Why Do We Suffer?
Throughout my life I have always been a voracious reader. I can remember being enamored by books at a very young age and becoming excited during my preschool years as I was first taught to read. Even today, hardly a day goes past when I am not reading something, whether it be a magazine, a newspaper, or any other kind of print media. In addition, I usually am reading one or more books on a variety of topics.
Since high school I have been particularly enamored by theological literature. Reading the great theologians of the past and the present helps me to answer the questions that I have, and it invariably raises new ones. Of course, all this does is spur further research and reading.
I have to admit, however, that I have not always been the most discerning reader. During high school and the first year or so of college I read a great many popular works on eschatology — works that never claimed an exact date for Christ’s return although they did strongly hint that He would return before the year 2000. Even those that did not mention timing at all were convinced that true Christians would escape the great tribulation and not have to suffer at the hands of the coming Antichrist.
In addition to these books, I also read a few books claiming that it was never God’s will that His people suffer sickness or poverty. The key to abundant health and wealth is in the tongue. All one had to do was to “claim” their healing or financial blessing in order to receive it. Illness and poverty were never seen as a calling but as a sign that faith was weak or lacking.
Over time, I began to see the trouble with these ideas. The fact that such views are eagerly embraced, not by countries where suffering abounds but in America where we experience comparatively little suffering, made me question the truthfulness of some of these claims.
My understanding of these things was altered primarily because of the teaching of Scripture. I was blessed to get a hold of works written by theologians who had a better grasp of the multi-faceted view of suffering presented by the Bible. A study of the book of Job one summer also made it clear that suffering even illness is a calling for some even though the reasons for this suffering may not always be clear to us.
That we cannot always discover the reasons for our suffering is what makes our trials so hard to bear at times. This is not to say that Scripture gives us no explanations for our suffering. In fact, our study of 1 Peter has given us many reasons why a believer might have to suffer.
In the first place, we have been told that we are grieved by various trials in order that our faith might be purified and proven (1:6–7). We are even told that such suffering is necessary for us. So in the midst of our difficulties, we can be confident that God is working in us to refine our trust in Him. Peter’s repeated emphasis on suffering for being a Christian (3:14–17) makes it clear that the persecution we experience simply for confessing Christ is the kind of suffering God especially uses to strengthen our trust in Him.
Peter’s admonitions against suffering as an evildoer (4:15) imply that sometimes our suffering is a direct consequence of our sin. The wisdom literature of the Bible tells us that there is not always a one-to-one correlation between sin and suffering; nevertheless, it is clear that sometimes we suffer because of our misdeeds. We deserve such suffering, yet we can honor God in it if we turn from the sin that we suspect is behind our trouble.
Related to this is the fact that Peter tells us that judgment begins with the house of God (vv. 16–17). Sometimes God uses suffering to judge His church for sin, or to refine the faith of the corporate body. In this case, the church as a whole must honor God through repentance and reformation.
As helpful as these things are, they do not really address all of our questions. Our pain still hurts. We wonder why God has not chosen some other way besides suffering to make us into whom He wants us to be. We look at others who have indulged in the same sins as we, yet they seem to have worry-free lives. We see churches, which flagrantly violate the Scriptures, continue to operate as usual.
These teachings help but they do not exhaustively explain our suffering. Yet Peter and the rest of the biblical authors never try to give God’s intent behind every individual instance of pain in our lives.
Rather, Peter ultimately calls us not to spend too much time analyzing the exact purpose for our suffering. Instead, we must respond to God properly in our trials. We must remember that suffering is our calling, and we must look to Jesus as our example in it (2:21). We must continue to remember that our proper place is in submission to His mighty hand so that we will be exalted one day (5:6). We must throw ourselves wholly on Him, as in His hidden providence, He uses suffering to prepare us more fully for eternal glory (vv. 7–11).