Why Christians suffer: Divine revelation on a perplexing subject

Why Christians Suffer

Divine Revelation on a Perplexing Subject

Grantley Morris

* * *

It has been my matchless privilege to have invested much of my life ministering God’s love and encouragement to people who are deeply hurting. For virtually all of my life I have also been devoted to the prayerful study of God’s Word, and for well over twenty years I have been writing about how a tender, compassionate God views pain and suffering. And yet I have been stunned by the Bible-based revelation our Lord has graciously given me while writing this webpage. If it achieves in you a fraction of what it has done for my wife and for me, it will change your life.

When knocked by things that seem disastrous, we are sorely pressured to conclude there can be no alternative other than what we are suffering is either because we have let God down or he has let us down. For anyone to whom God means everything, either possibility is devastating. But can there be any alternative?

Is it callous or even erroneous to think Christians usually suffer because they don’t understand their Christ-bought authority? Is it way off the mark to think God is hardened to human suffering or that certain Christians avoid suffering because God has favorites?

Live long enough, and questions about suffering will hit you hard. Far more is on the line, however, than a need for comforting answers or an escape from affliction. At stake is our entire walk with God. Our understanding of these matters drastically shapes what we expect from God (and hence affects our critically important faith) and it determines much of our attitude to life. In this webpage we will endeavor to hunt down every possible cause, in a Spirit-led quest for answers, comfort and empowerment when life’s blows send us reeling.

Some see suffering as inevitable for Christians because we are called to be like Christ who suffered in, and for, a world that is in rebellion against God’s loving ways. Others believe such thinking is a denial of much of the victory Christ’s earthly sufferings achieved for us. On the other hand, could pointing the finger at a Christian reeling in misfortune, expose us to the wrath of God, as it did for Job’s friends when they turned into spiritual advisors (Job 42:7)? Could it even expose us to the fate of those causing someone to stumble, for whom Jesus said it would be preferable to be weighed down with a millstone and be hurled into the deep (Matthew 18:6-7)?

On one side, we find Bible believers who see it as a privilege and the ultimate proof of faith to suffer for the One who suffered for them, whether that suffering be persecution or illness. On the other extreme, are Christians, equally fervent in their devotion, who consider such thinking distasteful and dishonoring to Christ. They think it foolish and showing a lack of faith in the finished work of the One who suffered in our place so that we need never suffer. Each side sees the other as pathetically weak, unbiblical and bringing shame to the name of Christ.

Of all people, I have reason for humility in this dispute. Despite maintaining my zeal for the Lord and devotion to him, I have at times leaned to one side of this divide and at other times leaned toward the opposite side. Mere logic compels the conclusion that I must have been wrong at least some of the time.

Most of us are strongly convinced that our understanding of this matter is thoroughly biblical and pleasing to God. It can take a surprising degree of courage to prayerfully look to God to double-check whether, like me, you have been sincerely mistaken. Do you have what it takes to face this challenge?

The issue, of course, is not whether you and I agree with each other but whether God agrees with us. Neither is the issue whether we can amass an impressive body of biblical support for our views, but whether our interpretation of those Scriptures is human or divine. (Few of us could match the fervent devotion and biblical scholarship of the devout leaders and theologians who arranged their Messiah’s murder.)

My wife’s fervor in studying Scripture drove her to the edge of human endurance and yet she has since discovered that she had misunderstood the Bible’s teaching on this subject. Her new discoveries have not merely brought her peace like never before but, far more importantly, it has profoundly deepened her relationship with God.

It is not for me to tell you what to believe. Through much waiting on God and seeking his face, I have grown sure – even excited – about much that we will discuss. I cannot adequately express how grateful I am for what our Lord has graciously revealed to me, and I will not hold back in presenting reasons for my certainty. Nonetheless, my longing is for you to have your own divine encounter and reach your own Spirit-led conclusions, even if that means you leaving my views behind. If I can assist you by alerting you to certain Scriptures or some implications that you have not yet considered, I would count it my undeserved privilege.

In fact, would you join me right now in a short prayer for this?

    Precious Lord,

    We come to you as the source of grace and truth. To know you is to fall in love with you; and loving you is the only way to live. As we spend this time together, may you reveal yourself to us more deeply than ever before.

    I pray your comfort upon every reader who, even now, is reeling in physical or emotional pain. In a way that only you can, I pray you penetrate the bewilderment and mental haze that assaults us in such circumstances, so that none of us is hindered from receiving the support and insight that you long for us to have.

    I also ask, however, that none of us drop this vital subject until we are as equipped as we can possibly be for whatever future challenges await us.

