What does the Bible say about suffering?
Chances are, you or someone you love is passing through suffering right now. It may be chronic pain, illness, or disability. It may be grief from some traumatic loss. It may be a fragmenting relationship. It may be the pain of struggling through seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Do you sometimes just want to look up and scream, “Why, God? Why?”
It’s hard to understand suffering. Why does God allow even His faithful followers to go through tough times? How does God use our fiery trials for our good and His glory? How does suffering bless us? Can we actually have joy when enduring pain and hardship? How can we focus on the goodness of our sovereign God?
Christian quotes about suffering
“God brings men into deep waters not to drown them, but to cleanse them.” James H. Aughey
“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God.” Sam Storms
“Every trial of suffering is an opportunity to grow in the faith.” T.A. McMahon
“The deep meaning of the cross of Christ is that there is no suffering on earth that is not borne by God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“This is God’s universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world.” John Piper
No healthy Christian ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not. Oswald Chambers
Why does God allow suffering?
When Adam and Eve gave in to the serpent’s temptation and sinned, they opened the door to suffering in our world (Genesis 3). Before that, God didn’t allow suffering. Adam and Eve had never experienced pain or hardship. But once they disobeyed God, they brought down the curse. Now, they (and through them, us) would experience suffering, sickness, and eventually death. Now, work would be hard, childbearing would be painful, and the physical world fell under a curse.
So, we suffer today because of the curse. Our natural world is literally groaning for redemption from the curse (Romans 8:20-23).
Secondly, Satan is always prowling about, looking for ways to steal, kill, and destroy (1 Peter 5:8, John 10:10). Remember not to blame God for the devil’s work.
Thirdly, sometimes we suffer because of our poor choices or sin. Suppose we have indulged in unhealthy eating, smoking, or drinking too much. In that case, our bodies may suffer from diabetes, hypertension, or liver ailments. If we have indulged in sexual sin or unloving behaviors, we may suffer from STDs or broken relationships. If we have spent money foolishly or gotten into too much debt, we might suffer financial woes. We suffer if we fail to heed God’s warnings on things like this.
Finally, suffering might be God disciplining us:
“Endure suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? . . . God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7-11)
Romans 5:3-5 “And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Romans 8:20-23 “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
1 Peter 5:8 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Romans 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Ephesians 1:11 (NASB) “In Him we also have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things in accordance with the plan of His will.”
2 Corinthians 1:6-7 “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
1 Peter 4:13 “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
Psalm 119:71 (KJV) “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”
2 Timothy 3:12 “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
1 Peter 1:6-8 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”
1 Peter 5:10 “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
Philippians 3:10 “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”
Matthew 10:21 (ESV) “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Hebrews 2:10-13 “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
God uses our suffering for His glory.
What’s the core of suffering? What is God’s purpose in these seasons of hardship?
Suffering tends to either bring out the best in us or the worse. It exposes who we really are in our walk with God. We might react with despair, anger, or confusion in our flesh. But we can give God the glory and be resilient when we passionately believe that:
- God works all things together for those who love Him (Romans 8:28)
- Christ Jesus is at the right hand of God, interceding for us (Romans 8:34)
- “When God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Suffering tends to take our focus off this world and on God. When our suffering involves loss, it reminds us that this world is temporary. Yet, we have eternity with God and without suffering to look forward to.
“We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18)
Sometimes, God permits suffering so that the works of God would be displayed. In John 9, we read the story of the man born blind. The disciples asked Jesus who sinned – the man or his parents, assuming the man’s blindness was God’s punishment for sin. Jesus set the record straight: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Jesus then healed the man, displaying His power and glory.
Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
2 Corinthians 4:17 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
1 Peter 4:19 “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
Revelation 3:19 “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”
2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV) “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as [a]by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Philippians 1:29 (ESV) “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”
2 Timothy 1:8 “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”
Philippians 1:11 “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Blessed are those who suffer
How can suffering bring blessings? We are blessed by receiving God’s comfort when we pass through distressing times. God walks alongside us through the fire, comforting, strengthening, and encouraging us. He does this so that we can, in turn, comfort, strengthen, and encourage others who are suffering.
- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
We are blessed when we suffer from the devil’s attacks because we are empowered as we resist him. God promises He will restore, strengthen, support, and build us up.
- “Be sober-minded and alert. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in your faith and in the knowledge that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore you, secure you, strengthen you, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:8-10).
Romans 5:3-5 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
1 Peter 5:8-10 (KJV) “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”
Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who suffer for doing what is right. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them. 11 “Blessed are you when people make fun of you and hurt you because of me. You are also blessed when they tell all kinds of evil lies about you because of me. 12 Be joyful and glad. Your reward in heaven is great. In the same way, people hurt the prophets who lived long ago.”
Luke 6:20 “Looking up at His disciples, Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
1 Peter 2:20 (ESV) “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”
You are not alone in your suffering.
Sometimes when we pass through a season of suffering, we are so overwhelmed with pain and fear that we lose sight of God’s presence. We might feel like God has abandoned us. We may wonder where God is in all of this.
But God makes it clear that we are not alone.
Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or terrified of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Psalm 56:8 “You have taken account of my miseries. Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?”
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.”
Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will also help you. I will also uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
Isaiah 44:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.”
John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Romans 8:37-39 “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Psalm 34:19 “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
1 Peter 5:7 (NASB) “having cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares about you.”
Psalm 27:10 (NLT) “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.”
Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Nahum 1:7 “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him.”
Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
John 16:32 “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.”
Our suffering is light and temporary.
