I wrote this commentary to teach myself how to suffer with purpose. My hope is that it helps you, too.
It is not true that no one understands what I experience when I suffer. Pain and suffering afflict each of us at one time or another. In fact, some suffer extreme physical distress most of their lives. So, everyone knows what it means to suffer. I am not alone.
And, although suffering is difficult and sometimes overwhelming, its purpose is to remind me that I depend on God for all the good things.
To understand why it must be this way, I needed to revisit the place where suffering began: the Garden of Eden and the story of Adam and Eve. After covering the background, I learned five behaviors that I practice to suffer with purpose.
Nature of Man
Genesis 2:7 — “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Genesis 1:27 — “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
John 4:24 — “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Romans 1:19-21 — “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”
Psalm 111:2 — “The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.”
God created Adam and Eve with an immaterial spirit made in the image of an immaterial God. Of all the creatures God made, only Adam and Eve were capable of fellowship with God. To fellowship with God implies that Adam and Eve were made moral agents who could freely choose whether or not to honor God for all the good He provided them.
God also made Adam and Eve a body of flesh and bone. In fact, God fashioned Man’s body from the dust of the ground. Why? Well, for one reason, the material body is the “user interface” with which Man interacts with his material surroundings. And through the body, Man experiences the full pleasures God’s Creation offers.
Garden of Eden
Genesis 1:31 — “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”
Genesis 2:4-6 — “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.”
Genesis 2:10-14 — “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.”
Genesis 2:9 — “And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
Genesis 2:10-14 — “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.”
Genesis 2:15 –“And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”
Genesis 2:19 — “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”
Genesis 2:24-25 –“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”
Did you know that the Garden of Eden (Strong’s H5731) actually means the garden of pleasure? Yes, God made Creation for the pleasure of Man. And, it is through the body of flesh that Man experiences those many pleasures.
God said that everything that He made was very good. This is how I imagine the Garden of Eden. The first man and woman were perfect specimens: brilliantly smart, stunningly beautiful, and incredibly strong. There was nothing in their physical nature that limited their desire to play, explore, discover, or create from the resources of Creation. The Garden of Eden was a paradise: the climate had the perfect year-round temperature with a warm morning sun and a cool afternoon breeze; rivers and streams meandered through breathtaking landscapes; soft and fertile soils nourished every kind of plant, producing an abundance of fruit and other delectables; animals frolicked in the meadows and interacted with Man. It was so perfect that Adam and Eve did not require shelter from the elements, did not require clothing to stay warm, and did not require shoes to protect their feet. In every measure, it was paradise on earth. Nothing could be better.
So, what went wrong? Well, even though God provided for all of their needs, He left it to Man to keep it that way. And, this is where things went awry.
Fall of Man
Genesis 2:16-17 — “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
Genesis 3:1 — “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”
Genesis 3:2-3 — “And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”
Genesis 3:4-5 — “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
In the middle of the garden, there were two single trees. One was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And of this tree, God warned Adam and Eve not to eat of its fruit. For on the day they did, they would die. The rest is history: Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of that tree, and ever since, Creation has suffered from the curse.
The entire story of Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden, can be read in Genesis chapters 1-3.
When read closely, I noticed that Adam and Eve violated the only prohibition God gave them. They disobeyed not because they were starving or because the forbidden fruit was superior to all others. No, they ate of this one forbidden fruit because they believed the lie of the Devil: that they would become as gods, knowing good and evil.
To reiterate, they ate the forbidden fruit for a spiritual reason, not a physical reason. And that reason was to decide for themselves what was good or evil. In other words, they made the choice to replace God as the authority of right and wrong. Did they know better? Yes, for Eve repeated the dire consequences before making the fateful choice.
So, what did God do in response? The short answer is that God forgave them and paid for their sin (Genesis 3:21). But He also cursed the ground for their sake and kicked them out of the garden. Here is how the Bible describes these historically significant events:
Genesis 3:17-19 — “And unto Adam [God] said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
Genesis 3:20-21 — “And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.”
Genesis 3:22-23 — “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.”
First, no longer would earth offer up a bounty of delectable food to pick and to eat. Now, it would be a back-breaking task to extract food from the ground. And as the ground was cursed so became the flesh of Man, since Man’s flesh was made from the ground. The whole of the material world was affected by the curse of God. From then on, all generations of Man have been born with the curse of the Sin Nature.
