Last edited on 23/Mar/2021
The Bible’s Answer
God Is Near Us When We Suffer
It can be easy to feel in moments of suffering or trouble that God is absent from us. Surely sadness and pain are signs that God has left us, many people think. Yet the truth is that God does not leave us when we suffer. The Bible says:
The LORD is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
This tells us that even when we’re at the lowest point in our lives, at the brink of despair, and lying face down in the mud, God is there with us. He does not leave us to suffer alone. In fact, God cares for us when we suffer. God cares enough to be present at every moment in our suffering and to even deliver us from it when the time is right. Scripture promises: “The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” (Psalm 145:14) He does not leave us in the mud, but lifts us up that we may keep trudging on with him.
God Is with Us In Every Situation
Not only is God with us when we suffer, but he is with us always. Before ascending back to Heaven, Jesus said: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) There is never a moment when Jesus is not with us. He is with us both in times of bliss and times of sadness. Jesus is with us at the birthday party, at the wedding, and at the graduation ceremony, rejoicing with us. He is also with us at the funeral, in the prison cell, and in the torture chamber, standing by our side. Jesus is our most faithful companion. In like manner, God says in the book of Hebrews:
I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)
When God makes a promise, he means it, because he never lies or goes back on his word (Titus 1:2). Therefore, we can be assured that God is with us right now, whether we’re suffering, rejoicing, or somewhere in between. In addition, Scripture says: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Because we who believe in Jesus are temples of the Holy Spirit, we always have access to the Triune God’s loving presence and are in constant communion with him, even in the darkest hours of our lives.
God Understands Our Suffering and Sympathises with Us
Often when we’re suffering, we get more upset because we think to ourselves “No one understands what I’m going through.” This is tragic, because it’s simply not true. Whatever difficult situation you’re going through, God fully understands your pain. God knows how you feel because he himself suffered more than anyone in the world as a human being just like us, except he was without sin. Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh (John 1:1, 14), came down from Heaven to live the perfect life humanity failed to live in our stead and pay the penalty for sin that we deserved on the cross (Acts 20:28; Philippians 2:5–8).
As a human being, God had the same limitations and weaknesses that any other human being has. Furthermore, Jesus did not simply suffer and die by crucifixion, as horrible as that is, but he suffered and died while bearing all the sins of everyone in the world (1 Peter 2:24). Because God suffered for us, he truly sympathises with us when we suffer.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
God Carries Our Burdens with Us
What’s more is that you do not have to carry your burdens alone. The Bible says: “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22) The Word of God encourages us to cast “all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) God doesn’t simply allow us to cast our burdens on him; he wants us to.
We can cast our burdens on him in our private prayers or by confiding in someone we trust at our church; if you’re not part of one, you could contact the pastor or one of the elders of a local church. God very often works through Christians to accomplish his good works (Philippians 2:12–13) and there are plenty of godly Christians out there in biblical churches that worship the Triune God who are willing to help those in need. This is why Scripture encourages us to do the very thing God also does for us:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
This passage is a good incentive for us to pause and ask ourselves if there is anyone in our own lives who may need help with anything and whether or not we may be able to help them with their problem. God has blessed each of us with certain gifts so that we may share them with those who need or lack them in their life (1 Peter 4:10–11). We should be as Christ to others so that in us they may experience his love.
Suffering Can Be a Sign of Blessedness
In direct contrast to the false notion that God’s favour is only on those who are happy and prosperous in life, Jesus indicates quite the opposite in his Sermon on the Mount. He said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. … “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. … “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3–4, 6, 10)
Furthermore, the Bible says: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:14) This is not to say that if you are succeeding, happy, or wealthy that you aren’t blessed by God (James 1:17); it simply means that God still loves you when you suffer and that if you believe in Christ while enduring suffering, you have God’s favour upon you.
In fact, part of being Jesus’ disciples is taking up our crosses daily and following him (Luke 9:23–24). If we suffer and still keep our trust in Christ, then we are truly blessed, because it not only proves that our faith is genuine but also that God has graciously preserved our faith because he has chosen us to have eternal fellowship with him in Heaven (Matthew 25:34).
Much About Suffering Is a Mystery
We don’t always know why God allows one person to suffer in one way and another person in another way. While it’s true that God allows some people to suffer as a form of punishment, we can’t assume this is true for every situation, since Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were chastised by God for thinking this way of Job (Job 42:7).
It’s dangerous to try and rationalise or figure out why God allows certain bad things to happen to people because we don’t know the mind of God. Unlike us, God knows everything (1 John 3:19–20). His knowledge and wisdom are infinite and his justice is perfect (Romans 11:33–34; Deuteronomy 32:4). We don’t have to try and know everything; we just have to trust that God knows what he’s doing and that he’ll always do what is right (Proverbs 3:5–6; Psalm 145:17). God says in Isaiah:
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)
How God Works through Suffering
Here’s what we do know from the Bible: in the grand scheme of things, God always has a good reason for why he allows bad things to happen, because he works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11) and he loves all people (John 3:16). We also know that he uses difficult situations to bless us in ways that we couldn’t be blessed otherwise. The Psalmist of Psalm 119 realised this and wrote:
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts; their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law. It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:67–71)
Upon reflection, the Psalmist acknowledges here that he is thankful that God allowed him to be afflicted because this brought him to God’s Torah*, in which he found salvation. The author of Hebrews acknowledges that God’s discipline is unpleasant at first, but that he allows it temporarily so that from it we grow in righteousness (Hebrews 12:7, 11). In both of these instances, we see that God allows his people to suffer temporarily in order to bring about a positive outcome which could not have been achieved otherwise. Reflect on your own suffering or problems in life for a moment. How could God be using these to lead you to him, draw you closer to him, or make you the kind of person he wants you to be?
God Is Faithful in Suffering
The important thing to realise in all this is that although we can’t escape suffering in this life, God never allows us to suffer beyond what we are capable of bearing (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Bible says: “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3) God has assigned burdens for each of us to bear but they are never too heavy for us. No amount of trouble, pain, turmoil, or power will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35–39). If you are tired from your labour and burdens, then go to Christ and learn from him. He is the only one who can give you true rest:
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
Through faith in Christ we have peace with God and eternal life (Romans 5:1; John 5:24). Through faith we share in his victory over sin, death, and the devil (1 Corinthians 15:54–57). With Jesus as our hope, we wait eagerly for the day when God will call us home to be with him in Heaven, where suffering and death will be no more (Revelation 21:1–4).
God Helps Us Get through Our Suffering
In the meantime, we have a job to fulfil on earth, which is to love God and our neighbour as we go about our daily business (Matthew 22:37–40), and to tell others about the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15). Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to be with us forever and empower us to live out God’s calling in our lives:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. … But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:16–17, 26)
The Holy Spirit is our Helper, which is translated from the Greek word “paraclete,” meaning one who stands beside and calls out and encourages. As the one who aids and encourages us in life’s journey, the Holy Spirit gives us joy when we are downcast (1 Thessalonians 1:6), intercedes for us when we struggle to pray (Romans 8:26–27), teaches us when we are challenged (Luke 12:11-12), and assures us when we have doubts (1 John 3:24). When we feel unloved, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are loved—by God himself (Romans 5:5). God will never leave you in your suffering; he is with you always. Trust in him and he will help you get through every problem of your life (Isaiah 40:29–31).
* The “Torah” refers to the total sum of the teachings of God’s Law in this context. In other contexts it can refer to the first five books of Moses in the Old Testament (Genesis to Deuteronomy).