Human Suffering – Biblical Perspectives

By Pete Moore

Read: Human Suffering – Biblical Perspectives (Part 2)

Gethsemane Example

No Christian exploration of suffering would be complete without reviewing Christ’s own personal experience of suffering. When explaining the previous few day’s events to a couple of perplexed travelers on the road to Emmaus just after his resurrection, Jesus said, ‘Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’27 Implicit in this is the idea that suffering was part of God’s plan – a critical component of the process that restored humanity’s relationship with God.

It’s worth noting, however, that even Jesus found this hard to go through. In the garden of Gethsemane on the night that he was arrested he prayed three times, on each occasion asking God not to make him go through the suffering that he knew was about to occur. Each time, however, he concluded that it was not his will, but God’s that needed to be fulfilled – and if that included a requirement to suffer for a period, then Jesus was prepared to go through with it.28 The issue for Jesus was whether his life would glorify the Father.

Handling Uncertainty

Surveying the various potential causes of, and responses to, suffering is interesting in itself, but the church comes with the question, what about me – what about my suffering? Is it God’s discipline, demonic interference or the consequence of disobedience? Or, why, for example, did the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami wave kill some, orphan others, maim many more, but leave many unscathed?
Jesus was faced with similar questions, when some people came to him asking questions about some people living in Galilee who were caught up in atrocities or the victims of a building disaster. His response was ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’29 His message is that people may never know way suffering happens in any given case. It should, however, serve as a reminder that human beings are mortal and will face judgement for the way they have lived.

The Bible’s answer then, is that the answer is often not ours to know – it is a mystery. The book of Job, gives an angel-eye view of the cosmic battle that was going on at the time between God and the devil, and gives a measure of understanding of the reason for Job’s suffering. But Job went through it without that insight. He lived to glorify God, but the process, for him, defied rational explanation.

A reading of the Psalms shows that God does not appear to be offended when people shout and complain about suffering (eg Psalm 77), and there is a rightness in expressing our anger when suffering encroaches. We do not need to assume a false piety. But our hope should be that we will eventually see how God is working within the situation.30

At the same time we need to recognize the smallness of our minds when set against the vast knowing capability of God. This is expressed poetically in Isaiah when God states; “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”’31

Part of Christian hope is also set in the future, a time when ‘he will wipe every tear from their eyes [and] there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.32 At the present time ‘the whole creation (is) groaning’ but the day is coming when the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.’33 Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was the beginning of this new creation. In the same way in the ‘new creation’,34 we too will have new resurrected bodies that neither suffer nor die,35 and the whole creation will be restored into full harmony with God.

At the heart of the Christian faith is a God who went through suffering so that a greater good would result – creation being eventually restored to its former glory. It is quite possible to generate clever arguments about how God may have organized things differently, but it would seem that God is not afraid of suffering and does not always remove it, but has a greater purpose that he is working out through history.

This may seem deeply unsatisfactory for post-enlightenment minds, but part of the answer to suffering is that it is a mystery, but one that we will understand better when we meet God face to face – ‘Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known’.36


  1. Genesis 1:31
  2. Genesis 3:1-24
  3. Genesis 3:16-19
  4. Proverbs 6:27-28
  5. Jeremiah 8:13
  6. Jeremiah 9:7b
  7. 2 Samuel 7:14-15a
  8. Hebrews 12:10
  9. Hebrews 12:11
  10. Lewis CS. The problem of pain. Chapter 6. First published 1940.
  11. John 9:1-5
  12. 2 Corinthians 4:8-11
  13. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
  14. Ephesian 6:12
  15. Luke 8:26-35
  16. Mark 9:29
  17. Isaiah 58:6-10
  18. Matthew 25:35-36
  19. James 1:27
  20. John 14:8-11
  21. Matthew 8:3-4
  22. Revelation 21:1-4
  23. Acts 3:1-10
  24. Acts 14:8-11
  25. Matthew 14:13-21
  26. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
  27. Luke 24:26
  28. Mark 14:32-42
  29. Luke 13:2-5
  30. Romans 8:28
  31. Isaiah 55:8-9
  32. Revelation 21:4
  33. Romans 8:18-25
  34. 2 Peter 3:11-13
  35. Philippians 3:21
  36. 1 Corinthians 13:12

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) Files No. 32