will never waste a hurt” 3. He explains that God can use our suffering to build endurance, help others, and bring about good in our lives 3.
Many Christians cling firmly to the view that God must have a master plan for our lives which includes suffering, and that all suffering somehow has a good purpose. This could at one extreme lead us to even thank God for sending suffering into our lives.
Spoiler alert: Personally, I am not willing to go that far, preferring to thank God IN my suffering not FOR it.
Similar ideas are found in many Christian writings.
- “If I could talk to my younger self, I would just say that the path to great things is filled with a lot of stumbles, suffering, and challenges along the way. But if you have the right attitude and know that hard times will pass – and you get up each time – you will reach your destination.” Jonny Kim
- “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller
I have worked with ChatGPT, Bing and Bard to help produce these articles. I take responsibility for the final form, but acknowledge their help much as I would a co-author. As I discussed in a post ranking Christian books on Suffering, ChatGPT and other AI tools are great at making up quotes often accurately matching the style of authors, their theological ideas, and even summarising their books. The following quotes do not as far as I am aware come from any book or websites by the authors the AI attributed them to.
AI Generated quotes created in the style of Christian authors (Note these are not quotations from those authors but intended by the AI to reflect and summarise their ideas).
- “In the darkest depths of suffering, when the shadows of despair seem unyielding, I have witnessed the unfathomable presence of God. In the heart of the death camps, where humanity’s cruelty knew no bounds, His grace shone as a beacon of hope. Through it all, I learned that even in the most brutal of trials, God is not absent but ever near, weaving His love into the tapestry of our suffering, promising ultimate redemption for those who endure with unwavering faith.”
- Inspired by the faith and experiences of Corrie ten Boom, and surely representing this view of God as present and somehow behind our suffering.
- “Suffering is a call for us as believers not to try to have everything figured out, but to trust in the God who does.” Tim Keller
- “Suffering is a mystery. We don’t always understand why it happens.” – CS Lewis
- “Suffering is a part of life. It is something that we all go through at some point. Suffering is not a punishment from God, but an opportunity for growth and transformation. When we suffer, we are forced to rely on God more than ever before. And when we do, we come to know Him in a deeper way.” – Billy Graham
- “Suffering is never easy. But it can be a powerful force for good. When we suffer, we are reminded of our own weakness and our need for God. And when we turn to Him, He can use our suffering to bring about His purposes in the world.” – Rick Warren
- “Through the crucible of suffering, we discover the profound depths of God’s providence and His unwavering love. In the furnace of affliction, our faith is refined like precious gold, and we emerge as vessels fit for the Master’s use, bearing the scars of our trials as a testament to His sustaining grace.” – Wayne Grudem
- “Suffering, though painful, is a divine canvas upon which the sovereign hand of God paints the masterpiece of His glory. In our afflictions, we glimpse the radiant beauty of His redemptive plan, for it is through our tears that the joy of His salvation shines most brilliantly. Embrace the paradox, dear friend, for in suffering, we taste the sweetness of His supremacy.” – John Piper
- “Suffering is a mystery. We don’t always understand why it happens. But we can trust that God is with us in our suffering. He will never leave us or forsake us. And He will use our suffering for His glory.” – Max Lucado
- “Suffering is a gift from God, because it teaches us to depend on Him.” – Oswald Chambers
- “Suffering is a refining fire that purifies us and makes us more like Christ.” – A.W. Tozer.
- The concept of suffering as a refining fire is a common theme in Christianity. The idea is that just as a refiner uses fire to purify precious metals like gold and silver, God uses suffering and adversity to purify and strengthen our faith, making us more like Christ 1.One well-known reference to the refiner’s fire can be found in the Book of Malachi: “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver” (Malachi 3:2-3) 1.
These quotes offer a similar perspective on suffering, they all point to the same truth: that suffering can be a powerful force for good in our lives. When we suffer, we are forced to rely on God more than ever before. And when we do, we come to know Him in a deeper way. We are also reminded of our own weakness and our need for God. And when we turn to Him, He can use our suffering to bring about His purposes in the world.
- Suffering can be a way for God to teach us and grow us. When we go through difficult times, it can help us to learn more about ourselves, about God, and about the world around us. It can also help us to grow in our faith and trust in God.
- Suffering can be a way for God to draw us closer to Him. When we are hurting, we are more likely to turn to God for help and comfort. This can help us to build a stronger relationship with Him.
- Suffering can be a way for God to use us to help others. When we have gone through difficult times, we can often offer hope and encouragement to those who are going through similar experiences. We can also share our stories of how God has helped us through our pain, which can give others hope that God can help them too.
Suffering is not easy. But it can be a powerful force for good. When we suffer, we can trust that God is with us, and that He will use our suffering for His glory.
But does that all this mean God is actually the source of our pain?
Pros of this view:
- It can provide comfort to those who are suffering, knowing that God is in control and has a plan.
- It can help people to grow in their faith and trust in God.
- It can lead to a deeper understanding of God’s character and love.
Cons of this view:
- It can be difficult to understand why a loving God would allow suffering to happen.
- It can lead to feelings of anger and resentment towards God.
- It can make it difficult to have hope in the midst of suffering.
- It has led many to reject their faith altogether as they are unable to resolve the idea of God as the author of suffering and him being loving and all powerful.
There is much more to be said about the idea of God as the author of our pain. Some Christians accept the premise but have a more nuanced way of understanding what it means. Others as we shall see later reject it altogether and see God as somehow simply observing our pain and entering into it. We will not come to a single clear answer. But we will explore in the coming series of articles how different Christians have tried to reconcile these apparently conflicting ideas of God being Sovereign but also understanding and somehow sharing our pain when we suffer.
Here is a prayer that you can pray if you are going through a difficult time right now. Remember that understanding what is going on and why is not as important as learning to trust God in the midst of doubts, uncertainties and fears:
I am hurting right now. I don’t understand why this is happening to me. But I know that You are with me, and that You love me.
Please help me to trust You through this difficult time. Help me to grow in my faith and to draw closer to You. And help me to use my suffering to help others.
In Jesus’ name, amen.