3. The Suffering of This World
a. The Fall, and the Beginning of Suffering.
We find the answer to the question of where suffering began in Genesis 3. The origin of suffering is the fall - rebellion against God and against His purpose for us as creatures made in the image of God.
Romans 8:20 - 23 "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
The book of Romans explains that the entire world is corrupted because of Man's fall. Not only corrupted, but bound to corruption. The creation is “held fast” to a corrupt and damaged state. Because we sinned, everything we had dominion over was corrupted and stained. Suffering in the natural world comes because the whole creation is twisted by sin. Things decay and things suffer because of sin.
Prior to the Fall, there was no suffering. The world was perfect, man was perfect, and man’s relationship with God and with creation was perfect. However, after the Fall, these perfect things and these perfect relationships were so marred and corrupted that they now “groan together in the pains of childbirth”.
So the answer to the question “why do we suffer?” is “because we rebelled from the natural order.”
Because of our rebellion, sin entered into the picture. The consequence of this was the curse. In pain things would be brought forth, and mankind was now cut off from perfect fellowship with God.
Adam rebelled against God, and we’ve suffered injury and death ever since.
b. The Whole Scope of Suffering
People have all suffered in different ways.
1. Emotional For some, it’s in the area of emotions. Guilt, rage, stress, and sorrow are just a few of the many kinds of emotional suffering that people can go through daily.
Jeremiah was in anguish over the sins of his people. He knew about
Jeremiah 4:19 "My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war."
Jeremiah 8:18 "My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me."
Elijah wanted to die, considering himself a failure. He was depressed, for he had seen that the people had forsaken God’s covenant.
1 Kings 19:4 "But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” "
Jonah wished to die because he was angry with God for being merciful instead of just. God hadn’t done what Jonah thought He should do, so Jonah did not see a point in living any longer.
Jonah 4:3 "Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live."
In thinking of emotional suffering, the first people that came into my head were William Carey and his wife. Because of his wife’s nervous breakdown, I can only imagine the emotional suffering and stress that William Carey went through. He wrote in his diary of this time:
"This is indeed the valley of the shadow of death to me ... O what I would give for a sympathetic friend ... to whom I might open my heart! But I rejoice that I am here, not withstanding; and God is here, who can not only have compassion, but is able to save to the uttermost."
2. Physical For others, it is physical pain that constantly plagues them. People suffer everything from arthritis to cancer, with hardly a day going by free of physical pain.
Paul was harassed by a “thorn in the flesh”, which plagued him constantly.
2 Corinthians 12:7-9 "So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
Joni Eareckson Tada is well known by Christians as a servant of Christ who suffers chronic pain. For the majority of her life she has suffered pain and sickness due to a diving accident that left her a quadriplegic.
“For me, suffering is still that jackhammer breaking apart my rocks of resistance every day. It’s still the chisel that God is using to chip away at my self-sufficiency and my self-motivation and my self-consumption. Suffering is still that sheepdog snapping and barking at my heels, driving me down the road to
3. Spiritual For others, the greatest area of suffering for them is the spiritual side – suffering constant attacks from temptation to do evil.
Once again we can look at Paul, who suffered spiritually as we all do, plagued by attacks from the sinful flesh even while trying to follow Christ.
Romans 7:21-24 "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"
Martin Luther is another example. I remember stories of his torment and paranoia, and what stands out especially in my mind is the account of his throwing his inkwell at the devil!
Francis Schaeffer said that man has reduced himself to nothing more than a machine; a lump of biological chemicals. This goes against his very nature, because God made him more than that, for more than that. So man suffers spiritually because he goes against that which he intrinsically knows. (Romans 1:18)Spiritual suffering is not isolated. In fact I would say that the reason we have physical, emotional, and mental suffering is because our spirituality is “off”. Because of our separation from God, nothing is right. Because of the curse, suffering is a natural and prominent thing no matter which aspect you look at.