Your suffering might not seem light at the moment. It may seem unbearable and unending. But it’s something like when a woman gives birth. She might endure excruciating pain, but once the baby is born, she is so excited and moved by love for her child that the pain is exchanged for joy.
2 Corinthians 4:17 “For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond comparison.”
1 Peter 1:6 “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.”
Psalm 30:5 “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
How to have joy in suffering?
Suffering isn’t any fun, so how can we have joy? Is that even possible?
We can rejoice in suffering by realizing that God uses it to display His character in us. Developing God’s character is a series of steps that starts with suffering. God uses those painful times like a refiner’s fire to purify and make us more like Jesus. We grow stronger in our faith and deeper in our intimacy with God when passing through trials –if we cooperate with God.
- “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
- “We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Suppose we are suffering persecution because of our faith. In that case, we can have joy in suffering, knowing that we share what Jesus went through on our behalf.
- “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed at the revelation of His glory.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
James 1:2-4 (NASB) “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Romans 5:3 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.”
Isaiah 66:13 “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”
Philippians 1:20–21 “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Philippians 4:4 (ESV) “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Philippians 4:10-13 “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Suffering in community
God does not intend us to go through painful trials all on our own. He’s promised to be right there with us, all the way through. But God also expects us to suffer together. As we minister to our brothers and sisters passing through difficult times, it’s as if we are ministering to Christ.
Matthew 25:37-40 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”
Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”
Hebrews 13:3 “Remember those in prison as if you were bound with them, and those who are mistreated as if you were suffering with them.”
Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Christ suffered for us.
- “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3-5)
We know that God is with us in our sufferings. But Jesus suffered the agony of a horrible death on our behalf, screaming out to His Father, “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’”(Mark 15:34).
Christ took our place in His suffering. And when we endure suffering, we are sharing in Jesus’ suffering. (I Peter 4:13)
Romans 8:17 “And if we are children, then we are heirs: heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ–if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
Isaiah 53:3-4 (NIV) “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.”
1 Peter 4:13 “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
Philippians 3:10 “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
John 1:10 “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.”
Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
Mark 10:34 “who will mock Him and spit on Him and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise again.”
2 Corinthians 5:21″God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Matthew 27:39 “And those who passed by heaped abuse on Him, shaking their heads.”
Examples of suffering in the Bible
- The story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 displays how God brings good out of suffering. His brothers betrayed him and sold him as a slave. He was then falsely accused of rape and imprisoned. Joseph endured betrayal, enslavement, and imprisonment by allowing God’s character to grow in him. He even forgave his brothers. Yet, because he was in that prison cell at just the right moment, God used him to rescue Egypt and his own family from a great famine. He told his brothers: “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:19-20).
- Job was grieved when all his livestock was stolen or killed, and his ten children died on the same day. To make matters worse, he was afflicted with painful boils from his head to his feet. Job was perplexed. In his mind, bad things didn’t happen to good people. He wasn’t aware of Satan’s challenge to God: “If he loses everything he has, he will curse You to Your face.”(Job 1:11) Despite Job’s protests at what he considered unfair treatment, he did not sin with his mouth, and he even blessed God. (Job 1:20-21) He passed the test, and God restored his prosperity, doubled his former possessions, and blessed Job with ten more children.
- David was anointed king while a teen, but he had to wait years to be crowned. He spent that time on the run from Saul’s maniacal jealousy, hiding in caves in the wilderness. His wife was given to another man. But David remained a man after God’s own heart. He wrote some of his most heartrending psalms during this period. Sometimes, he felt abandoned by God, writing the prophetic words later spoken by Jesus: “My God, my God! Why have You forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) And yet, David acknowledged God’s holiness, God’s care for his forefathers, and he continued to praise God even through his tears. Many years later, David suffered the loss of his newborn son. This time, his suffering was discipline from God for his adultery with Bathsheba and arranging her husband’s death. In Psalm 51, he acknowledged his sin and asked God to wash him clean, to create in him a clean heart, and renew a right spirit in him.
Psalm 22:1 (KJV) “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?”
Psalm 6:6 “I am weary from groaning; all night I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.”
Job 1:20-21 “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Psalm 31:9-10 “Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. 10 My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.”
Genesis 50:19-20 “But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Psalm 32:3 “When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long.”
2 Chronicles 36:16 (ESV) “But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.”
Psalm 10:1 “Why, O LORD, do You stand far off? Why do You hide in times of trouble?”
Judges 21:1-3 “Now the men of Israel had sworn at Mizpah, “No one of us shall give his daughter in marriage to Benjamin.” 2 And the people came to Bethel and sat there till evening before God, and they lifted up their voices and wept bitterly. 3 And they said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, why has this happened in Israel, that today there should be one tribe lacking in Israel?”
Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
Let’s be honest –none of us willingly choose to suffer. We don’t have to! It finds us easily enough. And yet, joy and blessing accompany suffering, and God is in it with us.
We should be cautious about assuming that our (or someone else’s) suffering is God’s discipline because of some sin. That might be the case – it was the reason David lost his son; however, sin did not cause Joseph and Job’s fiery trials. Pray for discernment – God might be disciplining you, but much suffering is simply because we live in a fallen world. Or you might be experiencing an attack from the adversary. If we resist the devil, he will flee (James 4:7). God has given us spiritual armor to fight him (Ephesians 6:10-17).
We may not have a clear idea of why we’re suffering, but we can ensure that we are praying and praising our way through it. We can make sure that we are allowing godly character traits to develop: endurance, character, and hope.