Next, God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. The second tree in the middle of the garden was called the Tree of Life. Notice, the Tree of Life gives healing to those who regularly eat of its fruit. So, not only did Man suffer the curse of the Sin Nature, but Man was also deprived of the life-sustaining properties of the fruit of the Tree of Life. In effect, God put Man on the path of physical death.
Why? Genesis 3:22 tells us the answer: if Man continued to rebel against God and was enabled to live forever in sin, then God would be subsidizing the sin and hatred of Man. The implication is that over time the entire population of earth would become entirely corrupt (Genesis 6:5). Just imagine what it would be like to be born into a world where wickedness was perfected and unchecked for thousands of years.
Man vs. God
Okay. So, we are all living a death sentence so that future generations can start life anew. What about life in the here and now? How is God working to bring hope to those of us living today?
Here are some Scriptures that gave me hope:
Romans 8:20-22 — “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”
Romans 7:18-20 — “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”
Ecclesiastes 8:8 — “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.”
Matthew 6:27 — “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?”
Proverbs 16:33 — “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.”
Proverbs 16:9 — “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.”
Psalm 32:8 — “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.”
Micah 6:8 — “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Isaiah 1:18-20 — “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”
Romans 11:22 — “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”
Romans 2:4 — “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”
Proverbs 19:21 — “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.”
Isaiah 55:11 — “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
The curse of the Sin Nature emphasizes a fundamental truth: I do not have the power to determine the outcome of my choices. God alone has that power. The only power given unto me is the ability to believe or deny the truths that God reveals. And God does reveal truth to us, for we are all made in the “image of God”.
The very fact that all of us unwillingly suffer the curse of the Sin Nature attests to the impotence of Man’s free-will mind to determine causal outcomes. If Man could determine causal outcomes, then Man would command himself to be free from pain and suffering. It is quite clear that Man’s free will is restricted to making uncaused choices and not to freely determining outcomes.
Because Adam and Eve used their free-will choice to rebel against the authority of God, God ordained that mankind would forevermore “know good and evil” by experiencing it. From then on, all men and women would be reminded that no matter how hard we try to perfect a life for ourselves, the curse of the Sin Nature will continue to thwart us. It is a tough lesson to learn: it is God, and God alone, that determines whether our choices produce good or evil results. And, God does so in a way that vindicates the truth of His Word.
For what purpose did God make me this way? I was made with a body of flesh and bone to teach me dependence on God’s grace. I was given a spirit in the “image of God” with moral agency teach me to recognize, respond, and be accountable to the authority of God.
Proverbs 3:5-6 — “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
The battle between me and God has proven this: I am daily reminded that my choices will never restore the good that was lost in the Garden of Eden. My only rational choice is to honor God for His goodness and trust Him when He prescribes suffering to teach me dependence on Him. I would be a fool to do otherwise.
This can all be summed up like this:
Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 — “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.”
God uses Evil
The following passages in the Bible show how God uses both good and evil to bring me closer to Him and the perfect life He wants for me. But to experience these blessings, God must be at its center, for all good things come from Him:
Isaiah 45:6-7 — “That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”
James 1:16-18 — “Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
Ecclesiastes 3:14 — “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him.”
Psalm 90:1-3 — “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.”
2 Corinthians 1:9 — “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:”
2 Peter 3:8-9 — “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Ezekiel 18:23 –“Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?”
Isaiah 55:7 — “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
Jonah 3:10 — “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”
God sometimes prescribes evil to teach me to turn back to the truth of God’s Word and the graces of His goodness. Lord have mercy upon me.
Daniel 9:13-14 — “As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice.”
It took some studying, but I finally began to understand something important: To say that God prescribes evil to bring Man back into His grace is not the same as saying God is sinning. Sinning is the choice of rebelling against the truth of God’s authority. Evil are those things defined as “not good” by the truth of God’s Word.
When God prescribes evil, He is just determining that which He ordained would happen if sinners do hateful things. According to the Word of God, if I sin, then evil ensues (Isaiah 3:9). When God prescribes evil, He is simply determining the prescribed effect of my sinful choices. God is using the negative reinforcement of evil to teach me to recognize and respond to the truth of God’s Word. If I want to stop being the cause of evil, then I must stop sinning.
