You must have heard these statements around your Christian circles: ‘Jesus suffered and conquered, so I should live a life of victory’ or, ‘You are suffering because you haven’t claimed Jesus’ victory over your life’ or again, ‘By his stripes you are healed, so any believer in christ should not suffer any illness’. These remind me of my 27-year-old friend (let’s call her Zena), who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer. According to the doctors, Zena only had four months to live. She was in good shape most of her life, having been going to the gym as often as possible, and had just started following Christ. One of our mutual friends would visit her and assert that if only she believed, she would be completely healed from her sickness and restored to total health. He pressed verses like 1 Peter 2:24, emphasising that Zena needed to be like the woman who had bled for 12 years, who got healed when she touched Christ’s garment (Mark 5:34). Is this really how it works? Was Christ’s victory meant to alleviate our physical suffering?
A Biblical Perspective on Suffering
We have all experienced some form of suffering. We have either been sick or seen someone close to us suffering from some illness. We have experienced different forms of poverty or abuse. Whatever the situation, we all know what suffering means and its implication on our minds and bodies. So, here’s the big question: if indeed we are more than conquerors through Christ, why are we still suffering and yet we believe in Jesus? Now this calls for us to get a biblical understanding of what it means to suffer. In the scriptures, there are at least four ways of understanding suffering.
Suffering due to the Fall
This is the kind of suffering that we all experience because we are in a broken world. Adam and Eve sinned, and the effect of their sin was not just on them but also on all of creation, for God subjected the entire creation to futility until the time he will make all things new (Romans 8:18-21). I place this category of suffering first because a good understanding of this suffering will almost always translate into a helpful attitude towards suffering. The brokenness of this world is evidenced through ordeals like drought, floods, diseases, and even the physical death of our loved ones. We will also suffer because of the sins of others; they may enslave us or pay us low wages when we work for them, implicate us in things we didn’t do, etc. Both believers and non-believers experience this kind of suffering. In John 16:33, Christ speaks of how we must face tribulation in the world. The good thing is he doesn’t leave it there.
Suffering due to sin
Another type of suffering is the one due to sin or doing wrong. If you steal, for example. An angry mob might catch up with you and either lynch you to death or beat you up if you’re lucky. The scriptures warn us about suffering in such a way since that kind of suffering has no blessing from God (1 Peter 2:19-21). Many of us suffer because we made bad decisions, such as choosing a spouse with ill character, or maybe we are in jail because we took a bribe, or our laziness has caused us to go hungry and even unable to meet our bills, or you now have a sexually transmitted illness because you committed sexual immorality. The scriptures warn against such suffering since they are more of a judgement from the Lord (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
Some might endure the consequences of these kinds of sufferings for the rest of their lives. However, that will not mean that God has deserted you. If you are in Christ, all you should cling to is that nothing can separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39). If you suffer in such a way, know that you can turn to God and confess your sins, and he is faithful to forgive you (1 John 1:9-2:3). The suffering might not go, but that doesn’t mean you are not forgiven.
Suffering due to Persecution
Thirdly, there is suffering because you are a Christian (Psalms 34:19). All true Christians are bound to face some form of suffering/tribulation in their lives, and this is so mainly because we are not of this world. The world systems, the devil and his agents are out there seeking to lead people astray so that they may deny and turn their backs on the God who saved them; they will do so in all sorts of ways, which include persecution.
Therefore, we should not be surprised when faced with fiery ordeals (1 Peter 4:12-13). In all these, if you’re a believer, you will have the peace of God through all the trouble you will face because of your faith (John 16:33). We suffer so that we may be perfect, complete and lacking nothing, for suffering produces steadfastness of our faith (James 1:2).
We suffer, and there we experience God’s comfort, which helps us comfort others when they go through similar tribulations (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Suffering helps us test our faith’s genuineness (1 Peter 6-7). The good thing is that blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10-12). Since Christ conquered all the pains and sufferings that he endured, we shall overcome by his power. Ultimately, he will wipe away the tears in our eyes. There will be no death or pain, for everything terrible will pass away (Revelations 21:4).
Eternal suffering (Luke 13:28) is the kind of suffering that unbelievers will experience once they die without believing in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins (Matthew 7:23). It is the eternal punishment in hell because of their wicked ways (Matthew 25:41). It is the eternal separation from the love, grace, and mercy and glory of God (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Everyone is born a sinner and therefore deserves this kind of punishment (Romans 3:23). But God, by his mercy and grace, sent Jesus so that he can save those who will come to him by faith through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 11:6). Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53 predicted that Christ would suffer and through that, he will bring healing/salvation from sin and it’s eternal punishment. And this is the kind of suffering that Jesus came and gave us victory over. That is how we should understand 2 Peter 2:24, that the healing is from the curse of sin and deliverance from eternal punishment (suffering) because of sin and not just the physical healing of the body. Hence we can say with Paul that we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus (Romans 1:1-4). No one can bring any charge against God’s elect because Christ died; more than that, he has risen, and he is at the right hand of God interceding for us (Romans 8:31-35).
Christ Secured Eternal Suffering
God can heal or alleviate your suffering here on earth by his sovereign power. We have enough examples in scripture of God healing people through prophets, prayers of fellow saints and even his son Jesus Christ. He can definitely do the same for you today. However, that doesn’t mean that he will heal everyone in the same way. It is also helpful to note that not all pain and suffering are necessary because of the sin(s) we or someone else has committed. Jesus disregards that idea by saying that the blind man was blind since birth, so the works of God might be shown through him (John 9:1-6). Chiefly, Christ came to rescue us from eternal suffering.
We visited Zena at the hospital daily and had amazing gospel conversations with her. She kept affirming her faith in Christ, and we witnessed her love for God grow daily. She finally went to be with the Lord. In as much as it was sad that she passed away, we rejoiced that she is now with Jesus in heaven, and we shall see her again. Christ promises to make all things new upon his return when righteousness will reign (2 Peter 3:12-13). May our hopes rest in God’s good plan for us, even through our various forms of suffering.