I had been in East Africa for only a short time when the principal of our institution spoke these words during a chapel service, “Everyone is talking about claiming the promises of God, but I never hear anyone claim the promise to suffer – that’s a promise; you know?” The students responded with an awkward laugh. They knew the principal was correct; no one was claiming that promise. However, for many of them, it was probably the first time they had ever heard that suffering was a promise.
One of the worst exports from America is a damnable heresy known as the Prosperity Gospel. Like most heresies, the Prosperity Gospel takes a truth of Scripture and then twists it to make man the focus. They twist it the truth to appeal to the desires of man. In this case, they teach that God desires for man to be healthy and wealthy…and to keep him from all suffering. Therefore, if you are not healthy and wealthy, or if you are suffering, it is because you do not have enough faith.
But this is not exactly what the Bible teaches. While this article will focus on the suffering aspect, this podcast by Dr. David Jones addresses the other aspects.
Promised because of Sin
The Biblical truth is that we are promised suffering. John 16:33 says “…in this world you will have tribulation…” Suffering is a part of this world. We are promised suffering because we live in a fallen world. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, the world was subjected to sin (Romans 8:18-22). That means that disease and natural disasters will occur. They will occur for everyone – Christians and non-Christians.
In addition to the suffering that comes from the world being corrupted by sin, mankind is also corrupted by sin. Therefore, hate, violence, and oppression exist. A result of man’s fallen state is that we mistreated each other. We cause suffering for one another. Christians and non-Christians alike face this suffering.
Sin has corrupted the natural world and humans. Christians and non-Christians face the consequences of this corruption. Sin causes disease, oppression, mistreatment through violence and oppression, and natural disasters. Because this world is fallen, because sin still exists, there will be suffering – for everyone.
Promised for Christians
However, for Christians, there is an even more specific promise of suffering. There is a promise that we will suffer because we are Christ followers (John 15:18-21). Because the world is fallen and man is trapped in his sin, they hate righteousness. They hate God. They war against God (Romans 5:10, Ephesians 2:1-3, Philippians 3:18) Because they hate God, they hate all associated with God. This is why when God became flesh and dwelt among us, they rejected and murdered him. Because they hate God, they hate all associated with God – including his followers. Since they treated him in such a way, we should expect the same. We will suffer because of our faith.
This suffering may present itself in different manners. For the early Christians, and even now for Christians living in certain areas of the world, suffering may come in the form of physical torture and even death. For many reading this, you are not experiencing that level of suffering – yet. But you may face suffering of losing your job, or being rejected by friends and family, slander from others, and mockery. While there seems to be a disproportionate separation in degree of suffering, all of these are in fact suffering. And as we strive to live faithfully for Christ in this fallen world, we expect this sort of suffering.
It is not true that our faith will keep us from suffering. In fact, it is our faith that will lead to additional suffering. Suffering will happen. It is promised. But, while we do not go looking for suffering, we do not fear it either because we know that suffering has a purpose. It is not meaningless. In the next part of this series, we will look at the purpose, the blessing, of suffering.