Suffering with Purpose
Until now, I have reviewed the background for why suffering exists and how God uses it for good. Just because God uses suffering to turn me back to His grace does not belittle the agony that suffering entails. Suffering is horrible, but I need to understand the Christian’s proper response to it. If I can learn to respond to my suffering with a purpose-driven Godly attitude, then God will turn the evil I experience into something good.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 — “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Revelation 7:12 — “Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.”
Isaiah 57:15 — “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
James 4:10 — “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
Acts 3:19 — “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;”
Proverbs 6:16-19 — “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”
Ephesians 4:31-32 — “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
Galatians 5:22-23 — “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
Ephesians 6:18 — “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;”
Philippians 4:6-7 — “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
Romans 8:28 — “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Based on the verses above, here are five behaviors that I practice to train myself to suffer with purpose:
First, I thank God for all the good things that bring me joy and pleasure. I thank God for giving me functioning body parts that think, see, hear, speak, and perform the activities that I enjoy. I thank God for the loving support of family and friends. I thank God for all the strangers that provide all the products or services that make my life more convenient. I thank God for the beauty of His Creation and all its resources — the rising morning sun, the crystal blue sky, the billowing white clouds, the glowing evening moon, the sway of trees in the wind, the waves of amber grain, the majesty of mountains, and the tumbling roar of ocean waves. Finally, I thank God for saving me, including the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross as punishment for my sins.
Next, I humble myself before God. I admit that apart from Him, I have no value. Without Him working on my behalf, I am powerless to effect positive change.
Also, I repent of any known sins that I am currently committing; anything that I do to diminish the value of another person is sin.
Then, I ask God to show me how to better treat others; how to forgive them; how to make them less lonely; how to make them feel special; how to help them grow into the person they want to become; how to relieve their burdens; or how to do those things they are unable to do for themselves. If I see someone in need, I try to do something about it. Most of the time, all I can do is pray for them.
Finally, I ask God to relieve my suffering. I ask Him to shower me with grace and mercy. And, with each small step of improvement, I thank Him.
These are my aspirations. I am a work in progress.
Suffering of Job
There are not many who suffer as much as the character Job did. In those few cases, however, one experiencing severe suffering is likened unto the “patience of Job”. This critical passage from the Book of Job is so encouraging to me. Notice how God uses suffering to bring Job back into God’s grace. I added some [notes] to explain this profound message.
Job 33:12-13 — “Behold, in this [Job’s pride] thou art not just: I will answer thee, that God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.” [God will not justify himself to Job].
Job 33:14-18 — “For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit [grave], and his life from perishing by the sword.” [First, God speaks with gentle whispers].
Job 33:19-22 — “He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain: So that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat. His flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; and his bones that were not seen stick out. Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers.” [When whispers fail, God strikes the body with painful, near-death suffering].
Job 33:23-24 — “If there be a messenger [Jesus Christ] with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his [God’s] uprightness: Then he [God] is gracious unto him [Man], and saith, Deliver him [Man] from going down to the pit [grave]: I have found a ransom.” [An allusion to Christ’s death on behalf of sinful Man].
Job 33:25-28 — “His [redeemed Man] flesh shall be fresher than a child’s: he shall return to the days of his youth: He shall pray unto God, and he will be favourable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy: for he [God] will render unto man his [Christ’s] righteousness. He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit [Hell], and his life shall see the light [Heaven].” [If Man responds humbly and with repentance, then God delivers his soul from Hell].
Job 33:29-30 — “Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, To bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.” [God uses every measure but force to persuade Man that God, alone, is the source of grace, mercy, and life everlasting].
There is one more thing: I believe that the particular type and quality of suffering I experience is specifically designed for me by God. It is not some random accident.
My suffering is unique not in a way that others cannot understand. Others may feel the same pain or the same dysfunction. It is the purpose of the suffering that is unique to me. God afflicts me with suffering for a very specific purpose: to teach me something about myself. This is why it is so important that I practice the five behaviors of suffering with purpose. Those behaviors prepare my mind to receive the message that God is trying to tell me.