This webpage is far too readable, fascinating and relevant to everyday living, to be hidden behind a highfalutin title. Other than that, it could be called a theology of suffering. In exploring this topic I will dodge nothing, but where insights gained from minor suffering will prove just as instructive, I will not inflict needless discomfort by focusing on the extreme.

When asked a question, Jesus sometimes responded by asking a question himself (Examples). If we can answer the smaller questions raised below we will go a long way toward answering the big one about why Christians suffer. Examining these questions, some of which will seem initially unrelated, also reminds us that God’s attitude toward suffering is totally consistent with his stance on other matters.

Although I will share my insights into these lesser questions, I think you will find it beneficial to ponder them and find your own answers before reading mine. The choice, of course, is yours.

You will find my writings crammed with Bible quotes and links to still more. Skip them if you wish, but since there is no higher source of spiritual revelation than Scripture, it would be your loss. Regardless of how familiar you are with the Word of God, I suggest you at least remind yourself of these verses by glancing at them. A compromise might be to slide over them on your first reading and return to them later.

Christians suffering is a big topic, and I plan to sidestep nothing. Before progressing to other aspects, however, we should resolve whether or not a degree of suffering is an unavoidable part of the effort required to faithfully serve our Lord. Is it that suffering never has a divine role in Christian living and it only occurs if we needlessly let ourselves be defeated, instead of exercising our Christ-bought authority over adversity? Or, on the other extreme, is it that, for all of us on this planet, suffering is fundamental to victorious Christian living? Suffering was central to Jesus’ earthly ministry. Could it likewise be a central aspect of our earthly service?

“Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” says 1 Peter 5:8. What then, would be the dangers of not being alert and spiritually readied for an attack? Since, as Jesus taught, the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), surely we would be needlessly exposing ourselves to hardship and suffering if we ignored the Bible’s directive to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil (James 4:7).

All Christians agree that there is much we can do spiritually to reduce our own suffering. There is a huge diversity of opinion, however, as to how far we can push this. Is it biblical, or is it unbiblical, to think that if we do everything right – sufficient faith, prayer, praise, submission to God, spiritual discernment, alertness, spiritual warfare, and so on – we can avoid all unpleasantness? Or if we are sufficiently in tune with God, could we avoid all but minor persecution, or perhaps all but very brief challenges? Of course, there are innumerable other guesses as to where the line should appear. And if it were to turn out that certain unpleasantness is actually unavoidable for even the most godly and spiritually empowered of us, how could that be, in the light of God’s love and goodness and our crucified Lord’s stupendous victory over evil?

These are some of the questions we will wrestle with. Before taking the plunge, however, I should confess one more thing:

In my yearning to best serve you, the reader, I find myself tortured by two conflicting concerns. Straining like a bullock team on one side, is my conviction that the longer our voyage together, the more likely you are not just to find answers but be profoundly transformed by them. Pulling in the opposite direction, threatening to tear me asunder, is a fear of losing readers who have little conception of how much they could benefit from a longer journey.

A related matter that is tearing at me is the question of how extensively I should share all the biblical evidence. I have prepared such a thorough explanation of all that God reveals in his Word about this topic that most people would be fully persuaded by less. Nevertheless, I honor those who demand more. My heart not only goes out to those who are not easily convinced, I feel a deep kinship with them. It is not that we are thick or stubborn or skeptical. On the contrary, I write for truth-seekers who are passionate about God and are keen to know him even better, and to please him even more. This webpage is particularly for those who long to honor God by being faithful to his revelation and are already well-versed in all the biblical support for their view. I long to support those who have been thoroughly taught and wish to double-check how completely their understanding stacks up against the “whole counsel of God” (cf Acts 20:27).

Among the things goading me to introduce more detail into this webpage is that, if continued for more than a few minutes, much good can be worked within us by pondering the possibility of suffering for Christ, even if it were never to happen. A longer webpage could achieve that but I worry about less devout readers. Although I believe it would be more beneficial to prolong the tension, my compromise is to lessen it by acknowledging upfront what would otherwise be the elephant in the room. So let’s face the worst case scenario right from the start: what if our study ended up proving conclusively that, at least for some of us, devotion to Christ necessitates suffering? Would that cripple Christianity? We’ll consider this in the next section.

Continued: Part 2

Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2018, 2019. For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.


Bible Versions Used

(Unless otherwise specified)

King James Version

Place mouse or equivalent over a Bible reference on-line

New International Version

Appears in the text

For more information, see Bible Version Dilemmas