One of the greatest puzzles for many people is why God allows good people to suffer.
What is the benefit, many ask, of trying to live according to God's instruction if we all have to suffer? A best-selling book states the dilemma in its title: When Bad Things Happen to Good People .
The book of 1 Peter deals specifically with the suffering of Christians. Peter understood the significance of the suffering of people who live righteously in the light of Jesus Christ and His suffering. Peter notes two categories of suffering. One is for righteousness' sake and brings us nearer the Kingdom of God. The other is largely unnecessary because it is usually the result of problems we bring on ourselves. We earnestly need God's help, however, during both types of suffering.
Does God have a purpose in allowing Christians to suffer?
"For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps" (1 Peter 2:21).
"For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29).
"For this is commendable, if because of conscience towards God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully" (1 Peter 2:19).
How should Christians view suffering at the hands of others?
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10).
The Bible explains a great deal about why the righteous suffer in this present evil age. Most misery is brought about by Satan's pervasive influenceover people and their ideas and attitudes. (See "Satan's Role in Human Suffering ").
Just before His crucifixion, Jesus explained to His disciples: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you . . . If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also" (John 15:19-20).
Paul tells us that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12; compare 1 Peter 3:14; Matthew 5:11-12). Much of the persecution Christians endure is really directed against Christ Himself. The life He lived and taught is the real target. Peter explained this clearly: "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Have righteous people always endured suffering to serve God?
"My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience" (James 5:10; compare Hebrews 11:24-26).
All of God's prophets suffered for their faithfulness to Him. Some survived; others gave their lives. Daniel was thrown into a den of lions because of his beliefs and practices, but God delivered him (Daniel 6:15-23). His three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego—were condemned to death in "a burning fiery furnace" because they would not bow to an idol, but God miraculously spared their lives (Daniel 3:8-29).
David constantly cried out to God for deliverance from his enemies (Psalm 7:1-2; 18:17-19). But we should especially notice his confidence in God: "Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine" (Psalm 33:18-19). In general, God's will is for the deliverance of His servants. Some, however, have been martyred for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and others are yet to end their lives as martyrs.
Isaiah is traditionally said to be a prophet who was killed by being "sawn in two" (Hebrews 11:37). We read that "others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection" (verse 35), and some "had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment" (verse 36). Stephen, just before he was martyred, cried out to those who were ready to stone him: "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One [Jesus Christ], of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52).
It has always been this way. It began with Cain and Abel. "For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one [Satan] and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous" (1 John 3:11-12).
The Scriptures explain that "he who walks in his uprightness fears the LORD, but he who is perverse in his ways despises Him" (Proverbs 14:2). People whose ways are not of God indirectly express their hostility toward Him by venting their contempt and anger on His servants. Peter describes this attitude so well: "In regard to these, they [who love the ways of this world] think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you" (1 Peter 4:4).
Which apostle learned that his ministry would be filled with suffering?
". . . I will show him [the apostle Paul] how many things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:16; compare 2 Timothy 1:11-12).
When God first called and converted him, the apostle Paul learned that a part of his service to Christ would be to suffer. Paul's sufferings were directly related to the great purpose of his calling. He was commissioned by the resurrected Jesus Christ to go to the gentiles "to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God . . ." (Acts 26:18). His mission attracted intense opposition and persecution.
What types of suffering did Paul encounter?
". . . Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; . . . in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, . . . in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things which come upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:25-28).
Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 for Paul's vivid description of the many humiliations, dangers and injuries he endured in carrying out his commission to spread the gospel far and wide. He records how he suffered continually while proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Feeding the flock of God, the members of God's Church, was also a vital part of his mission, and Paul's loving care for the churches weighed heavily on him.
Paul tells us to "be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, KJV). Therefore we too will find that it is not possible to spread the gospel to this chaotic and sin-sick world without encountering opposition and persecution. Not all will experience such resistance in the same way and to the same degree. Christ knows our capacity; He understands the talents and limits of each member. Yet suffering for the sake of spreading God's truth is the lot of all true Christians. It was a constant factor in the life of Paul and his companions (1 Corinthians 4:11-12).
How did Paul's persecution affect his reputation?
"For which [the gospel] I suffer trouble as [if I were] an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not bound" (2 Timothy 2:9).
Paul worked under a cloud of suspicion and false accusation. Most of the Jewish leaders regarded him as a traitor, and the Romans were often uncertain whether to treat him as a misguided Roman citizen, chronic troublemaker or criminal. In the end he died for his beliefs.
Can showing Christian concern for others be risky?
"Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life . . ." (Romans 16:3-4; compare Philippians 1:25-30).
Early Christians risked their lives to assist Paul and other Church members. They suffered for the sake of the Kingdom of God and their service to fellow Christians—for diligently practicing the Golden Rule.
The book of Romans tells us to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). If we truly love others, we will sometimes suffer for and with them—vicariously or in painful reality. Since Christians are "members of one another" (verse 5) and part of the same body, this is a way to serve each other and honor God (verse 1). ". . . Your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings" (1 Peter 5:9, NIV).
What is the proper Christian response to unjust treatment from others?
"Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter" (1 Peter 4:16).
"Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (verse 19).
Jesus explained to His disciples why they should respond to mistreatment with love, kindness and good works. "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:44-48).
Christians are called to be the "light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). They are always to reflect the character of their heavenly Father, who provides the necessities of life for even the unjust. Christians are to live as examples even under difficult circumstances. "And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe" (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7).
How should a Christian feel about suffering for God's Kingdom?
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).
No one understood a Christian's lot better than Paul. In addition to the afflictions described earlier, he endured a "thorn in the flesh"—possibly a chronic health problem—that he had pleaded with God to remove on three occasions. Christ's reply: ". . . My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
Having a clear perspective of the future, and an understanding of God's purpose for us, is crucial in facing life's difficulties. Only when we earnestly look forward to the glories of the Kingdom of God can we view our own sufferings in a proper perspective. Certainly our trials and difficulties are real and cannot be wished away. Yet their long-term importance pales into insignificance when compared with the sure realization of our great calling (Philippians 3:11-14). (For a clearer understanding of God's purpose for you, be sure to read What Is Your Destiny? )