Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 21, 1957
NUMBER 41, PAGE 8-9a

The Problem Of Suffering

Jefferson David Tant, Abilene, Texas

One of the ever-occurring questions of the race can be summed up in the words, "Why must I suffer so? What have I done that would cause this suffering to come upon me?" Suffering is as old as sin itself. From the very day that Adam and Eve first walked contrary to the command of God, man has unceasingly suffered. He has suffered inwardly as his soul has been tormented; he has suffered outwardly as his body has been racked with pain and ravaged with fever. And as the sufferings continue, those who know Jehovah turn imploringly to him as did the psalmist David of old and ask, "How long, 0 Jehovah? wilt thou forget me forever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?" (Ps. 13:1.) From righteous Job to God's own Son, suffering has been the lot of us all. Because of this fact, everyone should know something of the comfort and consolation that is to be found in Jehovah. After David had asked how long he would be forgotten, he continued his prayer for help, and closed on this note of triumph, "But I have trusted in thy loving-kindness; My heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto Jehovah, Because he hath dealt bountifully with me." (Ps. 13:6.)

Types Of Suffering

In the final analysis all suffering comes as the result of sin. If there were no sin, what place could suffering have in the world? There would be no death, no reason for sorrow, no pain; there would be nothing that could cause suffering. Paul told the Romans, "Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all have sinned." (Rom. 5:12.) The most terrible consequence of sin will come to those who do not repent and turn from their sins in acceptance of Christ and the word of God. The tormented cry of the rich man in Hades, "I am in anguish in this flame," is but a single example of that which Christ described as taking place for all the wicked, "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 13:41-42.) Perhaps there are some who respond, "But that is just a figure of speech; there will be no literal fire, or any such thing."

But such people forget one thing. A figure of speech is used only when literal words fail and prove inadequate to describe reality. The thing in view is beyond the range of human thought and conception. In this case the reality of hell is so horrible and so far beyond the ability of man to imagine or conceive that the description must be expressed in the very worst and most terrible thing man can imagine — and endless punishment of so excruciating a nature as to defy description.

But quite aside from the ultimate punishment for sin and the suffering of hell, there is another type of suffering that comes here and now as the result of sin. That is the sorrow for sins committed. How often has one's soul been tormented by the thought that something has been done which was wrong, and which can never be undone. How many people in some moment of reckless folly have committed some terrible crime, only toy spend all their remaining days in sorrow and shame for such a deed.

The sorrow comes not only from the realization that one has sinned against his fellow man, but has sinned against God himself. The Son of Man has been crucified anew To a deeply sensitive soul there is no agony quite so intense as that which conies with the conviction of sin. This capacity seems to be lacking in some; but the Bible teaches that "godly sorrow worketh repentance." An there will be little or no genuine repentance in the absence of such sorrow.

The suffering that comes as a result of persecution from enemies is sometimes strong enough to drive the weak one from the faith. Surely this is a sore punishment — to be subjected to the cruel hatred of one's fellow man who opposes right in both word and deed. This is one of the many devices Satan uses to turn the faithful from Christ. This will happen if the one suffering does not have trust in the word of God and in the ultimate triumph of the righteous. The Lord said, "Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you." (Matt. 5:10-12.) An unalterable faith in this and in the many promises of the Lord that he will never forsake his own will lead one through even the darkest hours of persecution. The psalms written by David through the long years of his persecutions and sufferings show how trust in Jehovah will enable the believer to endure and to triumph over all such trials.

The suffering that men endure because of sickness is the most common of all. 'Job is perhaps the race's greatest example of a man who would not surrender to bodily affliction. He went through the agonizing ordeal of intense bodily pain, heaped upon agony of soul as he had seen his family destroyed and all his earthly possessions swept from him, put his faith in God triumphed even over the opposition of his friends and his own wife. The infirmities of old age are observable every day. After one has lived a useful and active life, the monotony and loneliness of being "put on the shelf" is sometimes almost unbearable. There is the feeling of being helpless, worthless, and a burden and an encumbrance on others. There is the constant longing and desire to depart and be with the Lord, to end the race and receive the hard-won crown of life. But the brittle thread of life will not break; and one lingers, and waits — and Suffers.

Triumph Over Suffering

While we cannot always understand the purpose of suffering, the results of it are more easily discernible. One of the greatest blessings of all to come from such is that one can learn more of the ways of God. Suffering demonstrates that the godly life is not one of ease, but is filled with hardships, sacrifice, and pain. It is certainly true that a person who has endured much suffering is the stronger because of it if he has remained faithful to Christ through the ordeal. Suffering helps one to more fully appreciate his salvation; it creates the desire within one to do right, to help other sufferers, and so to live as to leave all suffering and sorrow behind when the hour arrives. It teaches people to put complete trust in the Lord, for only there can comfort and refuge be found.

"What can I do? How can I have the strength to endure?" These are questions always on the lips and in the hearts of those who suffer. The answer is fairly simple, though hard to apply. One must put implicit faith and trust in God. There must be constant prayer to him for help and strength. Jehovah is the refuge in every time of need. As the psalmist Asaph wrote, "Nevertheless I am continually with thee: Thou hast holden my right hand. Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel, And afterwards receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none on earth besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever . . . . it is good for me to draw near unto God: I have made the Lord Jehovah my refuge, That I may tell of all thy works." (Ps. 73:23-28.)

This is the story of all those people of God who have triumphed over their sufferings. They have put their faith, their trust, in God, and in him alone. He it was who would save them from their sins, from their enemies, from their afflictions, and one day from the sin-cursed suffering earth itself. The New Testament writers recognized the Messianic content of the Psalms, and constantly referred to them in their explanation of him who would ultimately save men from sin and suffering. Nearly half the New Testament quotations from the Old Testament are from the book of Psalms. This is the lesson to all of us: when we put our trust and our confidence in Jehovah, there is no power on earth or in hell that can take us from the fold of safety. God is our mighty tower, our refuge, our hope. No tempest of earthly existence can shake the one who has anchored his soul to God.