Below are some Scriptures showing how much God cares for each of us on an individual level:
Luke 12:28 — “If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?”
Matthew 8:26 — “And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”
Matthew 17:20 — “And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”
Proverbs 20:27 — “The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly.”
Luke 12:2-3 — “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”
Psalm 69:5 — “O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee.”
Hebrews 4:12 — “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Hebrews 13:20-21 — “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Philippians 1:6 — “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”
2 Timothy 3:16-17 — “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”
Joshua 1:9 — “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”
Jeremiah 29:11-12 — “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
Matthew 28:20 — “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
You see, God knows the strength of my faith. He knows my spiritual weaknesses. He knows my secret sins. He knows how I affect others. He knows my potential to positively impact the lives of others. And, he knows how to train me to reach that potential. This was an encouragement to me, and it should encourage you, too. I am never forgotten or alone. God is always right there with me, every step of the way. The question is: Am I with God?
As I continued to learn about suffering with purpose, I began to think of God as a strength coach for my spirit, putting me through intense and painful workouts to make me stronger and more confident for the work He plans for me. I can hear Him saying: the one who trains the hardest makes the most spiritual gains. So, I have committed myself to becoming a Suffering Warrior for God.
Ephesians 6:11-12 — “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
1 Corinthians 9:24 — “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.”
Life is truly a competition for my soul. I either play to win or I play to lose.
Deuteronomy 30:19 — “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:”
I’m in it to win.
Here is the summary of what I have learned while writing this commentary on Suffering with Purpose.
In the beginning, God made Man with a nature capable of fellowship with God and of enjoying the works of His Creation. But Man used his freedom to rebel against the authority of God. And in response, God cursed His perfect Creation; and Man was forever afflicted with the curse of the Sin Nature. Furthermore, Man was banished from the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life, which offered immortality to those who ate of its fruit.
Why did God design such a system only to watch it fail?
If I am honest, God’s design did not fail. To the contrary, God wanted to share all His blessings with a moral creature who could recognize and respond to His generosity. And, only a free-will being with the capacity to reject God’s blessings would satisfy God’s desire for a consensual relationship. So, although most souls of Man will rebel against God’s authority, many will become willing warriors of a generous Creator, Holy God, and loving Savior. That’s a win!
How is it right for God to prescribe evil for good reasons?
First, I need to remember that evil is not sin. According to the truth of God’s Word, evil is that which is not good; while sin is the choice made to change the definitions of God’s Word. When God prescribes evil, He is following the definitions of His Word.
Next, when making a sinful choice, the sinner believes that the choice will produce good results, but God’s Word commands that only evil shall ensue. Since the world is full of sinners who defy the truth of God’s Word, it is no mystery why there is so much evil in the world. The truth of God’s Word demands it.
Finally, this is how God’s prescription of evil, in my life, has produced good results.
Like everyone, I personally experience suffering and also witness evil all around me. As I learn of shared experiences of suffering with others, my heart breaks both for the victims of sin and my culpability in making evil so prevalent. The evil is so distasteful that it moves me to repent of my sins and return to a loving God and the One with a proven record of making things right.
I also look at Creation and see the hand of God everywhere. The witness of Creation encourages me to study the Scriptures. The Word of God teaches me to heed the witness of a God-inspired conscience. Then, I begin to practice loving kindness toward others.
To conclude, these are five behaviors that prepare my spirit to suffer with purpose: 1) I thank God for every blessing in my life; 2) I humble myself before the all powerful God, for nothing happens in this world without His command, except my God-given freedom to choose; 3) I repent of all current sins against God and others; 4) I share more love with my family, my friends, and the strangers I meet; and 5) I petition God for relief of my suffering.
If I do not make my spirit right before God and others, then why should God relieve my suffering?
Postscript: What about You?
I have shared what I am learning from the suffering that God has prescribed for me. If I shall suffer, then I shall suffer as a warrior with purpose:
Isaiah 40:31 — “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
What about you?
Are you encouraged by my experience or is your heart hardened?
Proverbs 28:14 — “Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.”
It is most regrettable, but most never listen to the counsel of God. They grumble, complain, blame God for suffering, blame others for making it worse, and resort to increasingly more destructive behaviors.
