Summary: The question has been asked for centuries: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Committed believers have wondered why Christians experience suffering. Thankfully, the Bible does shed some light on this ages-old question of human suffering.
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.”
• Jesus shared with His followers two important insights: (1) we will have trouble in this world. But (2) in the midst of this trouble we can have peace, because Jesus has overcome the world.
• It is a naive and erroneous belief to think that when we come to Jesus in faith as our Savior, all our troubles are over. Far from it! To the contrary, the apostle Paul reminds us that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12).
• It is part of life in this fallen world to experience “trouble [NIV] … tribulation [KJV] … tribulation and trials and distress and frustration [Amplified] … suffering [NET] … affliction [LEB] … trials and sorrows [TLB] … difficulties [MSG] … persecution [NRSV] … oppression [WEB]” (vs. 33).
• The key for us as believers is to see this through Jesus’ eyes. He promises us that, since He “has overcome the world,” we may find peace in Him, come what may in our lives.
Genesis 1:31a; 2:15-17 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good… [2:15] The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
• God’s creation, including Adam and Eve, was perfect, “very good” [1:31], at the beginning. Then Genesis 3 records the fall of Adam and Eve into sin through their disobedience of God’s command.
• God had given them free will: “…you are free to eat … but you must not eat” from that one tree that God had placed off limits. Sad to say, they wrongly exercised their free will and chose the path of sinful disobedience.
• The result was catastrophic [2:17] for Adam and Eve and for all the human race since then. Sin and death had now entered the world of mankind, along with the sickness and suffering and many other troubles associated with that fall.
• It is vitally important that we establish this point strongly — that is, that the entrance of evil, suffering, and death entered into the lives of human beings because of the sinful disobedience of human beings, not because God desired these things to happen. God had laid out the proper boundaries for man, but man (Adam and Eve) violated these and brought all the subsequent evil and suffering into the world. In sum, the presence and problem of evil in our world are man’s fault, not God’s!
Genesis 6:5-7 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created — and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground — for I regret that I have made them.”
• Only a few more chapters into Genesis, we see the tragic result of the sin in Eden. Now the human race had become wicked and “only evil all the time.” Sadly, human sin had taken its toll.
• So the primary reason that humans, including Christian believers, suffer is the disastrous effects of sin — not just that of Adam and Eve, but our sins as well.
• However, in specific instances, as we will see below, there are sometimes other explanations for human suffering, and some of those are for positive purposes.
John 9:1-3 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [Jesus replied] “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him."
• Jesus and His disciples came upon a blind man. The disciples asked whose sin had been responsible for his blindness. Now we know that sickness and death were in the world since the sin of our original parents, Adam and Eve. But in this case Jesus said that God had a special, positive purpose in mind. Jesus went on to heal the blind man and thereby to bring glory to God.
• Be careful to discern something here. It was not the blindness that would bring glory to God, but the healing! So sometimes our sufferings of one sort or another can be opportunities for God to move mightily and to bring great glory to Himself.
James 1:2-3 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.
• Sometimes sufferings, trials, testings can be used by God to help us to persevere in our faith. Yes, evil entered the human race through sin. But God can take bad situations and turn them to good for the believer (Romans 8:28). And we can grow in our Christian maturity through these trials, not necessarily by escaping them. A right response to suffering produces endurance, James tells us.
1 Peter 4:12-13; 5:8-10 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed… [5:8] Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
• There is rich truth here. Yes, we will have some “fiery ordeals” and testings. But remember, this is not unique to you. Rather, believers all over the world are “undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
• Remember also that Jesus suffered greatly, and it is our privilege likewise to endure some hardships, some persecutions, even violence against us for Jesus’ name. We can “rejoice … as [we] participate in the sufferings of Christ.”
• The upside of this is that suffering experienced with faith and victory can restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast (vs. 10).
• The record of the early Church shows that it was strengthened and grew, even in the midst of persecutions and martyrdom. You can grow in hard times. They don’t have to defeat you.
1 Peter 4:19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
• Two thoughts: (1) suffering can at times be “according to God’s will” and (2) can lead us to a greater commitment to the Lord and a closer walk with Him.
Hebrews 12:6-10 …the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined — and everyone undergoes discipline — then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
• Discipline! Chastening! Nobody likes these things. And yet they can be beneficial. For example, a loving human father chastens and disciplines his children in order to shape their character for good.
• It is even more so with God. He “disciplines us for our good”! Are you perfect yet? Of course not; neither am I. So we need God’s hand of discipline on us. For what? “For our good!” God desires to shape us into greater holiness (vs. 10). If we submit to and are trained by God’s corrective chastening, it will produce in us a “harvest of peace and righteousness.” Submission to disciplinary suffering builds character.
• Do you know a brother or sister who is suffering? Then the appropriate response may be to pray for them and seek to see them released from that (seemingly undeserved) suffering. But! … it is possible that the suffering may actually be God disciplining and chastening them for their good, perhaps to help them overcome some sinful habit or some other situation that God is intending to purge from their lives. So there is not just a one-size-fits-all approach to our own hardships or those of other people. Prayerfully seek God to see how and what He is working in each situation.
• Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that God disciplines or chastens His children by making them sick. To the contrary, Jesus consistently healed the sick in the four Gospels. Promises of healing to God's faithful are found throughout the Scriptures.
James 5:13a Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.
• Should we pray for deliverance from the trouble? Perhaps. But more importantly, pray to get a sense of God’s intentions for each situation.
• Let’s create a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say that a Christian brother feels led to start a small business and does so. Then the business begins to struggle and he experiences much suffering and distress. There could be any one or several reasons for his struggles. For example:
• It could be God chastening him for sin. Perhaps he is cheating on his business’s taxes.
• Or it could, on the positive side, be God working and developing in him a greater dependence on the Lord.
• Perhaps it is God leading him into more fervent prayer.
• Maybe God is using this to strengthen the business owner’s walk of faith.
• God could be simply (via one of more of the above) drawing the man closer to Him.
• Or it could be just as simple as the man practicing inefficient business practices!
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
• Try to view distress and suffering from an eternal perspective. Our earthly troubles are “light and momentary.” Our coming through them with victory leads to an “eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
• So what should be do? “Do not lose heart” (vs. 16) … keep a heavenly, not an earthly, perspective (17) … fix your eyes (18) on the things that truly matter: God the Father, Jesus His Son, and the eternal promises of God. This life is short; eternity with our Lord is forever.
Romans 8:28, 35-39 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
• We may not know all the answers to suffering. I certainly don’t. We cannot always see a clear answer to the ages-old question, "Why does God allow suffering?" We can’t always explain each instance of trials and distress as we would like to. But remember (vs. 28) that God can bring good even out of bad circumstances.
• In “all these things” God makes us “more than conquerors.” Victors over hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, the sword, death, demons, malignant enemies, and more. “IN all” these things God will give us the victory.
• Suffering is a fact of human life. It is experienced by our fellow believers throughout the world (1 Peter 5:9). Jesus told us that in this world we will have troubles (John 16:33). In light of this, allow me to close by quoting three of my favorite “victory” scriptures. These verses will give you great hope, whatever trials you may be facing.
Romans 8:37 We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
1 Corinthians 15:57 He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 2:14, KJV [God] always causeth us to triumph in Christ…