Suffering is not a sin. The devil would try to tempt us otherwise. Remember how it was with Job. His three friends (then four), all poor theologians, tried to connect the dots between Job’s suffering and his sin. The same temptation comes to us when we thing that a Christian must always be happy and cheerful, or when we imagine that there is some sort of shame in suffering and trouble.
There is a type of “Billboard Christianity” where everyone is smiling and successful, healthy and happy. This plastic faith understands Jesus as spiritual “Botox”, and the if you are sad or depressed it is because you faith is not strong enough. In fact, we hear this type of thing from the television preachers. “God wants you,” they say, “to be healthy, wealthy and wise.” And if you are not, you must be under God’s curse or the control of the devil and so forth and so on. As if we are Christian robots with these two facial expressions: happy and ecstatic. I know that this false teaching hasn’t made its way among us, but perhaps there is even in our midst a shame in our suffering, a thought (even if we haven’t thought about it in these words) that our suffering is a sin.
This is simply not the case. If suffering was a sin, then Jesus would have committed sin. Who, after all, suffered more than our Lord Jesus in His cross? On the cross He tasted God’s wrath, knew the depths of the affliction of hell. Jesus suffered. He did not sin.
And Jesus was not alone in His suffering. As Christians we share in the Lord’s suffering. Rather than being sin, suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life.
When Jesus asked if anyone would follow Him He didn’t say, “If any would be My disciple, let Him take up His victorious life and follow Me.” No. Jesus bids us take us “take up your cross and follow Me.” [Matthew 16:24] Jesus has warned us that in this world we will have trouble. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]
This trouble and tribulation comes from the world, the flesh and the devil, the three constant enemies of the Lord and His church. It was this way from the beginning, and will be this way until the Lord returns, the Lord’s people suffer. From Abel to Noah to Joseph and Moses and David and all the prophets. In fact, when you read Hebrews 11, a chapter often called “The Hall of Faith”, you find a list of the Old Testament faithful, which is also a list of their suffering.
In the New Testament it is the same way. Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” [John 15:18-19] The apostle’s suffered because of the name of Jesus, and far from considering this to be sin, they thought it pure joy. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus].” [Acts 5:41]
St. Paul encourages the church to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” [Romans 5:3-5]
When St. Peter tells us to follow the example of our Jesus, he instructs us to be like Jesus in His suffering. This is incredible. Rather that showing us Jesus as an example of life, of victory, of overcoming trouble or any such thing, Jesus is our example in suffering. “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” [1 Peter 2:20-21]
Far from being a sin, suffering is a mark of being Christian. The holy cross is a mark of the church. In this life we are traveling through a vale of tears, the valley of the shadow of death, but the Lord is with us in our suffering. He knows what it’s like. And He comes to us with His comforting promises that He will never leave or forsake us [Hebrews 13:5], that He will be with us always, even to the end of the age [Matthew 28:20]. He promises that while our suffering will be for a while, His comfort and life and salvation will last forever.
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]
ht: Extreme Theology