To those, the message is clear: the road never gets easier and it’s a one-way journey to a lonely, disembodied, spiritual existence (Matthew 10:28) far removed from the presence of God’s grace.
Let this not be you.
Addendum 1: The Golden Rule
Like me, you are one of those in need. You need someone to share God’s love with you. We are all in this together. God works through others, so no one is left without blessing. God wants to bless you so you can bless another. We are all God’s special creatures. God has a special plan for each of us. Let us help others as we would like to be helped.
Luke 12:6-7 — “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.”
Mark 12:30-31 — “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”
Now, you may be in a desperate state and are so overwhelmed with suffering that you have no capacity to do anything for another. This is sometimes the case. But you can still thank God for blessing you. You can still humble yourself before God. You can still repent of current sins. You can thank those who care for you. And, you can still pray for others you know are suffering. Finally, pray to God for relief from your suffering. We often can do far more than we at first imagine.
Jeremiah 17:14 — “Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.”
Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Addendum 2: Suffering of Innocents
Here is one common objection. What about evil happening to innocent children who are not yet capable of making moral decisions? What is just or fair about God making them suffer from the sins of others? The response is straightforward. There is never, ever, ever a sinful choice that produces a hateful act that does not violate an innocent victim.
There is no such thing as an isolated sin between consenting adults or secret sins in the closet. All sinful choices afflict the souls of sinners and are carried by them to infect society. There, living in rebellion against God, they speak and perform other hateful acts against others. Sinful choices spread hatred like fire on a dry, windy, hot summer day.
Sin is like a wave that travels in all directions around the world. No one escapes. We are all victims of the sinful acts of others. So, in that manner, we are all innocent victims. The evil in the world is God’s way of highlighting the harm we are doing to each other. The fact that everyone is a victim of sin is the very reason we should humble ourselves before a Holy God. If we want to stop the suffering of innocents, then we need to stop sinning.
Since that will not happen, God has provided a plan of salvation that, if accepted, satisfies all the elements of justice: 1) God forgives those who repent of unbelief; 2) God pays the penalty of all sins committed one against another; and 3) God restores everything that was lost by those affected by sin. The summary of salvation’s elements are found in Romans 10:9-11.
One final statement on this objection or question, which in reality is neither. Instead the objection is rather a projection of sin upon a Holy God. What is the number one cause of death in America? It is not heart disease at 650,000 per year or cancer at 600,000 per year. The number one cause of death in America is the killing of unborn children at over 800,000 per year. The unborn population is the most precious, vulnerable, and innocent amongst us. This is truly shameful.
Here is how the Lord responds to a similar charge:
Matthew 25:45-46 — “Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
In other words, the Lord is watching all that is happening on this earth. No sinful choice or evil act goes unnoticed by God. And how you treat the least in society is how the Lord will judge your soul.
Jesus said these famous words:
John 4:16 — “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
For me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).
Addendum 3: Healing Power of Prayer
If the curse of the Sin Nature teaches us dependence on God’s grace, then why would we pray for relief from suffering? The reason, we have learned, is that the process of thanksgiving, humility, repentance, love, and prayer strengthens our spiritual character.
Does God always answer our prayers for deliverance from suffering?
You already know an indisputable fact of reality: every believer eventually dies from a deteriorated body of flesh. Physical death is the culmination of the curse of the Sin Nature. And, prayer has never changed the perfect record of death. Even Lazarus, who Jesus rose from the dead (John 11:41-44), eventually died again. There are only three examples in the Scriptures of believers who never experienced a physical death: Enoch (Genesis 5:23-24), Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), and the raptured church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
Yet, some claim that God will heal our diseases if we just pray with enough faith. Not only has reality proven this claim false, but the misguided faith of many are weakened when prayers for healing go unanswered.
It is for these folks that I briefly address this issue here.
Consider these verses:
James 5:14-15 — “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: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”
2 Corinthians 12:7 — “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 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.”
1 Peter 5:8-10 — “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”
James 5:14-15 suggests that faithful prayer shall save the sick and forgive sins. And the New Testament is full of stories where the prayers of Jesus, the apostles, or members of the early church did heal the sick. Even today, we hear of medical miracles, some of which have been proven to have happened. So, healing from suffering does happen, just not all the time. The reason for the inconsistency is in the precise meaning of the word “faithful”.
