by Rayola Kelley
Q: I have a question about suffering. What is the difference between a Christian suffering and an unsaved person suffering?
A: Suffering is one subject that is confusing for many Christians. There is a false impression that has taken root in Christendom that if a Christian suffers for a prolonged or inconvenient time, as far as those around him or her are concerned, such a person must have some type of sin in his or her life. The reason for this philosophy varies, but for many people they want to believe that they can avoid or control suffering in their lives. In fact, some believe that if they live a certain way, they can be an exception when it comes to suffering, rather than the rule that seems to prevail in people’s lives.
However, any person born into the human race will experience some type of suffering. One of the main reasons for suffering finds its origins in the Garden of Eden. Man was promised paradise, but because of sin, a curse was pronounced that clearly changed the quality of man’s life (Genesis 3:16-19). It was through this curse that death made its entrance. Man would not only struggle, toil and pour out his sweat to survive, but in the end he would find himself returning to dust from which he came to taste the vanity of his life in the grave of death.
It is important to point out Jesus became a curse for us on the cross, but the cross addressed the vanity of man’s life in light of eternity (Galatians 3:10). In other words, man can obtain spiritual well-being and life in Christ, but His act of redemption did not do away with the sorrow that is prevailing in this world due to the darkness of sin that freely reigns in the hearts of men. The Apostle Paul confirmed this by stating that all creation was made subject to vanity, and that the whole creation groans and travails in pain (Romans 8:20, 22).
There are four types of suffering. They are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual suffering. Physical suffering points to such things as sickness, which can end in physical death. Mental anguish occurs due to some type of loss, such as the death of a loved one, the lost of material possessions or status. Such anguish can lead to total despair. Emotional suffering occurs because of such feelings as failure, rejection and loneliness, ending in a pit of depression. Spiritual suffering is the result of sin. People find themselves spiritually vexed because of the devastating wake that sin leaves as it perverts, defiles and destroys lives and relationships. Such suffering often ends in some type of separation.
This brings us to the difference that exists between the suffering that takes place in Christians’ lives and those who are unsaved. The differences come down to two fronts: the reason that suffering is occurring, and the affects it has on the person. For example, the saved may be experiencing suffering for the sake of righteousness. The Bible tells us that those who live godly in this present life will suffer persecution. The Apostle Paul also talks about the reproach that is suffered by those who trust in the living God. He gives the promise that those who suffer for the sake of righteousness will be glorified with Jesus, and will also reign with Him (Romans 8:17; 1 Timothy 4:10; 2 Timothy 2:12).
As for the unsaved, sometimes they suffer because they taste the consequences for sinful living. The Apostle Peter brings out a valuable contrast in 1 Peter 4:12-19. He tells believers that they will be tested in their faith, but to rejoice because they are partakers of Christ’s suffering. He goes on to explain if Christians find that they are made a reproach for Christ’s sake, to not be ashamed but be happy. Such rejoicing will result in Christ’s glory as it is unveiled in their lives. But, he also exhorts Christians to avoid suffering because they are in some type of sin. Peter reminded them that judgment will begin in the house of God and that since the righteous are scarcely saved, what will happen to those who disobey the Gospel? He ends on this note: “Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”
Peter clearly tells us that Christians do suffer according to the will of God. Such suffering tests and refines faith; serves as a point of identification with Christ, and can become a means in which Christians can also enter into the sufferings with others in order to bring consolation to them (2 Corinthians 1:3-8). However, suffering is also a result of sin. And, those who fail to address their sins in this present life, according to God’s provision of Jesus Christ, will find themselves in a perpetual state of suffering, torment and consuming despair in the lake of fire(Revelation 20:11-15).