Agony, affliction, or distress; intense pain or sorrow. Suffering has been part of the human experience since man's fall into sin <Genesis 3>. The Psalms, one-third of which are laments, include graphic descriptions of suffering <Psalm 22>. The theme of the Book of Job is the problem of suffering and why God permits the righteous to suffer.
The Bible makes it clear that some suffering is the result of evil action or sin in the world. This type of suffering came upon man after the FALL in the Garden of Eden <Gen. 3:16-19>. But some suffering is not related to the past. It is forward-looking in that it serves to shape and refine God's children <1 Pet. 1:6-7; 5:10>. The Book of Hebrews declares that Jesus learned obedience by the things which He suffered <Heb. 5:8>, and that He was perfected through suffering <Heb. 2:10>. Suffering has the potential of demonstrating God's power <2 Cor. 12:7>. Those who suffer are in a position to comfort others <2 Cor. 1:3-6>.
Suffering also helps believers to identify with Christ, which is more than suffering for Christ. Through persecution and tortures, people have suffered for the sake of Christ and His kingdom <Phil. 1:29; 2 Thes. 1:5; 2 Tim. 3:12>. To suffer with Christ, however, is another matter. Paul speaks of the "fellowship of His [Christ's] sufferings" <Phil. 3:10>. Believers share in the suffering of Christ in the sense that through suffering they identify with Christ. To be a disciple involves suffering like the Master. Christ as Lord and His believers as disciples are bonded even further through the experience of suffering.
Another type of suffering is that endured for the sake of others. The prophet Isaiah portrayed the Suffering Servant as sin-bearer when he declared, "By His stripes we are healed" <Is. 53:5>. Jesus announced repeatedly that His suffering was His mission <Matt. 17:12; Luke 24:46>. Looking back to the cross, Peter explained that "Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" <1 Pet. 3:18>.
Illustrated Bible Dictionary)
(Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
See also The Doctrine of Suffering and General Scriptures on Suffering.
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