Any prayer does not save the sick. It is only the faithful prayer. And, a faithful prayer is not asking for something you “want really bad”. Neither is it a prayer for something you “really believe” will happen. The faithful prayer is claiming what you “know will happen”. And, how do you know what will happen? Things that happen, God has declared to happen.
Many people were healed in the New Testament because Jesus gave his apostles the power to do so:
Matthew 10:1 — “And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.”
In other words, faith is believing actual truth not what you want to become true. Faith is belief in the authority of God’s Word. If God declared it will happen, then it will happen. So did God ever say that praying will always heal the sick? Not according to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”.
In 2 Corinthians 12:7 we learn about the apostle Paul, who had a “thorn in the flesh” — a disability that the Lord was unwilling to heal. Paul even acknowledged the reason for his disability: “lest I should be exalted above measure”. In other words, Paul was prone to pride, and he knew it. The disability was a constant reminder to Paul that it is God that gave to Paul his ministry and the revelations of which he may be tempted to take credit.
Next, we see in 1 Peter 5:10 that God prescribes suffering to “make you perfect, [e]stablish, strengthen, [and] settle you.” Is this not the message of this commentary?
Finally, let’s review one of my favorite stories in the Scriptures. It tells a beautiful story of how God prescribes physical suffering to save the soul of a man. Please read the whole story in John 9.
Here are the salient verses:
John 9:1-2 — “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”
John 9:3-5 — “Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
John 9:6-7 — “When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.”
. . . in the intermediate verses, the man articulates a powerful defense of Jesus . . .
John 9:35-36 — “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?”
John 9:37-38 — “And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.”
Notice that this man’s blindness was punishment neither for his sins nor his parent’s. We have learned that physical suffering is a result of the curse of the Sin Nature. It is the result of all sin. And, although it is most inconvenient, its purpose is not to punish us.
On the contrary, suffering is God’s prescription to bring us back from the brink of Hell. The story of the blind man is a perfect example of how God uses physical suffering so “that the works of God should be made manifest” (John 9:3) in those of us who yield to the correction of a loving God.
So, again, does God always answer the prayers of those suffering? No.
Does that mean that God will never answer prayers seeking relief from physical suffering? Of course not: Job was relieved of his suffering (Job 42:10-17), though Paul was not (2 Corinthians 12:7). It all depends on God’s special plan for you, your response to His counsel, and other factors that only God knows.
Be encouraged. Life is a spiritual race carried out with broken-down bodies. The real living begins when we get to Heaven.
John 14:1-3 — “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
Addendum 4: Physical vs. Spiritual Suffering
Maybe you have noticed that this commentary has alluded to physical suffering.
What about spiritual suffering?
Is there a difference in the biblical approach to physical or spiritual suffering?
As a reminder, physical suffering is a consequence of the curse of the Sin Nature. It affects the material body not the immaterial spirit. If the body contracts disease or dysfunction, there is little we can do to return the body to its youthful vitality. All the doctors, therapists, diets, or exercises only slow the decline. But sooner or later, the body succumbs to the curse. And this type of evil, physical suffering, is one of the methods God uses to teach us dependence on Him.
So, what is spiritual suffering, and how do we respond to it?
Spiritual suffering includes the following symptoms: depression, loneliness, uncertainty, fears, obsessions, compulsions, suspicions, apathy, anger, etc. If not addressed, then individuals suffering these symptoms are more likely to engage in destructive behaviors including hedonism, risk-taking, isolation, self-harm, suicide, violence, and others. We all know this; it’s all around us.
Now, take a closer look at these symptoms and associated behaviors. What links these different spiritual conditions to the behaviors effected? Take a moment and think about it. Maybe even ask yourself: what is the real reason you get upset or frustrated?
Here are some questions to help you figure it out:
What have we already learned in this commentary? What is Man’s worst flaw as exposed in the Garden of Eden? What have we all believed about ourselves for most of our lives?
The cause of spiritual suffering is a single belief that is grounded in a lie. The lie is that we control the outcome of our choices. Our beliefs, ambitions, intentions, plans, and choices can all be achieved if we believe in ourselves and work hard enough. But what happens when our choices and efforts fail us? What happens when we meet the cold dark reality of disappointment?
