Context: While I was praying for a friend who recently asked me some significant questions about suffering, I was given the inspiration for the following article:
This crash course addresses ten questions about suffering. Immediately below each answer there is a series of Biblical quotes. These are offered as an aid to reflection, perhaps over a period of several days.
1. Where do we come from?
All human beings are part of God, who makes us, breathes life into us, cares for us, and loves us unfailingly.
YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life. And the earth creature became a living being (Genesis 2:7; TIB).
The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life (Job 33:4; NLT).
I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you (Isaiah 46:4; NLT).
He loves us with unfailing love. (Psalm 117:2; NLT).
2. What is life?
Life is the period during which we are exiled from heaven, though not from God’s constant, invisible, loving presence. We come from God, spend time on earth, then return to God.
I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5; NLT).
You will soon return from exile (Lamentations 4:22; NLT).
3. Why are we here?
Our task is to get to know God. We do this by seeking God, and by praying constantly, thanking God in all circumstances, and rejoicing, no matter what we face.
His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him – though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27; NLT).
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NIV).
4. What does life offer us?
Life offers us the chance to learn how to live in God, to grow more like Christ, and, astonishingly, even to become more like God.
We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ (Ephesians 4:15; NLT).
This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:13; NLT).
Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy (Ephesians 4:24; NLT).
The Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18; NLT).
5. Why do we suffer?
Trials and sorrows are an inevitable part of our time on earth because our bodies, minds and hearts are fragile and mortal, though our souls are immortal. Life here is essentially a training-ground. It offers us the opportunity to make our own choices, reach out to God and grow in faith. This developmental process helps us to love God, all people and the world, until we eventually discover our oneness with God, and with all.
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).
How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! (Job 14:1; NLT).
If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me (Jeremiah 29:13; NLT).
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16; NIV).
Love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; NLT).
Love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19; NKJV).
Show love to foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19; NLT).
Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44; NLT).
6. Where does suffering come from?
Everything comes from God, both good and bad, though some people would prefer to see good things as coming from God, and suffering as being inflicted by “the devil”. However, the concept of the devil as an external being arises from a combination of mistranslation and the human desire to disown the temptations and terrible impulses which well up spontaneously from our unconscious minds (see https://wp.me/p45bCr-bPK). When we act these out, evil occurs in truly shocking and horrific ways, but the impulse, the decision and the action always come from within.
Learning to accept suffering as God’s will, and to make the best of it whilst still loving and serving God in others, is one of the major challenges and opportunities of our lives.
When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other (Ecclesiastes 7:14; NIV).
Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realise that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life (Ecclesiastes 7:14; NLT).
Should we accept only good things from the hand of God, and never anything bad? (Job 2:10; NLT).
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21; CSB).
7. Why does suffering exist?
Suffering has much to teach us. Without it, we might not grow in trust and faith. Christ’s example is particularly helpful here, for even as he begged God to spare him from extreme suffering, he maintained his resolution to accept God’s will rather than his own. God suffers with us and helps us to learn through all we face. This is how we grow in endurance, patience, inner strength, hope and love.
Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine (Luke 22:42; NLT).
In all their suffering he also suffered (Isaiah 63:9; NLT).
Blessed be the Lord! Day after day he bears our burdens (Psalm 68:19; CSB).
Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you (Isaiah 30:20; NLT).
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever (Psalm 73:26; NLT).
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:3-5; NLT).
8. How can good come out of suffering?
As we grow in love and trust by facing and sharing our suffering with God, God brings good from it all. This is something we can ask for when we pray for others, as well as for ourselves.
We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28; NLT).
Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan (Ephesians 1:11; NLT).
9. What is the purpose of life?
The purpose of life is to recognise, love and serve God in ourselves, in others, and in all things. This means becoming aware of our constant oneness with the Divine. To live like this, no matter what happens, is to live joyfully in heaven on earth.
You are the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:16; NKJV).
There is one Lord …who is over all and in all and living through all (Ephesians 4:5; NLT).
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16; NIV).
So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God (Romans 7:4; NLT).
10. Where do we go when we die?
As mentioned briefly in #2 above, when we die, we return immediately to God, who welcomes, kisses and embraces us. Completely healed, forgiven and restored, we are absorbed back into God’s infinite peace, bliss and love – and this time, it’s forever.
The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).
I came from Abba God and have come into the world, and now I leave the world to go to Abba God (John 16:28; TIB).
Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalm 23:66; KJV).
Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8; NLT).
In this article I’ve addressed ten questions about suffering. I hope very much that you have found something here that interests or helps you. Remember that I pray for you all every day.
We keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do (2 Thessalonians 1:11; NLT).
✝️ With love from Ruth.