Jeremiah 37v11-16: After the Babylonian army had withdrawn from Jerusalem because of Pharaoh's army, 12 Jeremiah started to leave the city to go to the territory of Benjamin to get his share of the property among the people there. But when he reached the Benjamin Gate, the captain of the guard, whose name was Irijah son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah, arrested him and said, "You are deserting to the Babylonians!"
"That's not true!" Jeremiah said. "I am not deserting to the Babylonians." But Irijah would not listen to him; instead, he arrested Jeremiah and brought him to the officials. They were angry with Jeremiah and had him beaten and imprisoned in the house of Jonathan the secretary, which they had made into a prison.
Quite possibly the biggest question Christian Disciples ask themselves or is asked of them by others concerns the problem of suffering. I will start out by saying I don’t have all the answers, but hope to give some idea as to what the Bible says about suffering. Many people mention suffering as the main reason they do not believe in any form of God, whether that be a personal God or an impassive God. What is true of all humans, is that we all suffer in some way. It is an endemic part of human life. Suffering of any kind leaves some sort of scar or mark. Do you have scars? Physical, emotional or mental scars due to sickness, somebody else actions against you or as a result of your own actions? Scars come as a result of human life - everyone one of us has them! Are you suffering today from sickness? Are you suffering today because of somebody else? Guaranteed you know of somebody suffering, even if its only by watching the news and the scenes of devastation in Japan recently!
One man, who knew suffering, was the man Jeremiah. Not just the suffering in the passage we read earlier but he also endured:
- Persecution from his family (Jeremiah 12v6)
- Mocked and despised by his peers (Jeremiah 20v1-9)
- Arrested, beaten and falsely imprisoned (Jeremiah 37v11-16)
Kinds of suffering
There is man’s inhumanity to man, which causes suffering. There is suffering from man’s wilful disobedience against God as when Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). Suffering was not part of God’s original creation and only came in after this event. There is also suffering as a result of the actions of others, as in the story of Joseph being sold into slavery (Genesis 37). There is physical suffering (John 9v1) and mental suffering (1 Corinthians 2). Finally there are spiritual sufferings: the work of satan, such as Job endured (Job 2v7); from the world (1 john 2v15-17); persecution because of maintaining Christian beliefs (Acts 16v19-24) and the Christian Disciple’s old and deceptive sinful nature (Romans 7v18-24).
Purposes of suffering
Often when confronted with suffering, the main question asked is “Why would a loving God allow suffering?”
Scripture offers a little insight into the purposes of suffering.
- Suffering produces fruit such as patience (Hebrews 10v36); joy (Psalm 126v6); wisdom (Psalm 94v12) and maturity (1 Peter 5v10).
- To silence satan. Just as God allowed satan to cause Job to suffer, in order for Job to prove that he loved God for who God was and not for what God gave him (Job 1v8-11).
- That God is glorified (John 11v1-4)
- To continue transform us into the image of Jesus who being fully God and fully man, endured the suffering of the cross for the sake of humanity (Philippians 3v10).
- To teach us dependence upon God and to have faith in Him (John 15v1-5).
- To increase our witness to those outside of the Christian faith (2 Corinthians 1v3-7).
Responding to suffering
How is the Christian Disciple to respond to suffering? Naturally, we either treat it too flippantly or we take it far too seriously. The response that God wants His disciples to have to suffering is to be exercised by it. The Christian Disciple is to commit any suffering we endure to God and understand that He is faithful and that it will eventuate in His glory and for our own good (Romans 8v28; 1 Peter 4v18). We are to be joyful when enduring suffering (James 1v2). Now I admit, that that can be hard to do, but we are not left alone. The Holy Spirit indwells us and as one of His names suggests, as the Comforter, He provides comfort during the times of suffering.
What is God doing about suffering?
We know that God is personal and we know that as Jesus was both fully God and fully human, that God has suffered. God, who is without sin, became sin. The great God, who is outside of time, entered time. The God of the Christian Disciple intimately knows what suffering is like, because of the suffering Jesus endured on the Cross. Before He was arrested, Jesus suffered such anxiety, that he perspired blood (Luke 22v44). That is why as Christian Disciples we have a hope. Because the God we serve, personally knows our suffering and has endured suffering just like us. That is why we know God is a personal God. And what is God doing now about suffering?
Well one day, one glorious day, every kind of suffering will be banished for those of us who love Him. Revelation 21v4: “God will wipe away our tears. There will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying and no more pain, for former things have passed away.” Take that verse to heart. What a glorious day it will be for those of us who love Him now. God Himself, with our face in His hands, wiping away our tears… When our King returns, there will be no more terrorism, missiles, guns, wars or bombs. No more will man’s inhumanity to man be allowed. No more torture, rapes, muggings or robberies. No more poverty or famine. No more religion, idols or icons. No more gossip, fornication, adultery, lying or debauchery. No more cowardice. No more pain. No more death. No more suffering. No more sin. Humanity’s sin is the creator of suffering, not God, as critics of the church maintain.
For more to think about please do read for yourself: 1 Peter 3v13 to 1 Peter 4v19. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.
Q1. How am I to respond to the suffering I endure?
Q2. What is my reaction to knowing that God suffered?
Q3. What hope does Jesus’ resurrection from the dead give me to endure suffering?