Three Reasons We Suffer

In our series on Christianity, we recently heard a sermon from Romans 8:18-39. One of the things that Paul only touches on very briefly in this passage is the question, “Where does suffering come from?”

Biblically, we know that we will suffer. In John 16:33, Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Suffering is part of our calling in this life as followers of Jesus. No amount of planning can avoid it. But where does this suffering come from?

Biblically, one reason we suffer is for doing wrong. We sometimes suffer the consequences of a poor decision, like incurring too much debt. We can also experience suffering as discipline. Hebrews tells us that we will suffer discipline as children of God because God disciplines those that He loves.

This makes sense. If you have children, you know that behavior usually only changes after you find a level of discipline that actually causes them hardship. You can try to go easy on them and just send them to their room for 15 minutes, but they may just be back there hanging out. Once they come out they behave in the exact same manner again because the discipline was meaningless to them.

Until they actually face some real consequences, where they suffer some pain, some deprivation, they won’t begin to really think about what they’ve done and want to change. The same thing is sometimes true of us. God can use suffering as discipline to cause us to reconsider our actions.

At other times, we suffer for doing right. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” (John 15:18) As followers of Jesus, we experience persecution.

In America, the suffering we undergo from persecution is usually not that bad: we may suffer some indignities, some things might be said about us behind our backs, or we might miss out on some things our friends are doing because they don’t think we are cool or hip. In many countries today, persecution means people are dying for their faith in Christ.

In our Hebrews series, we saw Jesus described as a trailblazer going before us. Imagine Him hacking His way through a jungle. We are called to follow behind Him in His footsteps. Because we have to walk that same road, we are going to know the suffering that He suffered. No matter what persecution we might face, suffering in some form is inevitable.

We sometimes suffer for doing right, and we sometimes suffer for doing wrong. The most mysterious thing is that we also sometimes suffer for no apparent reason. This is the one that can cause so much emotional pain and so much frustration—our fallen world doesn’t need a reason for us to suffer. It produces suffering on its own.

A storm comes and brings tornadoes. Why does it hit one house and not another? Why does one woman get cancer? Why does a man lose his job when new technology transforms his industry?

We live in a world where sin has corrupted God’s order. So tornadoes, cancer, and financial downturns happen, and there is not really any apparent reason why it might strike one person and not another. We simply live in a broken world.

But no matter the cause of our suffering, it’s important to always remember the message of Romans 8: Jesus suffered more for us than we will ever suffer, and nothing can ever separate us from His love.
* Note: some of these ideas were adapted from the work of Patrick Morley.

-David Delk, Executive Pastor