What Does the Bible Say About Suffering?

Human experience is permeated with suffering. God cares about human suffering. Jesus himself suffered for our sake to give us eternal life with God apart from suffering.

What Does the Bible Say About Suffering

The issue of suffering raises a number of questions: Why does God allow suffering? Why do Christians suffer? Is suffering a sign that a person has unconfessed sin, even unknown sin? How should Christians respond to suffering?

In the Bible, suffering is linked to the fallen, sinful condition of humanity, though it is not always linked directly to sin. Suffering has no rightful claim in God’s world, and he will one day eradicate all forms of suffering. Even still God uses suffering to magnify his glory and power.

What Does the Bible Say About Suffering (KJV)?

“And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows” Exodus 3:7

The Lord knows when his people suffer. When God’s people were slaves in Egypt, their suffering and cries were the reasons given for sending them a savior.

“And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.” Numbers 14:33

Suffering in the Bible is at times linked with faithlessness toward the Lord or covenant infidelity.

“Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.” James 5:10

The prophets suffered affliction from the Israelite community because they called the people to covenant obedience.

“Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” James 5:13

The brother of the Lord, James, tells believers that they should pray when they experience suffering. Christians entrust themselves to God in all situations, knowing that only he can work all things for his glory and our good.

“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” 1Peter 2:21

Suffering in the New Testament is most commonly connected with righteousness. Just as Jesus suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, so too should Christians expect to experience suffering as a result of being followers of Jesus.

What is Suffering in the Bible

In the Bible, suffering is linked to various sources, but all suffering is related to the fallen human condition. There are examples of physical suffering and spiritual suffering, and occasions when the two are interrelated.

In the Bible, people suffer because of:

  • Sickness or disease
  • Personal sin
  • Corporate sin
  • Generational sin
  • Living righteously
  • Living foolishly
  • Grief
  • Reproach or disgrace
  • Natural disasters
  • An unknown cause
  • Being a Christian

At times there are varying degrees of overlap between these forms of suffering. One of the most important themes connected to suffering is that God is near to those who suffer:

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”Psalms 34:18

Examples of Suffering in the Bible

The book of Job is perhaps the prime example of suffering in the Old Testament. It wrestles with the questions of why the righteous suffer, where is God in the midst of suffering, and what the disposition of worshipers of Yahweh should be when they suffer.

“He delivereth the poor in his affliction, and openeth their ears in oppression.”Job 36:15

Job himself declares that, through his suffering, God is teaching the righteous more of his grace, goodness, and provision.

Jesus suffering in the cross in the place of his people is the prime example of suffering in the New Testament. On numerous occasions Jesus explicitly foretells to his disciples that he would suffer on the cross (Matthew 16:21; 17:12; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; 17:25; 22:15). Jesus’ suffering for the sins of his people becomes a major theme in the New Testament (Acts 3:18; 5:41; 9:16; 17:3; 26:23)

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:”1Peter 3:18
“Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”Luke 24:26

Jesus’s suffering on the cross is considered the path to glory for both himself and those for whom he died. Furthermore, Jesus himself explains that his suffering was necessary and part of God’s plan of redemption.

What Does the Bible Say About Suffering and Pain?

Although suffering is not always linked with pain, at times it certainly is. All humans experience pain through suffering at some point, and the Bible is not silent to this reality.

“My bones are pierced in me in the night season: and my sinews take no rest.”Job 30:17

Here Job describes the physical suffering he endured. His pain has reached its climax, the pain associated with his sufferings is essentially unceasing. Elsewhere he describes experiencing excruciating boils “from the sole of his foot unto his crown” (Job 2:7).

“And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain”Revelation 16:10

The Bible also draws a connection between the suffering and pain for those who will endure everlasting torment in hell.

What Does the Bible Say About Suffering and Disability?

Because of Jesus’ ministry of healing, the New Testament has much to say about the relationship between disability and suffering and the healing that God can bring.

“And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them”Matthew 15:30

Disability is no match for the power of God. At times God chooses to heal disabilities and other forms of physical suffering.

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”2 Corinthians 12:9

Disability can be used to bring glory to God, to make known his power in the midst of human weakness. Paul desired for the Lord to remove his affliction, but the Lord in turn showed Paul how powerful he was to use Paul as his instrument of bringing the gospel to the world through such weakness.

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”1Peter 2:24

The Christian’s ultimate healing comes through salvation, which speaks not only of spiritual realities but of physical realities as well. We can trust that, in the new creation, God will in fact make all things new.

What Does the Bible Say About Suffering

What Does the Bible Say About Suffering Animals?

The Bible reveals a concern for the suffering of animals.

“How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate.” Joel 1:18

Other translations speak of the flocks of sheep “suffering.” That such realities are mentioned in Scripture reveals that God cares for all of his creation, even flocks of sheep.

“And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?”Luke 14:5

Here Jesus shows that even on the day of rest, people would do that which may be “unlawful” according to the written code to do that which is of the heart of the law: to care for others. In this case, the care and concern is directed toward animals. Jesus’ point is that it is completely natural for a person to be concerned with the suffering of an animal; how much greater is God’s concern for his people.

What Does the Bible Say About Suffering in Silence?

Even while believers are to endure suffering patiently, entrusting themselves to God, suffering silently is not prescribed in the Bible.

“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:” James 5:14

When believers suffer through sickness, the Bible tells Christians to call the elders of the church to pray for them. Silence in this situation would in fact be unbiblical.

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted… so he openeth not his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7

Jesus fulfills this expectation of the suffering servant, remaining silent before his accusers so that he might fulfill all righteousness (Mark 14:61). Jesus would not try to argue his way out of going to the cross, for the cross was his destiny (Heb 12:2). Yet Jesus’ own silence in suffering is not necessarily prescriptive.

Why Does God Allow Suffering Bible Verses?

As difficult as it may be for us to understand, all suffering can be said to be allowed by God for his glory and our good. Ultimately God is our greatest good, and suffering can be the means by which God accomplishes his purposes in us and through us to the world.

“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” 1Peter 4:19

The emphasis on this verse is the power of God to keep believers. Christians can rest assured, even in suffering, that the God who created all things is in fact making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”Philippians 3:10-11

There is an element to suffering, mysterious though it may be, that unites believers with the sufferings of Christ, a unity that also identifies believers with Jesus at the resurrection of the dead.

Stephen D

Stephen Dillard serves as a Bible Scholar with Wycliffe Associates and is a contributing writer on Revelations.org. He is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He and his wife, Madison, have four children and make their home in Indiana.

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