As Christians, we eagerly await the Second Coming of Christ. It is a day to look forward to, because we will be reunited with God, and with all the faithful who had died before us (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). We will be at home with God for all eternity (John 14:1-3). There will be Final Judgment, where Jesus will mete out reward for good works, but punishment for evil works (2 Corinthians 5:10). Through Final Judgment, true justice can be finally delivered to both the faithful and the wicked.
However, as we go through life’s ups and downs, it sometimes feels like God is already punishing us here on earth. Job himself wondered, for it seemed to him that he was suffering because God did not pardon his iniquities (Job 7:20-21). When we suffer, is it punishment from God? What should Christians make of our earthly suffering?
I. Why Do We Suffer?
It is not always possible to know why we are suffering. At least, when the apostle Paul struggled with his “thorn in the flesh,” he managed to receive an explanation from the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). However, God no longer speaks to us directly today. We are often like Job, who was left wondering why he was allowed to be afflicted. Nevertheless, the Scriptures offer us a few possibilities for our suffering:
Because of our own wrong choices (Proverbs 5:22; 1 Peter 4:15). As the Scriptures tell us, we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:8). Every action has consequences. When we make bad decisions, it may return to hurt us. When we choose to sin, we will reap the consequences of sin.
Because of other’s wrong choices (Genesis 4:3-8). God gives all men free will, and unfortunately, some use their freedom of choice to hurt others. Hence, those who are godly may suffer persecution from the ungodly (2 Timothy 3:12).
Because of natural laws (Luke 13:4). God has set in motion natural laws that govern this universe. These laws are vital to keep things in order. However, the same gravity that keeps us on the ground can bring an aeroplane crashing down. When we get on the wrong side of nature, we may inevitably get hurt.
II. Why Does God Allow Suffering?
Although the Scriptures explain suffering, it is still often difficult to endure when we go through the fiery trial. Sometimes we may question God, as to why He allows His faithful children to experience hardships. After all, did God not promise that He would always take care of us? (Hebrews 13:5-6). Nevertheless, God does promise that there is a greater purpose for suffering in our lives:
To chastise us (Hebrews 12:6-8). Sometimes suffering is a form of discipline from God. Just as parents discipline their children for wrong-doing, God could be exercising discipline on us due to our wrong-doing. Jonah needed to be thrown into the sea and into the fish’s belly, before he realized he needed to obey God, instead of running from God (Jonah 1:1-3:3)
To mold us into perfect persons (James 1:2-4). It is often said that hardships build character. Suffering can purify our faith and make it stronger (1 Peter 1:7). Suffering can teach us important lessons, especially concerning patience and endurance. When such patience has been developed to its fullest, the Christian can potentially become a perfect person.
To keep us focused on Heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). When life is too smooth sailing, we may forget about God, and fail to appreciate eternity. Suffering in this life reminds us that earthly life is not our permanent home; this earthly life is only temporary. Hence, we need to prepare ourselves for eternity, where suffering will no longer exist (Revelation 21:4).
III. How Should We Respond to Suffering?
Since the Scriptures teach us that suffering is part and parcel of our Christian life on earth, we need to learn how to respond whenever we face trials:
Do not blame God; instead, look within. God is not to be blamed for our trials, for it is not in His nature to tempt man to sin. Instead, all good things come from God (James 1:13-17). Instead, we need to look inward because maybe it is us who had done evil. Perhaps God is giving us a wake-up call, that we need to change our sinful lives and live faithfully instead.
Do not moan; instead, look for learning points. We do not want to allow suffering to trap us in a loop of self-pity and depression (Hebrews 12:12-13). Instead, we have seen that suffering can improve our faith and character. Hence, we need to learn from our experience so that we can move forward with greater courage and wisdom.
Do not give up; instead, look forward to Heaven. God has promised a crown of life to those who remain faithful even unto death (Revelation 2:10). There is no prize for those who give up. Hence, we must not allow suffering to derail our faith; instead, we need to keep our eyes focused on the heavenly prize (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Truly, this earthly life will always be full of trouble and suffering (Job 14:1). Sometimes, it may feel like God is punishing us. Indeed, suffering may be a good time to do self-reflection, because maybe we did do something sinful. If so, we need to take the opportunity to repent and change our lives. However, sometimes we really do not know the reason for our suffering. Nevertheless, God has given us hope that suffering is for our benefit. Above all, we are reminded that suffering in this life is only temporary. Let us not give up when we face the fiery trial, as we strive and look forward to our heavenly home, where suffering will no longer exist.