Why do some Christians suffer more than others?
Published: 9 December 2012 (GMT+10)
Some Christians suffer more than others. It’s a fact of life. But is God unjust for making it like this? CMI’s Lita Cosner answers a correspondent who asks that question.
Stephan B. from Canada wrote:
Why is it that one christian may have an nice and easy life full of blessings while another christian who is doing his best to walk with God and serve Him has nothing but hardships and no easy life … things he couldn’t control like death of parents among many things? Where is God’s love and justice here?
CMI’s Lita Cosner wrote:
Most of the apostles ended up giving their lives as martyrs for the faith, and John was exiled. Many early Christians were killed for their faith, and even more suffered loss of possessions and estrangement from family and former friends. Today in Middle Eastern countries, someone who converts to Christianity from Islam may face the death penalty, and someone in China’s underground churches may be imprisoned and face substantial persecution. Christians in Africa are mercilessly attacked, kidnapped, and enslaved by their non-Christian neighbors.
Peter tells us “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). And John says, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). An elementary understanding of the treatment of Christians through history and more importantly the Bible’s teaching makes it clear that Christians will not always be spared the trials and pain of this life.
I think the vast majority of the time, the suffering that the Christian goes through is generally able to be attributed to the Curse on creation, which is where all sorts of bad things come from. We know that God hates all these evil things, and He will eventually completely eradicate all of them.
You ask “Where is God’s love and justice?” God’s love is with that Christian, and has been shown first and foremost in Christ’s sacrifice for him. I find Romans 8 immensely comforting when contemplating these issues, especially the following:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (verses 18–30).
Stephan, the reason why I find these verses so comforting is that it acknowledges that there is pain and there are bad things in the world—and it doesn’t try to downplay that. But God isn’t a distant unfeeling deistic god—the Spirit rather prays for us “with groanings too deep for words”. These verses also point us to our hope in the future—all things will work for good (ultimate good, not necessarily something we can point to in our own lifetime) for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (and if this isn’t a promise about the things that seem so mind-bogglingly bad that it’s hard to believe any good can come out of it, it wouldn’t be much of a promise at all). This is a promise that can only ultimately be fulfilled in the Resurrection—if there were no resurrection, everything would end in death for the believer, regardless of any temporary comfort. But we have this great eternal hope for a coming world free from the bondage to corruption—regardless of any temporary suffering.
The hard part of this is that we don’t see any sort of ‘fairness’ in this life. It’s not hard for me to see some Christians doing really well—I think the far bigger ‘problem’ is unbelievers who curse God and seem to prosper in this life, while Christians are starving and dying and being killed for their faith. But we have the promise from God Himself that we will inherit an eternal Kingdom. Human beings are eternal in the sense that we don’t end. Someone who is extraordinarily long-lived today may live a little over 100 years old—but our eternity will last ‘billions and trillions of times longer’ than that (if I may use a finite example to try to get across infinite time). Our future makes the evolutionists’ interpretation of billions of years in the past seem boring and short by comparison! We might suffer hardship for our whole life here, but then go to an eternal reward for our faithfulness in those trials. And even if it took a thousand years of paradise to make up for the hundred years of suffering—that’s nothing on the eternal timescale! In contrast, someone who lives a comparatively easy life in this world without Christ is going to eternal punishment that will make their ease here look like nothing. I think with these questions, it is the most important to look from an eternal perspective.
I could keep rambling for a while on this topic, but I’ll stop myself here. If you’re interested in a book on this topic, we have Carl Wieland’s Beyond the Shadows, which looks at a lot of these sorts of issues from his own personal experiences of physical suffering. But more than anything, I would encourage you to open your Bible up. Read the Psalms, read the New Testament, read Revelation. The Bible is not silent about the problem of suffering, about some seeming to prosper unjustly and others seeming to suffer unjustly. And we are promised that God will make everything right in the end.
I hope these thoughts have been helpful for you.
Let me begin with a true story.
In 1926, the very last of the wolves in Yellowstone Park had finally been destroyed. (There were some occasional sporadic reports of wolves but not enough to be considered an environmental impact).
Now all the fluffy bunnies, beavers, elks, other animals, trees and surrounding farmers were freeeeeeee from pain and suffering from all those bad, evil and violent wolves – they believed they had accomplished what God could not do, eliminate the suffering!!!
HOWEVER!! Once the wolves were gone an incredible and completely unexpected turn of events occurred. By 1933 scientists reported “The range was in deplorable conditions when we first saw it, and its deterioration has been progressing steadily since then.”
By this time many biologists were worried about eroding land and plants dying off. The elk were multiplying inside the park and deciduous, woody species such as aspen and cottonwood suffered from overgrazing. The park service started trapping and moving the elk and, when that was not effective, killing them. This method helped the land quality from worsening, but didn't improve the conditions. [Ed note: URL removed as per our feedback rules.]
Even the beavers left, the rivers actually dried up and the tree coverage GREATLY disappeared – there was a great debate as to whether anyone could actually blame the removal of wolves. How could removing the evil suffering upset the balance of life...?????
BUT IT DID!.
Finally in 1973 the “Endangered Species Act of 1973” was passed which opened the road to re-introduction of the wolves. In 1995 the wolves were re-introduced. The trees have begun to grow again (the elk have stopped destroying the young plants), the beavers have returned and their dams have created rivers and pools, which have brought LIFE.
Thank you for sharing this. This illustrates how suffering can affect life in this fallen world. However, I should point out that in the pre-Fall world, there would not have been this problem which required predation to control the populations of the herbivores.
