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How Should Christians Respond to Suffering?

I know you’ve faced trials in your own life. It can be difficult to know what to do when your world comes crashing down around you. In those moments, know you are not alone, God is there.

Hand on a rainy window

As our world is experiencing significant upheaval and chaos, political intrigues, wars and rumors of wars, and financial difficulties, we are also seeing Christians become the target of governments demanding total submission to lockdown edicts, etc.

In the U.S., Evangelical Christians have even been officially declared terrorists by the government. Prophecy tells us that things will only grow worse for us. What does the Bible say about suffering and how we should respond to it?

Should Christians Count it All Joy?

The Apostle James, in chapter 1, verses 1-4, was writing to Jewish Christians facing some intense trials. Christians were murdered, women raped and sold into slavery along with their children, and whatever property they owned was either destroyed or stolen from them.

They were persecuted, treated maliciously, and even killed. Yet James tells them to “count it all joy.” That sounds like madness to us, I know. But that is what the Word says. And while we might not yet face trials of the extreme that the early Christians did, we all face trials daily and need to “count it all joy” as well.

I know you’ve faced trials in your own life and might have wondered, or maybe even asked God, What in the world are you doing? It can be difficult to know what to do when your world comes crashing down around you. What do you do when a flood damages your home? When you don't have enough money to pay the bills, or put food on the table?

How do you tell your child that their mother or father has passed away? Most people struggle to negotiate such sufferings, but we can all learn how to respond to trials God’s way. The first thing we have to do is figure out what it means to “count it all joy.”

Counting it all joy is an objective decision, an informed act of the will. When you “count” something, what you’re doing is adding up a series of facts to come to a reasonable, logical conclusion. You do this in everyday life.

When you look at your gas meter in your car, you add up the facts of your travel through the week to come to a conclusion as to whether you need to put gas in now or later, so you keep from running out in the middle of the highway. You take a look at your budget to decide how much needs to be set aside for the mortgage, and how much for groceries.

Likewise, you should be adding up the facts of God’s record of interaction with His people and coming to a reasonable, logical conclusion. What are the facts of God’s record? I would say they are pretty good.

Looking at such situations as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, David being pursued by Saul, and the Israelites coming out of Egypt, you can see his record is pretty darn good. And just look at your own life. How many times in the past has the Lord pulled you out of a difficult situation, or at the very least made it more bearable to go through?

In other words, instead of keeping your eye on the difficulties you face, you need to look at God’s history of loving those who love Him. He works wonderful things in the lives of those he loves through their trials. Still, some might ask, Why in the world should I respond to trials with joy? Is that really a rational response?

What Does it Mean to Have Patience?

Beyond the desire you should have to always be in the will of God, you have the promise of your endurance having its perfect work. What is this all about? Trials are opportunities for you to put your faith into practice. In secular terms, we would say, “Put your money where your mouth is.”

Faith is like training in a martial art or any other sport. If you do not practice repeatedly, going through the drills, working the muscles even when it hurts, you won't achieve the results you could. Trials are opportunities to exercise your faith. You see, faith cannot be exercised without practice, and practice only comes with opportunity.

Trials are your opportunity to endure and receive the blessing of faith’s perfect work. Flex your faith muscles, as it were. The end result of this is totally worth it. James tells us the whole purpose of responding with joy is, “That you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

What does James mean by “perfect and complete, lacking nothing”? He means God is at work in your life through these trials, to mold you and shape you into the image of His Son. In other words, the righteousness of Christ in you! When you endure, exercise your faith muscle, and trust that God is working in your life — especially in trials — you have no room for complaining or doubt!

When I was in the Army, in order to complete Basic Training and graduate, you had to complete a 15-mile march. This march wasn't a simple boy scout jamboree type march, but a march in full combat gear. You wore your steel pot (helmet), web gear, rucksack, and carried your M16. I had to carry a few additional items, such as field radio, LAW, and M60.

The march was in the middle of summer over difficult rocky terrain. The temperature hit 90 degrees and there were only brief two-minute stops for water. Along the way I noticed that all the guys complaining — those who grumbled about the heat, the terrain, the lack of rest, the lack of water — those guys started dropping like flies.

They couldn’t make it through to the end. They were too busy complaining to endure by looking at the end result of all this discomfort. It was those of us who busied ourselves with singing platoon songs and staying positive who endured and graduated. Your trials are faith’s boot camp, designed to train you to respond to trials God’s way. How do I start doing that?

You have to begin to look at that final result, and not at the momentary discomforts of this world. When you catch yourself complaining or grumbling, remind yourself that God is at work in your life, perfecting you, bringing you into the image of Christ.

That alone should bring you tremendous joy. These trials aren’t curses, but opportunities for God to perfect you so that you “lack nothing.” But you have to change the way you think. Stop asking: Why this? Why me? Why now? Instead, ask yourself, What is God teaching you through this situation, and how can I be more like Christ in this difficulty?

Does God Allow Suffering?

Understand that we have to cooperate with God’s grace to receive the blessings inherent in trials. Changing our perspective from that of someone looking through a keyhole and trying to see the whole inner room, to God’s perspective, where He sees not just the whole room, but the whole house.

It is a conscious decision to trust that God is with us, working on us, and loves us. As someone once said, “God loves you just as you are, but he loves you enough not to leave you that way.”

For further reading:

What Does it Mean to Be Content in All Circumstances?

Do Christians Have to Smile All the Time?

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Why Is There Suffering in the World?

Why Does the Christian Life Lead to Suffering?

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Kristina Tripkovic


J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.