Faith seems pretty simple when we’re singing, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” But, it can be hard to stay faithful during the more challenging moments of life. We’re left wondering: Why does God allow suffering?
There are no easy answers to this question. And it can be frustrating when people try to put a “Bible verse bandaid” over the deeply painful moments of our lives. Yet, there are some scriptural truths that we can cling to when life doesn’t seem to make sense.
Learning these verses and understanding these concepts won’t make the pain go away. However, they can give you something to focus on and hope for no matter what is going on around you.
In this article, we will look at three facts about suffering, examples of suffering in scripture, and how to survive suffering.
Three Facts about Suffering
Before we go into the reasons for suffering, here are some important things for you to know:
You are not alone
God is right by your side, always. He never leaves you or forsakes you (see Deuteronomy 31:8). Even if you can’t see Him or sense Him, He is there with you right now. Going through hard times does not mean that God has abandoned you.
God loves you
God is always moving toward you in love. You are His beloved child, and He longs to take you in His arms and comfort you (2 Corinthians 1:3, Luke 13:34). And when His beloved children suffer, God mourns with them. Remember how Jesus cried over Lazurus? And Jesus even wept over the whole city of Jerusalem because He knew all the suffering that was coming (Luke 19:41-44). Likewise, God mourns with you in your pain.
Suffering is part of being human
We are imperfect beings living in a fallen world and suffering is part of our reality. In fact, Jesus promised that “in this world you will have trouble.” Thankfully, he followed that up by saying, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
I also find a lot of comfort in remembering that Jesus’ closest followers also experienced the worst kinds of suffering. Did you know that almost all of the 12 apostles were martyred? Christians down through the ages have gone through terrible times. (Again, you are not alone!)
Hold tight to those truths when the storms of life set in: God is with you. He loves you. Suffering is part of being human.
Suffering in Scripture
Paul has a lot to teach us about suffering. In one of the most terrifying passages in the Bible, he outlines everything he has gone through since becoming a Christian (2 Corinthians 11:23-27):
- In prison, flogged severely, and exposed to death again and again
- Received 39 lashes on five different occasions
- Beaten with rods, pelted with stones, and shipwrecked three times
- In danger everywhere he went
- Labored, toiled, and gone without sleep
- Known hunger and thirst and gone without food
- Been cold and naked
Whew! It sounds like this man could teach a masterclass on suffering. He went through some of the worst things life could throw at a person. And he followed Jesus closely and is one of the leaders of our faith. I definitely want to know how he would respond to the question: Why does God allow suffering?
He gives a partial answer in Romans 5:3-4: “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Paul seems to say that God allows suffering because He knows it will produce perseverance, character, and hope within us. This idea is seen in other parts of the Bible, as well. A common theme throughout scripture is that suffering refines us like fire refines gold. Gold enters the fire covered in impurities. Then the heat melts it off so only the beautiful, pure gold remains. The refining process is painful and difficult but it produces wonderful results. The same can be said for our suffering.
Read the passage above one more time, focusing particularly on the last sentence. The word “shame” jumps out at me in that verse.
Often suffering leaves us feeling bogged down by shame. We think there’s something terribly wrong with us or imagine that God is punishing us. We blame God or withdrawal from Him. And that just makes everything worse. But Paul reminds us that God’s love is in our hearts and the Holy Spirit is with us, so we are not defined by shame. Instead, we can cling to and trust in the hope of our faith.
How to Survive Suffering
There are two important verses that teach us how to make it through the suffering that God allows into our lives.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – 1 Peter 5:10
The verse doesn’t promise that our suffering will be short-lived or that we will emerge stronger, happier, and healthier than ever before. But it does point us to our ultimate, future hope of full restoration in heaven.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” –James 1:2-4
It is possible to find joy in our suffering and persevere through our circumstances. We can do that by focusing on the future when we’ll be mature, complete, and lacking nothing. This season of suffering won’t last forever.
Ultimately, there is no perfect answer to “Why does God allow suffering?” But scripture guides us in how to navigate life’s challenges in a way that grows our faith and draws us nearer to God. I pray that you feel His comfort in your suffering today.