© 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
          Matt. 17:12; Mk 8:31; 9:12; Lk. 9:22; 17:25 - "Son of God must suffer"
          Lk. 24:46; Acts 3:18; 17:3; 26:23 - "Christ had to suffer and rise again"
          Acts 1:3 - "He presented Himself alive, after His suffering"
          Heb. 2:9,10,18; 5:8; 13:12 - "He has suffered"
          I Pet. 2:21,23; 4:1; 5:1 - "Christ suffered for you, ...in the flesh"
    C. Suffering of Christians
          Acts 5:41 - "considered worthy to suffer shame for His name"
          Acts 9:16 - "I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake"
          Rom. 8:17 -"if indeed we suffer with Him in order to be glorified with Him"
          I Cor. 12:26 - "if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it"
          Phil. 1:29 - "granted for Christ's sake...to suffer for His sake"
          Phil. 3:10 - "that I might know...the fellowship of His sufferings..."
          Col. 1:24 - "filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions"
          I Thess. 3:4 - "we kept telling you we were going to suffer affliction"
          II Thess. 1:5 - "the kingdom of God...for which you are suffering"
          II Tim. 1:8 - "join me in suffering for the gospel..."
          II Tim. 2:3 - "Suffer hardship with me..."
          James 5:13 - "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray."
          I Pet. 3:14 - "even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness"
          I Pet. 3:17 - "if God should will it, that you suffer for doing what is right"
          I Pet. 4:13 - "share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing"
          I 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"
          Rev. 2:10 - "Do not fear what you are about to suffer"

II. Attempting a definition of "suffering"

    A. Abstract philosophical questions of suffering
         1. Why do people suffer? ...good people? ...innocent people?
         2. If God is good, loving and omnipotent, why does He allow suffering?
              a. not loving or good enough to disallow?
              b. not powerful enough to disallow?
              c. (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 and                   omnipotence?)
          3. Suffering often defined as
              a. man not getting what he wants
              b. anything other than pleasant comfort and security
    B. Biblical references more concrete and personal
         1. Numerous synonyms in Scripture - ex. affliction, anguish, distress, grief, misery,               oppression, vexation, sorrow, travail, pain, tribulation, plague, chastisement, discipline,               persecution, endurance, woe, etc.
         2. General category of personal experiences, situations, circumstances, "trials"
    C. Specific definition difficult
         1. Severity of the experience?
              a. Not just inconvenience, annoyance, irritation - ex. hang-nail, haircut, blisters, mosquito bite, sunburn
              b. Usually involves discomfort, unpleasantness, pain or anguish
                  (1) physiological
                       (a) intensity of pain?
                       (b) risk of death?
                  (2) psychological
                       (a) intensity of pain? heartache?
                       (b) risk of becoming unbearable? "killing me"
              c. Prolongation or protraction of painful experience?
                  (1) Not just momentary or temporary
                  (2) What duration qualifies?
                  (3) Is "suffering" defined by chronic pain?
         2. Types of experiences often identified with "suffering"
              a. Physical illness, disease, injury - childbirth? menopause? old age?
              b. Broken relationships, death, divorce, rejection, alienation - parenting? pastoring?
              c. Persecution, oppression, enslavement, ostracism, repression, harassment
              d. Natural disasters - flood, fire, famine, epidemic
              e. War
              f. Suffering the consequences of one's choices - loss of liberty, incarceration, financial loss,                     hangover
              g. Suffering with a purpose - exercise? basic training?

III. Universality of "suffering"

    A. All of creation suffers in dysfunctionality and misuse
         Rom. 8:20,21 - "the creation was subjected to futility..."
    B. All of humanity is subject to "suffering"
         Job 5:7 - (Eliphaz) "man is born for trouble"
         Job 14:1 - (Job) "man is short-lived and full of turmoil"
    C. God's people are not exempt or immune from "suffering"
         1. Israel, the people of God in the old covenant
              Heb. 11:25 - "Moses...chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God"
         2. Christians, the people of God in the new covenant
              Jn. 15:18 - "the world hated Me before it hated you"
              Jn. 15:20 - "If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you"
              Jn. 16:33 - "in the world you have tribulation"
              II Tim. 3:12 -"all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted"
                  a. Triumphalists - In the "victorious Christian life" you have power to overcome all                        adversities. Denial of problems.
                  b. Works advocates - not enough faith; not praying enough; not working hard enough;                        God is withholding His blessings
                  c. Happiness, health, prosperity are not a divine right.
    D. Looking forward in hope to time of no suffering
         1. Prophetic
              Isa 25:8 - "He will swallow up death...wipe tears away...remove the reproach of His people                   from all the earth"
              Rev. 21:4 - "there shall no longer be mourning, crying or pain"
         2. Comparative
              Rom. 8:18 - "sufferings of present time not worthy to be compared with glory that is to be                   revealed to us"
              II Cor. 4:17 - "momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far                   beyond all comparison"

