Those with an agenda against God often use human suffering as "proof" that there is no God or, if He exists, He is not good. Even those who believe in Him can interpret their own suffering as an indication that God has abandoned them or doesn't love them quite as much as they thought.
People try to make money writing books about why "bad things happen to good people," but if we're honest, then we must admit that there is no good in us. We know that we deserve nothing good from God. We know that many times, the pain we endure is the direct result of our own stupidity (or others'). In light of our sin, the question should not be, "Why do we suffer?" but, "Why don't we suffer more?" So then comes the sneaking suspicion that, "If I'm suffering, God must be punishing me."
What does He say?
First, He says that sickness and death are the results of our sin. It's our fault in a general sense. In the Garden of Eden, in the middle of a Perfect World, Adam and Eve sinned, and we're still living with the consequences. Of this Paul writes:
sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned . . . death reigned from Adam to Moses . . . many died through one man's trespass . . . the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation . . . because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man . . . one trespass led to condemnation for all men . . . by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners . . . sin reigned in death (Romans 5).What was God's response to our first parents' sin? Hoops through which to jump? Law after law after impossible law? Fire and brimstone? Hell itself? No, God's response was mercy, the promise of a Savior, the Messiah, a Child Who would destroy the devil's work ("crush the serpent's head"). There were consequences to Adam and Eve's sin (the Curses), but those were intended to drive us to the Savior. In this context, it is worth noting that the statements of Law, death, and condemnation in Romans 5 noted above are followed immediately by the greater mercy of God, which is found in Christ alone:
the free gift is not like the trespass . . . much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin . . . the free gift following many trespasses brought justification . . . much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ . . . one act of righteousness [Christ's] leads to justification and life for all men . . . by the one man's [Christ's] obedience the many will be made righteous . . . where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5).What else do we find in Scripture regarding human suffering?
The Apostle Peter warned against suffering because of our own sin: "let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler" (1 Peter 4:15). Even heroes of the faith suffered publicly for their sin. For example, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land (however, even in this God was merciful to Moses, for not only did He allow Moses to see the Promised Land before he died, but God buried him Himself and included him in the revelation of Christ's glory to the Apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration).
Christ explained that sometimes we suffer so that God can show His power in us:
As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing (John 9:1-7).Because the devil, the world, and our sinful nature war against Christ and His people, sometimes we suffer only because we're Christians. Jesus warned, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you." (John 15:18). We see also from the author of Hebrews a listing of the "great cloud of witnesses," heroes of the faith. Notice that after listing wonderful, miraculous, glorious victories -- "conquered kingdoms . . . stopped the mouths of lions . . . became mighty in war . . . [and] resurrection," come those believers who were tortured, mocked, flogged, chained, stoned, sawn in two:
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-- who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated -- of whom the world was not worthy -- wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith . . . (Hebrews 11).God causes us to grow through suffering:
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you . . . For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God (1 Peter 4:12-14, 17).Sometimes God uses our suffering to accomplish the saving of others, as we see in Joseph and the persecution of the first Christians:
'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:17-21).
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 8:1-4).Sometimes when we suffer, we can't know why (see Job), but we do know that no matter what happens to us, God is with us, working through all things -- both good and bad -- for our benefit. Recall Joseph's gracious restoration of his brothers just noted and the words of the Apostle Paul:
we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).The ultimate answer to every question of eternal consequence is Christ. What did the Son of God endure for us? The only person in the history of the world who deserved only good endured great evil on our account. God abandoned His only Son to torture and death for our salvation:
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:3-6).
in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).Because of Christ, we will live what the Beloved Apostle only witnessed in his revelation:
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32).
. . . I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away
[. . .]
Thanks be to God!I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Revelation 21).