Thank you for this article, the book of Romans has long been a favorite of mine, which the Lord used to really bring me to Himself. Many years ago that is. Sometimes I begin to lose the perspective of the purpose of suffering, and we as humans don't want to suffer any more than we possibly have to. Yet with family members that I know of who have struggled many years with their own health issues it is hard to take many times. Yet God has shown to some His mercy in healing and the love that He has shown does help to show He hasn't forgotten His own. His purposes for allowing some to suffer in the fellowship of His suffering takes on a different picture than what we want to see. Yet when He does allow for healing it is for His glory and not what man has done for himself in the prospect. I am reminded of the temporary sufferings that Christians do go through for their faith, being persecuted for what they believe in when in a hostile enviornment more often than for lifelong endured struggles. That to me is what this passage is referring to on the majority of the issues at hand as opposed to life long endured health struggles. Only God knows the reason for each and the purpose that man will only learn after he arrives in heaven.
Why Do Some Christians Suffer More Than Others? In the article, the author focuses on that quite well. However, the question in the article also included why some Christians have a nice and easy life full of blessings: I'd like to hear what the author says to that part of the question, why is that so and how does nearly constant circumstantial blessing (but for maybe one brief or else year-long tragedy along the way for example, followed by an immediate return to comforting living situation) mature the faith of those particular believers?
That's an interesting question, and I don't know if I have a 'set-in-stone' answer for that. God knows what is appropriate for a particular person; and we must remember that so much suffering is private, so that someone who appears to have a 'perfect' life may in fact be undergoing significant trials. I don't know of any adult who would claim that they haven't experienced significant suffering in their lifetime.
As for how believers could be matured without suffering, I don't believe that any believer escapes suffering so much that this would be an issue. But surely studying the word of God and sitting under biblical preaching is a far more important part of maturing in the faith.
See also Understanding Death.
We tend to forget sometimes the incredible word of great hope to all Christians in Hebrews 13:5. "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" Whatever trials or tribulations you are going through, know that your God journeys right alongside of you, in fact He holds you close to His heart through your entire journey.
I think the providence of God is definitely the answer to the question and that was very well pointed out in the answer. I was recently struck by Jesus' answer to Peter in John 21 after his resurrection when he was restoring him and telling how he's going to die for the gospel and he turned around seeing John follow them he asked, "Lord, what about him?" and Jesus' answer was basically "that's non of your business you focus on following me and leave me to run the world." In my first year in full-time ministry straight out of seminary I struggled with this knowing that ministry is probably going to more challenging financially and in other ways than secular employment and Lord through his Spirit helped to accept my lot in life and recently that Scripture has solidified my conviction on this. Our challenges will look different in life even as Christians rather than focusing on how others suffering less than us and how that is unfair we must focus on following and serving the Lord in our current situation, that attitude will free us to rejoice in the Lord for his goodness to our fellow brothers and sisters. Hard one though, I sympathize.
Hi again ! I remember asking that question this past summer. I was then struggling with this aspect even tho i knew pretty much all that was written in this article. I did end up bying the book 'walking thru shadows' and it has helped me accept whatever circumstances may come my way and just be thankfull for all the good in my life. Instead of looking at what i don't have, i thank God everyday for what i DO have. I bought 2 more books from CMI and can't wait to get started ! You will be surprised to hear that i hate reading and that this book 'walking thru shadows' was the 1st in many years ! (appart from the Bible...off course). I guess you could say that this book has given me the desire to read again. God bless.
Compliments to Lita Cosner for her well worded and heart felt answer for Stephan about "Why do some Christians suffer more than others". Pionting out and reminding us that our lives in Christ are eternal and should always be thought of in that perspective makes the terrible now more berable because of the fact of it's miniscule amount of time compared to our eternal Joy with our Lord. Thank you CMI we appreciate your wonderful ministery to us.
Good answer by Lita Cosner. I would add this from Acts 12 where Herod released the Apostle Peter from prison, but he had the Apostle James killed. We think of this as not "fair" and wonder if God let James down. However, we have to look at the sovereignty of God in this and all other similar situations. His ways are not our ways.
Another comforting text--one that has helped me a lot over the years--is Isaiah 53:4. It reveals the truth that Jesus experienced on the cross all our lifetimes of hurt and suffering, all the consequences of sin.
While it is still a mystery why some Christians suffer more than other Christians (likewise with non-Christians), this verse affirms to us that God is not distant from our suffering. Somehow, specific suffering had to be gone through--since Jesus, God the Son, also had to experience it on the cross.
As I meditate on this, any doubts regarding God's justice and care immediately disappear. This is the foundation for other helpful texts such as 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.
Amen to all points. This was a wonderful article, reminding us that no matter how bad things go for us down here, our joy and eternal life in salvation will more than make up for it, infinitely so!
That particular passage, I see Romans 8:28 in a completely new light now, in its proper context. God Bless You for your continued work!
God will always cause the optimum conditions that ensure the salvation of as many people as possible. In his eyes our eternal salvation has far greater priority than temporary and fleeting happiness. Everything is to serve and contribute to our salvation, whether good or bad.
And we know ALL things work together for good to those who love God... Romans 8:28
He uses hardship and adversaries to get our attention and to humble our rebellious and stubborn natures.
And God is such a great Lord and Master that he is even able to turn the wickedness of the devil into good.
So the devil can only ever be God's slave, and overall, evil is the servant of good; for example:
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 2Corinthians 12:7
(to protect Paul from vanity and pride). God uses the enemy's own weapons against him.
But we should also be aware that much of this goes against his good, kind and loving nature and actually demonstrates the lengths he will go to in order to rescue us from sin, and death.
...that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act. Isaiah 28:21 [Amplified]
Concerning the life and death of the believer and of those that hold to this temporary world; Psalm 73 gives a good description of the contrast betweeen the two.