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On Suffering

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The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet." Proverbs 27:7

“Afflictions, trials, and sorrows are very bitter things. And they must needs be bitter, for God never meant that they should be otherwise. When he takes the rod, it is to make it felt; and when he brings trouble on his children, it is that they may smart under it. Our text therefore does not, I believe, mean that the "bitter thing" is sweet when it is taken, for then it would cease to be bitter; but it is sweet on account of the blessed nourishment that is brought to the soul out of it.

I remember reading, many years ago, the travels of Franklin to the North Pole; and a very interesting book it is naturally. But there is one incident mentioned in it which just strikes my mind. In wandering over the snows of the polar regions there was no food to be gotten for weeks, except a lichen or kind of moss that grew upon the rocks, and that was so exceedingly bitter, (something like "Iceland moss,") that it could only be taken with the greatest disgust; and yet upon that Franklin and his companions lived. They had no alternative; they must either eat that or die. But that bitter moss became sweet after it had passed their palates; for it had a nutriment in it which kept their bodies alive.

And thus many of God's people, who have endured the most dreadful trials, have afterwards found nutriment to spring out of them. What bitter things are God's reproofs and rebukes in the conscience! And yet who would be without them? I appeal to you who fear God, whether you would deliberately choose never to experience marks of divine disapprobation, and never feel the frowns of God's anger at any time when you go wrong? I believe in my conscience that you whose hearts are tender in God's fear would say, "Lord, let me have your frowns; for if I have not your frowns and a conscience to feel them, what sins would I not recklessly plunge into? Where would not my wicked nature carry me, if I had not your solemn reproofs!" These very rebukes then become sweet, not in themselves, nor at the time, but because of the solid profit that comes out of them.” (J.C. Philpot, 1802-1869: ‘Through Baca's Vale’.)


It is true that God chastens us when we are not doing what we ought. Very often, we may be unaware of doing anything wrong, whether by action or inaction. And those around us may not be aware of any lack in us. Yet, God sees it and puts it right.

However, it is an error to think that when a man or woman is thus chastened, then he or she must be at fault. There are times when God gives us trials not to chasten us as wrongdoers, but in order to strengthen us, particularly for some coming task of importance. He may also give us trials so that we will prove His Almightiness and the surety of His salvation, as He did with Job.

Jesus came to this earth deliberately in human form, so that He could die. In His case, suffering and death were embraced as a necessity for our salvation. But, let us be frank – who amongst us looks forward to suffering? Indeed, would it be perverse to look forward to it? Would it not place us in the same category as those deluded Roman Catholic souls who flog themselves in an attempt to emulate Jesus’ suffering? Yes, but we must know how to suffer truly.

There is wrongful suffering (1 Peter 2:19), when a man suffers because of his faith. There is eternal suffering in Hell for evils done on this earth (Jude 1:7). But, there is also suffering known to God and allowed by Him (James 5:10). So, how should we view suffering?

We should certainly be careful not to deliberately bring about suffering as a kind of spiritual crutch, as if a self-inflicted injury is somehow ‘godly’... which it is not; to deliberately damage the temple of God, our bodies, is unthinkable.

When Jesus suffered it was not a penalty for His sin, for He had none. Yet, He had shame heaped upon Him by men. Likewise, Christians must be prepared to suffer shame, for their faith (Acts 9:16, 2 Timothy 3:12. Note that those who live godly lives suffer, whereas those who live godless lives, even Christians, will not suffer, for the enemy sees them as no threat). Such suffering is to His and our glory (Romans 8:17). Persecution comes under the heading of ‘suffering’. I can assure readers who know nothing of this, that persecution is not fashionable or wanted! It can leave a person drained and miserable. Yet, if we transfer those feelings to the darkness where it belongs, we will know the love of God. Then, we ‘suffer’, anechō, in the biblical sense: we hold up with dignity, standing tall, enduring the trouble in the Name of our Master. It is the least we can do. Bemoaning our lot is not beneficial.

We must bear our troubles in a way that honours Him, because He first suffered for our sakes. Sadly, few do this and so make out that the Christian life has no benefits or glory. When we openly and publicly become depressed and anxious over a real or perceived trouble, we cannot be said to suffer. Rather, we allow human frailty to replace God’s glory in the eyes of many. Our low spirits actually damage the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:12), because unbelievers cannot see evidence of God in us; instead, all they see is failure at the ‘first hurdle’ of faith! It is suffering that tests our spiritual mettle. When we fall to its many arrows of attack, we allow ourselves to be overtaken, and we fail... God more than ourselves.

We suffer so that God can bring about change in us, for the better (2 Corinthians 1:6). There are many ways we can suffer (2 Corinthians 11:20), and if we are not careful, we will successfully do battle against failure because of one arrow, but fall to the injuries inflicted by others, because we do not stay focussed and calm. Even so, remember that we can EXPECT to suffer, as Christ did (Philippians 1:29). When we stand firm and dignified in the face of suffering, we thereby stand with Christ, worthy and praised by Him (2 Thessalonians 1:5).

God keeps us when we suffer in His name, with dignity (2 Timothy 1:2), and when we stand firm in our suffering we show ourselves suitable to reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). Even though God recognises us, it behoves fellow believers to know who are afflicted and to help them (Hebrews 13:3). Strangely, when we suffer for our faith, we will be happy, even though we did not want the suffering (1 Peter 3:14) yet we glorify God (4:16).

The time is coming when Christians will suffer prison or worse, because the devil will reign for a short while (Revelation 2:10). So, take heed today. If you suffer, suffer well! This is to God’s glory and to your own strengthening of faith, as I know in my own life.

© February 2015

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom