1999 James A. Fowler
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I. Representative Biblical references to "suffering"
A. Primary Greek words pathema
and its root pascho
B. Suffering of Jesus
17:12; Mk 8:31; 9:12; Lk. 9:22; 17:25 - "Son of God must
24:46; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23 - "Christ had to suffer and
1:3 - "He presented Himself alive, after His suffering"
2:9,10,18; 5:8; 13:12 - "He has suffered"
Pet. 2:21,23; 4:1; 5:1 - "Christ suffered for you, ...in
C. Suffering of Christians
5:41 - "considered worthy to suffer shame for His name"
9:16 - "I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's
8:17 -"if indeed we suffer with Him in order to be glorified
Cor. 12:26 - "if one member suffers, all the members suffer
1:29 - "granted for Christ's sake...to suffer for His sake"
3:10 - "that I might know...the fellowship of His sufferings..."
1:24 - "filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions"
Thess. 3:4 - "we kept telling you we were going to suffer
Thess. 1:5 - "the kingdom of God...for which you are suffering"
Tim. 1:8 - "join me in suffering for the gospel..."
Tim. 2:3 - "Suffer hardship with me..."
5:13 - "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray."
Pet. 3:14 - "even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness"
Pet. 3:17 - "if God should will it, that you suffer for
doing what is right"
Pet. 4:13 - "share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing"
Pet. 4:19 - "let those who suffer according to the will
of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator
in doing what is right"
2:10 - "Do not fear what you are about to suffer"
II. Attempting a definition of "suffering"
A. Abstract philosophical questions
do people suffer? ...good people? ...innocent people?
2. If God
is good, loving and omnipotent, why does He allow suffering?
not loving or good enough to disallow?
not powerful enough to disallow?
(Is it not presumptuous of man to think that his human perspective
is so omniscient that he
can assume that suffering cannot be accommodated into God's love
Suffering often defined as
man not getting what he wants
anything other than pleasant comfort and security
B. Biblical references more concrete
synonyms in Scripture - ex. affliction, anguish, distress, grief,
vexation, sorrow, travail, pain, tribulation, plague, chastisement,
endurance, woe, etc.
category of personal experiences, situations, circumstances,
C. Specific definition difficult
of the experience?
Not just inconvenience, annoyance, irritation - ex. hang-nail,
haircut, blisters, mosquito bite, sunburn
Usually involves discomfort, unpleasantness, pain or anguish
intensity of pain?
risk of death?
intensity of pain? heartache?
risk of becoming unbearable? "killing me"
Prolongation or protraction of painful experience?
Not just momentary or temporary
What duration qualifies?
Is "suffering" defined by chronic pain?
of experiences often identified with "suffering"
Physical illness, disease, injury - childbirth? menopause? old
Broken relationships, death, divorce, rejection, alienation -
Persecution, oppression, enslavement, ostracism, repression,
Natural disasters - flood, fire, famine, epidemic
Suffering the consequences of one's choices - loss of liberty,
incarceration, financial loss, hangover
Suffering with a purpose - exercise? basic training?
III. Universality of "suffering"
A. All of creation suffers in dysfunctionality
- "the creation was subjected to futility..."
B. All of humanity is subject to "suffering"
- (Eliphaz) "man is born for trouble"
- (Job) "man is short-lived and full of turmoil"
C. God's people are not exempt or immune
the people of God in the old covenant
11:25 - "Moses...chose to endure ill-treatment with the
people of God"
the people of God in the new covenant
15:18 - "the world hated Me before it hated you"
15:20 - "If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you"
16:33 - "in the world you have tribulation"
Tim. 3:12 -"all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus
will be persecuted"
Triumphalists - In the "victorious Christian life"
you have power to overcome all adversities.
Denial of problems.
Works advocates - not enough faith; not praying enough; not working
hard enough; God
is withholding His blessings
Happiness, health, prosperity are not a divine right.
D. Looking forward in hope to time of
25:8 - "He will swallow up death...wipe tears away...remove
the reproach of His people from
all the earth"
21:4 - "there shall no longer be mourning, crying or pain"
8:18 - "sufferings of present time not worthy to be compared
with glory that is to be revealed
Cor. 4:17 - "momentary, light affliction is producing for
us an eternal weight of glory far beyond
IV. Source, causation or derivation of "suffering"
A. Is God the source of human "suffering"?
is the efficient cause of all things, but not the blameworthy
cause of evil. Is suffering evil?
2. To permit
suffering is not to take pleasure in it
18:32 - "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone..."
3. Is suffering
the result of God's punishment or retribution?
3:16-19 - "in pain you shall bring forth children...in sorrow
you shall eat..."
7-12 - plagues of God upon Egypt
Cor. 11:29,30 - "judgment to oneself, if do not judge the
4. Is suffering
the will of God? Does He orchestrate suffering?
2:10 - "shall we accept good from God and not accept adversity?"
32:42 - "I brought all this calamity on this people"
3:6 - "if a calamity occurs in a city, has not the Lord
Pet 3:17 - "if God should will it so, that you suffer for
Pet. 4:19 - "those who suffer according to the will of God"
God push the misfortune buttons? dented fender, clogged sink,
B. Is Satan the source of human "suffering"?
- "the Lord said to Satan, 'Behold, he is in your power...'"
