Why do Christians Suffer?
We've probably all listened to preachers tell us that God wants us to prosper. They say God wants to heal you. And they claim we have to speak our desires into existence. And, we might think that Christians should not suffer like other people.
So, if we can become wealthy, healthy, and have our desires by speaking them into existence, why do we feel lonely, rejected, and depressed? Why are we injured and sick? Why are we pinching pennies and hoping our pay gets credited to our account before the checks we've written clear?
Why do we Christians suffer so?
Practically everywhere you look you can see Christians who are poor. You don't have to look very far to see Christians who are afflicted with cancer, diabetes, or other chronic illness. It seems that God allows Christians to suffer without coming to their aid.
The theological basis for much of the health, wealth, and speak it into existence teaching is a "me-oriented" theology.
The emphasis is on getting what you want.
You want wealth. You can get it.
You want health. You can get it.
Whatever you want, you can get it from God. All you need to do is believe and speak it into existence.
This view holds either that you are a god yourself, or God is your slave, ready to give you what you want if you speak it in the right way.
And many people are attracted by this message.
But, God's emphasis is entirely different. God wants you to humble yourself and become obedient to his principles. Simply put, God wants you to show love for God and for your neighbor.
When you love God, you will believe what he says; you will trust him; you will be loyal to him; you will be committed and faithful to him.
Followers of Jesus saw him heal the sick and drive out demons. They believed he was the "lord" over sickness and demons. But, they would not accept him as lord over their lives. That is, they simply would not do what Jesus told them to do. Jesus said to them, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46)
Jesus emphasized obedience to his words when he said to Judas, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Fatherís who sent me." (John 14:23-24)
God is not our servant. If we are Christians, we are God's servants. We will be doing what God wants us to do.
And, not only is God not our servant, he wants us to help others. Instead of dwelling on our own personal well being, we should be mindful of others.
God wants us to love others and consider their well being. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Philippian church indicated, "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4) James indicated what religion ought to accomplish when he wrote, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:27)
Our relationship with God is not to enhance our stature or satisfy our ego. Rather, our relationship with God should make us humble so we can do what God says and help others.
Why Christians Suffer
There are two reasons Christians suffer:
Suffering Because You Are Human
As a human being, you know that you were born, you grew up, and you know you will die. This is the ultimate course of every person on earth. You are no exception.
Every person will die of some cause. And, between their birth and their death they will need to work to live. God even commanded Adam to work, labor, guard and protect the garden in Eden (Genesis 2:15).
There are some who believe that if they hope or wish strongly enough, money will come to them. Instead of working, they talk and do relatively nothing. This is not simply a modern view. The Apostle Paul had to write to the church in Thessalonica about this. He wrote, "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread." (I Thessalonians 3:10-12)
You will have to work to support yourself and your family. You will not always enjoy your circumstances. You may be injured on the job. Your association with others may cause you to become ill.
Your education or lack of it may determine your income potential. If you neglect education and training, the ways available to you to make money will be reduced. It is guaranteed that you will suffer either from exerting yourself in the short term to become educated or you will suffer long term in a job with little potential for advancement.
Your ability or inability to handle money may mean you will become wealthy or barely survive. You can suffer in the short term to accumulate and invest money in ways that help build wealth. Or you can suffer in the long term by spending everything you have and constantly living off current earnings.
Sickness and disease are also common to mankind. Living close together in cities means that communicable diseases spread quickly. At work or standing in line at a store, a sneeze or cough can mean you will suffer with some illness.
Modern society uses mass production techniques to supply everything people need. Manufacturing plants use energy which requires fossil fuels. Most food production uses additives to enhance the effects of feed grains and pesticides to protect crops against bugs and diseases.
This means that pollution in the environment, hormones in meat, or pesticides on produce may cause long term, chronic illness. And we all suffer from these things.
Christians suffer from natural disasters. While some have wondered why God allows natural evil, natural disasters happen to Christian and non-Christian alike. God wants you to take precautions to lessen the risk to you and your loved ones--and reduce the suffering of all people.
But, if you are a Christian, you have hope for the future. That is, you look forward to the resurrection of the saints.
In the resurrection you will be changed. You will no longer become sick. You will no longer grow old. You will no long suffer from want.
Paul explained what we hope for in the resurrection when he wrote, "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." (I Corinthians 15:41-44)
But, we have more than hope for the future. We have peace with God right now.
God no longer holds our misdeeds against us. He accepts us through faith.
Faith is what makes people committed and loyal to God. Men like Able, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham were faithful to do what God told them to do. The writer of Hebrews indicated, "Now faith is a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see. For by it the saints of old won Godís approval." (Hebrews 11:1-2)
And waiting and hoping for this resurrection helps build faith and endurance. Our sufferings make us look forward to the future with eager anticipation.
The Apostle Paul encouraged the church in Rome by writing, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because Godís love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:1-5)
So, sufferings that are common to all people can help you build faith in God and look forward with increasing hope to your resurrection.
Suffering Because You Are Christian
Many sufferings described in the New Testament are special to Christians. There were numerous persecutions which Christians experienced simply because they were Christian. The first being at the hands of the Jewish leaders.
Not many modern Christians in developed countries have suffered the way the early Christians suffered under Roman rule.
Fox's Book of Martyrs published by Butler Brothers (printed around 1887) gives a gripping description of the first Roman persecution under Nero.
In modern times Christians have been persecuted by the Nazis, by the Communists in the Soviet Union, North Korea and China, and by Muslims in various countries. Christianity cannot be practiced freely in Muslim countries or in Israel. Even countries like Mexico, Canada, and the United States restrict the free practice of Christianity.
In spite of persecution, many Christians have continued to maintain a life loyal to Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about living through persecution. He stressed that Timothy remain faithful. "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:12-15)
Jesus knew that his followers would be persecuted. After all, Jesus himself was persecuted. Several times people tried to kill him, but he eluded them. Religious leaders plotted against him. He knew the risks for those who followed him. But, he told his disciples to remain loyal to the end.
Jesus told his disciples, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my nameís sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved." (Matthew 10:16-22)
We all suffer. God does not take us out of this life to save us from all the consequences of our temporary existence. Our sufferings may be caused by inconvenience, environmental pollutants, natural disasters, illness, natural aging, and accidents. But, these are all common experiences of mankind.
Even the sufferings of persecution are known to God. Jesus suffered and he knew his followers would suffer in similar ways. Yet, he did not save his disciples from that future.
But, Christians can know that they now have peace with God and can look to the future for their resurrection and eternal life.
Our current sufferings help us build faith and endurance. Paul, looking at his present situation and his future wrote, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18)
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