IV. Source, causation or derivation of "suffering"

    A. Is God the source of human "suffering"?
         1. God 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
              Ezek. 18:32 - "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone..."
         3. Is suffering the result of God's punishment or retribution?
              Gen. 3:16-19 - "in pain you shall bring forth children...in sorrow you shall eat..."
              Exod. 7-12 - plagues of God upon Egypt
              I Cor. 11:29,30 - "judgment to oneself, if do not judge the body rightly
         4. Is suffering the will of God? Does He orchestrate suffering?
              Job 2:10 - "shall we accept good from God and not accept adversity?"
              Jere. 32:42 - "I brought all this calamity on this people"
              Amos 3:6 - "if a calamity occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it?"
              I Pet 3:17 - "if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing right"
              I Pet. 4:19 - "those who suffer according to the will of God"
         5. Does God push the misfortune buttons? dented fender, clogged sink, heart attack?
    B. Is Satan the source of human "suffering"?
         Job 2:6 - "the Lord said to Satan, 'Behold, he is in your power...'"
         Rev. 2:10 - "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. The devil is about to cast some of you              into prison..."
    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
         Jn. 9:2,3 - "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God               might be displayed..."
    D. Is suffering the fault of others? Is it the result of the sins of our fathers ? Hereditary suffering?          Exod 20:5 - "I am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the                third and fourth generations..."
         Lev. 26:39 - "because of the iniquities of their forefathers they will rot"
         Jere 16:10,11 -"this calamity...is because your forefathers forsook Me"
         Is this 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 pains"?
          Prov. 3:11 - "do not reject the discipline of the Lord"
          Heb. 12:5-11- "those whom the Lord loves He disciplines"
    C. Testing, proving
         Gen. 22:1 - "God tested Abraham" (Heb. 11:17)
         Deut. 8:2,16 - "God led you...that He might humble you, testing you..."
         James 1:3 - "testing of your faith"
         I Pet. 1:7 - "proof of your faith...even though tested by fire"
    D. Vicarious suffering
         Numb. 11:1-15 - (Moses willing to stand in their place)
         Hosea 1-3 - (suffers unfaithful bride to illustrate Israel's unfaithfulness)
         Isa. 52:13-53:12 - (Jesus as suffering servant "oppressed and afflicted")
    E. Educational - "learn the lessons God wants you to learn"
         Heb. 5:8 - "He learned obedience from the things which He suffered"
    F. Revelation
         C.S. Lewis - "Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a dulled world."
         Jn. 9:2,3 - "that the works of God might be displayed"
    G. Repentance, seek God
         Hosea 5:15 - "in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me"
         Isa. 19:22 - "striking but healing, so they will return to the Lord
         II Cor. 7:9,10 - "sorrowful to the point of repentance...sorrow produces repentance"
    H. Self-denial
         Lk. 22:42 - "not My will, but Thine be done"
         II Cor. 1:8,9 - "affliction...that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God"
         II Cor. 12:7 - "to keep me from exalting myself
    I. Character of God displayed
         Rom. 5:3,4 - "tribulation brings perseverance...proven character"
         Rom. 8:29 - "conformed to the image of His Son"
         II Cor. 4:10,11 - "life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies"
         Heb. 12:10 - that we might share His holiness"
         Heb. 12:11 - "yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness"
         James 1:2 - "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing"
    J. Solidarity - In suffering we band and bond together
         Rom. 12:15 - "weep with those who weep"
         I Cor. 12:26 - "if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it"
    K. Ministry of comfort
         II Cor. 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"
         Heb. 4:15 - "sympathize with our weakness"
    L. Glorification
         Rom. 8:17 - "we suffer with Him that we might be glorified with Him"
         II Cor. 4:17 - "affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory"

VI. Responses to "suffering"

    A. Various perspectives and responses
         1. All of life is suffering
              a. Buddhism - cause of suffering is desire; seek to end desire in nirvana
              b. nihilism - pessimism - desire to unlive -"stop the world, I want to get off"
         2. Suffering is an unfortunate fact of life
              a. dualism - good and evil, two sides of coin; all equalizes; go with the flow; what goes                   around comes around.
              b. fatalism - accept it; what will be, will be
              c. stoicism - bear it; learn to cope, to survive, "positive thinking"
              d. humanism - conquer it, overcome, take charge of own destiny
              e. escapism - avoid all that you can
         3. Suffering is an illusion
              a. idealism - deny it, don't believe it, it is unreality
    B. Christian perspective of "suffering"
         1. Suffering is a fact of life, but not necessarily unfortunate fact of life
              a. 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?
              b. 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
         2. The suffering of man has been taken up by the Divine Suffering Servant (cf. Isa. 52:13 ­               53:12)
              a. Emptied Himself to become incarnated into suffering humanity - Phil. 2:5-8
              b. Denied His self-will to accept work of Suffering Servant - Lk. 22:42
              c. His resurrection reality is the victory over suffering - I Cor. 15:57
              d. 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
         3. Suffering has a beneficent purpose
              a. Suffering is the birth pangs for the greater experience of life
              b. In suffering life becomes more real than the superficialities of comfort.
              c. Suffering is analogous to the surgery required to heal the disease of our self-orientation
                   Matt. 9:12
              d. True love is strengthened and perfected by suffering.
    C. Christian responses to "suffering"
         1. Positive value of suffering does NOT mean that Christians should
              a. seek, desire, court, invite, or pursue suffering
              b. claim proud badge of courage in "suffering for Jesus"
              c. develop persecution-complex or martyr-complex
         2. Acceptance of the situations of life
              a. 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 Christ -
                  Col. 1:27; 2:2
              b. Our sufferings, sicknesses and adversities are not happenings in themselves, but are                   defined by the effect we allow them to have on us.
         3. Entrust ourselves to God, His purposes and ways
              a. Recognize His sufficiency of grace in the situations - II Cor. 3:5; 12:9
              b. Receptivity of God's activity - Faith
              c. Persevere - Rom. 5:3; 12:12; James 1:12
              d. Endure - I Cor. 4:12; II Tim. 4:5; James 1:3,4
              e. Entrust ourselves to God - I Pet. 2:21-23; 4:19



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