In the tapestry of human existence, suffering is a profound and enigmatic thread woven intricately into the fabric of our lives. It is a universal experience that knows no boundaries, transcending culture, creed and circumstance. From the depths of physical agony to the anguish of the human heart, suffering has an uncanny ability to bind us together in our shared vulnerability while also prompting us to echo the words of the Apostle Paul, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” (Romans 8:18, ESV). Yet, amidst this enduring and often perplexing reality, questions emerge that resonate with the very core of our existence. These questions invite us to explore the theological significance of suffering to uncover the hidden layers of meaning that lie beneath the surface of our pain.
In This Article:
The Shroud of Darkness
The journey of understanding and acceptance begins with exploring the multifaceted nature of suffering. We delve into the human experience of pain, drawing from ancient wisdom, Scripture and personal narratives to understand the myriad forms suffering takes. From physical ailments to spiritual and emotional turmoil, we begin to see that suffering is an inescapable aspect of every life. The Old Testament book of Job confirms this, “For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward,” (Job 5:6-7, ESV). But what does it reveal about our relationship with God? Within this seemingly hopeless human reality, the Scriptures reveal several important aspects of God’s nature and character that we can hold on to during times of suffering and pain: compassion, presence, salvation and understanding.
- Compassion: The Bible portrays God as a compassionate and empathetic God who draws near to those who are suffering (Psalm 145:9). God is not distant or indifferent to the pain and brokenness experienced by individuals; instead, he is intimately involved and concerned with their well-being (Lamentations 3:22-23).
- Presence: The Scriptures underscore God's proximity to those who are hurting and suffering. The Bible confirms that even amid trials and tribulations, God is near, offering comfort, support and solace to those who are brokenhearted (Psalm 23:4; Matthew 28:20).
- Salvation: Both the Old and New Testaments convey the idea of salvation and ultimate deliverance. God is not only there to console and offer his presence, but he also actively saves and rescues those who are crushed in spirit (Isaiah 43:2). This indicates God's desire and promise to bring healing, restoration and wholeness to those who are suffering emotionally, physically and spiritually (Romans 8:28).
- Understanding: By describing Jesus as one who draws close to the brokenhearted, the Scriptures confirm that he understands the pain and anguish individuals think (Psalm 139:1-2) and experience (Hebrews 4:15-16). This understanding is rooted in his omniscience and deep love for his creation.
These verses provide insight into God's compassionate, present, saving and understanding nature as depicted in the Bible. God is a loving, compassionate and caring God who is intimately involved in the lives of his people, especially when they are going through difficult and emotionally challenging times. The Scriptures emphasize his desire to bring healing and salvation to those who are hurting, reinforcing the idea that God is the only source of comfort and hope for those in distress and in need.
The Silence of God
As we grapple with the weight of suffering, we inevitably question the presence of God amidst our pain. Navigating the theological challenge posed by suffering and exploring the concept of divine silence, we find that even though we feel like God is silent, he is still working (Psalm 139:7-12). We seek to unravel the mystery of God's seeming absence through the lens of Scripture and the personal testimonies of those who have wrestled with their faith in the face of suffering. Andrea Thom rightly points out that God is always present with us, especially in those dark times. We tend to look for him to act in ways we expect and then feel abandoned when we don’t see that. But in those moments, God often changes us in ways we aren’t expecting and so don’t recognize until long after that season. He has not left us; we often are simply not looking in the right places to find him.1
The Forge of Redemption
In the crucible of suffering, we encounter the transformative power of pain (James 1:2-4). The truth that suffering can serve as a refining fire, a catalyst for personal growth, and spiritual maturation should compel us to draw as close as possible to Jesus in these times, as he has experienced the same suffering and pain as us (Isaiah 53). That very idea, the late Dr. Tim Keller said, is the heart of Christianity. Christ suffered, so to be like him, we too must suffer. God can use that pain to refine and bring his redemption to our lives.2 Drawing from the Scriptures and experiences of individuals who have found redemption through their pain, we discover the potential for suffering to lead us toward a deeper understanding of ourselves and our relationship with God (Psalm 34:18).
The Tapestry Unveiled
In the tapestry of human existence, suffering remains an enduring thread, but it is not the only thread. Through our exploration of the theological significance of suffering, we have discovered that it can be a conduit for understanding God's presence, purpose and redemption. As we contemplate the mysteries of suffering, we also find the threads of grace, love and transcendence that interweave with our pain, offering a vision of a deeper, more profound understanding of our existence and our relationship with God. In this journey, we have uncovered a narrative that invites us to embrace suffering not as a curse but as a sacred part of the human experience — a path to a deeper communion with Jesus, our redeemer.
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1 Thom, A. (2018). When God’s Presence Feels Absent. The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved Sept. 18, 2023.
2 Keller, T. (2013). Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York: Dutton.
Approved by faculty for the College of Theology on Oct. 2, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.