According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, suffering implies “conscious endurance of pain or distress”. In this state, one develops feelings of pain, discomfort, and displeasure, and suffering could also expose one to depression.
There are numerous views concerning suffering, and some even consider a believer’s suffering as punishment from God. Preachers of the ‘health and wealth’ gospel often promote the idea that as long as believers serve God and give to him, they are entitled to total health, wealth, and stability.
Unfortunately, this is a lie from the pit of hell. This mindset, however, pervades the Church in many developing and third-world nations. The preachers shy away from other Biblical teachings, exalting financial, social, and physical stability above others. As a believer, I affirm the supremacy of scripture above human views or opinions and I believe that the death of Christ Jesus on the cross brought us much blessings, especially eternal life (salvation).
However, as Christians we must also note that not all will have earthly riches. But if we persevere in faith till the end, heavenly blessings await us. Our perfect examples, Jesus and the saints of old, suffered. We also must prepare ourselves for this essential part of the journey.
The Biblical model of suffering
Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, is our model on suffering. According to the Bible:
He was hated and rejected by people.
He had much pain and suffering.
People would not even look at him.
He was hated, and we didn’t even notice him.
But he took our suffering on him
and felt our pain for us.
We saw his suffering
and thought God was punishing him.
Isaiah 53:3-4 (NCV).
We hated and rejected him because we thought that God was punishing him for his sins. Instead he suffered on our behalf. If the holy, sinless son of God suffered, how much more we mere mortals. We are encouraged by the life of Jesus to also embrace suffering just as he did.
We may not be beaten up like Jesus or imprisoned like Paul. Nevertheless, as faithful believers in this corrupt and perverted world, there is a price to pay for righteousness and holiness in order to show forth the glory and renown of our maker and king. Ours might be in our schools or our work-places, in singleness or in marriage.
The result of Christian suffering
Christian suffering produces godly virtues. The Macedonian church was tested by great troubles (2 Corinthians 8), yet they never grew weary. Their suffering and discomfort produced the godly virtue of giving:
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace God gave the churches in Macedonia. They have been tested by great troubles, and they are very poor. But they gave much because of their great joy. I can tell you that they gave as much as they were able and even more than they could afford. No one told them to do it.
2 Corinthians 8:1-3 (NCV).
They gave much more than they could afford because of their great joy in suffering. However, the Bible points out that not all suffering is Christian suffering. If one suffers because of murder, theft, or any other crime, he should not think he is being afflicted for being a Christian. Rather, he is being punished justly:
Do not suffer for murder, theft, or any other crime, nor because you trouble other people.
1 Peter 4:15 (NCV).
In his epistle, Peter admonishes and encourages Christians to rejoice when they suffer because they bear Christ’s name:
My friends, do not be surprised at the terrible trouble which now comes to test you. Do not think that something strange is happening to you. But be happy that you are sharing in Christ’s sufferings so that you will be happy and full of joy when Christ comes again in glory. When people insult you because you follow Christ, you are blessed, because the glorious Spirit, the Spirit of God, is with you. But if you suffer because you are a Christian, do not be ashamed. Praise God because you wear that name.
1 Peter 4:12-14, 16 (NCV).
God’s plan for suffering is to purify believers through it (1 Peter 4:19). And this is in preparation for the time when we will no longer need to suffer because all sufferings would have been wiped away and there would be no more pain because everything would have become new.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.
The One who was sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.”
Revelation 21:4-5 (NCV).