Causes of Suffering
That great song “Sovereign” by the incomparable Daryl Coley reminds us of God’s sovereignty during seasons of suffering. The Lord uses it to remind me to Whom I am anchored when I endure trials of many kinds. But we must tether ourselves to the anchor with knowledge, not only of the goodness of God, but the danger of evil. So now, we will turn our attention to the various causes of suffering.
Fallen World (The World): If you live in this world, believer or not, you will experience the tragic results of papa Adam. As our representative, Adam’s sin brought about the cataclysmic consequences of us being born sinful (Ps. 51). Not only that, it brought about the universal brokenness of our world, now groaning over its condition through natural disasters and the like (Rom. 8). This fundamental flaw passed down to us through Adam creates the potential for suffering of every kind. Not only did Adam and Eve die that day, but all creation was given an expiration date. All suffering finds its root, on some level, in the Fall. It doesn’t matter what type of person you are morally or religiously, all are impacted by the Fall. But not all who suffer grow in the midst of it.
Sinful Lifestyles and Systems (The Flesh): Suffering also happens as a consequence of our personal sin and systems of sin that come under our response to the Fall. Because of our natural tendency to sin, given to us from Adam, we suffer under the tyranny of the flesh. Personal sins like greed, pride, or sexual immorality can cause suffering personally. For instance, someone who has a child out of wedlock can find themselves paying child support, which could become a burden to their finances and cause economic suffering. God can redeem the situation, but sometimes the Lord doesn’t remove all of the consequences. For the believer, this is called the discipline of the Lord. God will use the most difficult forms of suffering to conform us into the image of Christ. Hebrews talks about this in detail. Peter talks about personal sin that we endure the consequences of as suffering in 1 Peter 2.
Individual sin isn’t the only form of suffering we endure, however. No man is an island to himself, and corporate sin creates systemic problems in our society. Sin works like a virus in our communities; one man’s sinful disposition can infect his neighbor’s. This is why Paul is so aggressive toward false teachers and those who lead others into sin. Systemic sin is contagious like a pathogen, eating away at consciences of individuals. Policies can be made to preserve and promote sin. Just think of the Jim Crow Laws, or Hitler’s Aryan Clause. Millions of people suffered, not just individually, but as an entire nation of people.
Everything from racism to socioeconomic oppression can become systems of sin that cause us suffering. But even then, even when all the odds are stacked against us, God can use it to sanctify us until He removes it as an encumbrance to our lives.
Spiritual Warfare (The Devil): Not every type of suffering is the work of the Devil directly, though some might think that is the case. The Bible says that our war is not against flesh and blood, but against an invisible enemy that wreaks havoc on couples, singles, families, sons, and daughters. Satan, the great deceiver, works in the inner city, as well as the suburbs. He lays siege to both bedrooms and boardrooms. The great Liar who tempted Eve in the garden, and Jesus in the desert, does not discriminate. He is an equal opportunity destroyer.
Sometimes when we suffer, it is nothing less than an attack from the Serpent. Though spiritual warfare is related to both the Fall and the flesh, the suffering at the hands of Satan is a unique type of suffering. In these times of suffering, God has given us clear instructions to engage as warriors who put on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:11–17). As we know by the Word of God, Job endured this type of suffering.
Joy in the Midst of Suffering
Expect this suffering to come, but also expect God to work. Be encouraged that God has counted you worthy to suffer for His name’s sake. Even in the book of Acts, Christians viewed suffering differently than we do. In Acts 5:41 the apostles rejoiced in their suffering. We are called to do the same.
[Editor’s Note: This excerpt is taken from Unleashed: Being Conformed to the Image of Christ by Eric Mason, Copyright © 2015 by Eric Mason. Used by permission of B&H Publishing Group. www.bhpublishinggroup.com.]
Eric Mason is founder and lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In addition to his role at Epiphany Fellowship, he serves as president of Thriving, an urban missions collaborative. Author of Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole, and Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life, Eric holds degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary (ThM) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (DMin). He and his wife Yvette have four wonderful children.
Publication date: October 30, 2015