We all assume some level of control over our lives, our families, our jobs, our nation, etc. But we don’t. If circumstances get bad enough and we continue to suffer disappointment from factors outside our control, our spirit breaks. If left unresolved, we lose confidence; we develop distrust; and we resort to elaborate control mechanisms to regain control of things that were never ours to control. This way of thinking is the beginning of spiritual suffering.
Remember, our only legitimate authority is our God-given ability to believe or deny the truth of God’s Word. Only God determines outcomes. And He does so to vindicate His authority, to teach us dependence on Him, and to bring salvation to lost souls. Yes, that’s right, God uses our circumstances to witness to others. Whether the witness is a positive or negative message depends on our response to suffering.
So, how should we respond to spiritual suffering?
It is basically the same steps for coping with physical suffering, with these particular insights.
Recognize spiritual suffering for what it is: the soul-crushing realization that we do not control anything beyond our choices. Bad things will happen to us, yet all we control is how we view our role in what happens next. Do we believe our role is to fight back to regain control, or do we believe our role is to learn what God is teaching us? When properly understood, this renewing of the mind removes a burden we were never intended to bear.
Matthew 11:28-30 — “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Relief from spiritual suffering can be instantaneous. It simply depends on the proper change in perspective. Relinquish to God all things that are outside your control. Stop living for yourself, and start serving God. And never forget, God does not control what you believe; so resist the temptation to control others. Everyone is a free moral agent, and we must respect their decisions, right or wrong.
It is really that simple, but breaking bad habits may take some time, so seek God’s help along the way.
Romans 12:2-3 — “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”
Philippians 4:8-9 — “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
Commit and practice making good choices. Study the Bible and learn how the Lord thinks about things. What are God’s priorities? If we can learn what matters to God, then we can begin to think like God. If we begin to think like God, then we are more prepared to make decisions that align with His desires. The truth of the matter is this: I matter less than what brings glory to God, and I matter less than what brings love to others. Again, part of the solution to suffering with purpose is living out the Golden Rule, for it is better to give than to receive.
Acts 20:35 — “I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
And, do not forget to pray, for breaking bad habits can be difficult because we habitually respond before thinking, hence the term “bad habits”.
Here is an approach that has worked for breaking bad habits: I ask God to remind me before I act.
For example, I had developed a habit of cursing as a means to vividly describe the evil in the world. It got so bad that the words just popped out of my mouth. From my perspective, I was just calling a spade a spade. But, everyone else was subjected to vitriol and I got spun up over something out of my control. Woe is me.
Jude 1:9 — “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”
After committing myself to stopping, I asked God to remind me before speaking to give me a chance to resist the vulgar outburst. Well God is smarter than me. He chose to remind me only after the first word left my mouth. You see? God was testing my resolve to repent. I looked sheepishly at my wife and apologized to her. This happened multiple times, but I had taken the first step.
Then two days later, God prompted me just as the curse was slipping off my tongue, and I was able to stop between syllables, to which I appended a long chorus of gibberish to obfuscate the first note. I grinned with pride at my wife, who just smiled at me like a mother who caught her little boy hiding something.
As I honored my commitment, the Lord began reminding me before I started speaking, and I thanked Him for doing so. And within a fortnight, the habit was completely gone. By the way, during this same time, I also stopped complaining about anything that offended me. I mean anything. No complaining.
Ephesians 4:29 — “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”
God wants to make us spiritually strong, with a faith that will withstand any onslaught by the enemy. God will bless our spiritual battles, but we are the ones fighting the battle. Remember, it is our choice whether or not to trust God’s authority. He will never force us to do anything, even if it blesses us. Instead, God always uses persuasion, first gently then severely, but never forcefully. If we insist on our ways, God complies, even if suffering ensues.
All suffering teaches us dependence on God’s authority and the wisdom of His control. But unlike physical suffering, which we must accept, we can be completely healed of spiritual suffering. It is simply a matter of aligning our desires with those of a Holy God.
John 15:4-5 — “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
John 15:6-7 — “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
Notice the last sentence. If you want to experience answer to prayer, then stop living for yourself and start living for God. Let the Word of God fill your mind. Learn what really pleases the Lord. Seek to do those things that please Him. If you do, then He has promised to help you along the way.