- "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. The devil is
about to cast some of you into
C. Is suffering self-inflicted? Is suffering
a result of the free choice of human sin? individually and/or
collectively? Do we bring it upon ourselves? Is suffering the
result of being bad or sinful?
Job - this
was the advice of Job's counselors
- "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents,
but that the works of God might
D. Is suffering the fault of others?
Is it the result of the sins of our fathers ? Hereditary suffering?
- "I am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers
on the children, on the third
and fourth generations..."
- "because of the iniquities of their forefathers they will
-"this calamity...is because your forefathers forsook Me"
why innocent children suffer? Are sufferers victims?
E. Is suffering the result of fate? bad
luck? Murphy's Law?
V. Reasons, purposes, benefits of "suffering"
A. Divine retribution - cf. IV.A.3
B. Divine discipline - "growing
3:11 - "do not reject the discipline of the Lord"
12:5-11- "those whom the Lord loves He disciplines"
C. Testing, proving
- "God tested Abraham" (Heb. 11:17)
- "God led you...that He might humble you, testing you..."
- "testing of your faith"
1:7 - "proof of your faith...even though tested by fire"
D. Vicarious suffering
- (Moses willing to stand in their place)
- (suffers unfaithful bride to illustrate Israel's unfaithfulness)
- (Jesus as suffering servant "oppressed and afflicted")
E. Educational - "learn the lessons
God wants you to learn"
- "He learned obedience from the things which He suffered"
- "Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a dulled world."
- "that the works of God might be displayed"
G. Repentance, seek God
- "in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me"
- "striking but healing, so they will return to the Lord
7:9,10 - "sorrowful to the point of repentance...sorrow
- "not My will, but Thine be done"
1:8,9 - "affliction...that we should not trust in ourselves,
but in God"
12:7 - "to keep me from exalting myself
I. Character of God displayed
- "tribulation brings perseverance...proven character"
- "conformed to the image of His Son"
4:10,11 - "life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies"
- that we might share His holiness"
- "yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness"
- "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing"
J. Solidarity - In suffering we band
and bond together
- "weep with those who weep"
12:26 - "if one member suffers, all the members suffer with
K. Ministry of comfort
1:3,4 - "comforts us in all our affliction so that we may
be able to comfort those who are
in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are
comforted by God"
- "sympathize with our weakness"
- "we suffer with Him that we might be glorified with Him"
4:17 - "affliction is producing for us an eternal weight
VI. Responses to "suffering"
A. Various perspectives and responses
of life is suffering
Buddhism - cause of suffering is desire; seek to end desire in
nihilism - pessimism - desire to unlive -"stop the world,
I want to get off"
is an unfortunate fact of life
dualism - good and evil, two sides of coin; all equalizes; go
with the flow; what goes around
fatalism - accept it; what will be, will be
stoicism - bear it; learn to cope, to survive, "positive
humanism - conquer it, overcome, take charge of own destiny
escapism - avoid all that you can
is an illusion
idealism - deny it, don't believe it, it is unreality
B. Christian perspective of "suffering"
is a fact of life, but not necessarily unfortunate fact of life
How big is our perspective? Is meaning compressed in the matter
of our own existence, in
which case suffering is the darkness of 'lights out'. Or is the
matter of our own existence
just a vignette on the cosmic stage of meaning, in which case
suffering is but a temporary
shadow in the corner of the stage?
God's loving goodness and omnipotence are so great as to encompass
painful and unpleasant
circumstances in serving His ultimate good of drawing all things
to and in Himself
- Rom. 8:28
suffering of man has been taken up by the Divine Suffering Servant
(cf. Isa. 52:13 53:12)
Emptied Himself to become incarnated into suffering humanity
- Phil. 2:5-8
Denied His self-will to accept work of Suffering Servant - Lk.
His resurrection reality is the victory over suffering - I Cor.
Christians are incorporated into the suffering Person and work
of Jesus Christ in the Body
of Christ - Rom. 8:17; II Cor. 1:5; 4:7-12,17; Phil. 3:10; Col.
1:24; I Pet. 4:13
has a beneficent purpose
Suffering is the birth pangs for the greater experience of life
In suffering life becomes more real than the superficialities
Suffering is analogous to the surgery required to heal the disease
of our self-orientation
True love is strengthened and perfected by suffering.
C. Christian responses to "suffering"
value of suffering does NOT mean that Christians should
seek, desire, court, invite, or pursue suffering
claim proud badge of courage in "suffering for Jesus"
develop persecution-complex or martyr-complex
of the situations of life
Suffering is not so much a problem to be solved rationally, but
a mystery to be observed personally
and spiritually. Only way to "see" the mystery is by
the reception of the revelation
of God in Jesus Christ. Thus we participate in the mystery of
Our sufferings, sicknesses and adversities are not happenings
in themselves, but are defined
by the effect we allow them to have on us.
ourselves to God, His purposes and ways
Recognize His sufficiency of grace in the situations - II Cor.
Receptivity of God's activity - Faith
Persevere - Rom. 5:3; 12:12; James 1:12
Endure - I Cor. 4:12; II Tim. 4:5; James 1:3,4
Entrust ourselves to God - I Pet. 2:21-23; 4:19