The Meaning of Suffering

Suffering Succotash, I say, Suffering Succotash
Romans 8:18 – “I don’t think the sufferings we are going through now are even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us in the future.”
The books of Job and Proverbs do not treat the subject of suffering either systematically or philosophically but do give us some insight into the Old Testament Semitic thought regarding why human beings do, indeed, suffer. These books merely present multiple perspectives on the causes of suffering and how to endure it. Because much of the early thought and writings deal with concrete situations rather than abstract forms, this issue is not treated in an intellectual manner. Rather, when suffering occurred, the writers attempted to identify the cause and purpose of the suffering. Below are some of the responses outlined in Job and Proverbs.

Why Do We Have To Experience So Much Suffering?
1. Suffering Is a Sign of Yahweh’s Wrath and Punishment for Sin in One’s Life!
Old Testament thought claimed that if one was being punished by Yahweh, it was because one had sinned against Yahweh. Jobs three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar repeatedly draw our attention to this ‘fact.’ The innocent are not singled out by Yahweh to be punished, they claim. Yahweh, however, finally corrects them, and states that this is not always the ‘fact!’ At times, He allows even the innocent to be punished or to suffer.
→ Job: acknowledges the possibility of his children having sinned (Job 1:5)
→ Job: claims he is innocent (Job 6,7,9,12, etc.)
→ Bildad: Job must be guilty. Yahweh does not pervert justice. (Job 8)
→ Zophar: Yahweh’s Wisdom and call for Job to repent (Job 11)
→ Eliphaz: Rebukes Job. Discusses fate of the wicked (Job 15)
→ Bildad: Criticizes Job. Discusses fate of the wicked (Job 18)
→ Zophar: Elaborates on fate of the wicked (Job 20)
→ Eliphaz: Job has committed specific sins for which he is punished (Job 22)
→ Sinners are swallowed by Sheol (Proverbs 1:10-12)
→ Yahweh curses the wicked, but he blesses the righteous (Proverbs 3:33)
→ Adulterers get wounds and dishonor [How about Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Herpes, or AIDS?] (Proverbs 6:32-33)
→ The upright receive a stronghold, but evildoers get destruction (Proverbs 10:29)
→ The good obtain favor but Yahweh condemns those who devise evil (Proverbs 12:2)
→ Sinners are overthrown (Proverbs 13:6)
→ The Righteous prosper, but sinners see misfortune (Proverbs 13:21)

2. Suffering Is a Sign That Yahweh Is Against Us!
The book of Job, particularly in Chapter 12, tends to assume that some suffering comes because Yahweh has turned against his previously protected one. This attitude probably stems from the many prophetic passages in which Yahweh tells his people that he has turned against them because of their sin. In Job’s case, however, he does not know why Yahweh has turned his wrath upon him.
→ Yahweh tears Job in his wrath, and hated him, has become his adversary (Job 16:9)
→ Yahweh has given Job up to the ungodly, cast him to the wicked (Job 16:11)
→ Yahweh broke him in two, dashed him to pieces, set him up as his target (Job 16:12)
→ Yahweh has surrounded him, slashes open his kidneys, and shows no mercy (Job 16:13)

3. Yahweh’s Sovereign Control Can Bring Suffering, or Showers of Blessing!
More often than not, we long for a life bereft of problems and suffering. We want a life of complete sunshine. If our life were a plot of land, and all it received was sunny weather, it would become dry, parched, desert-like; nothing would grow without the occasional rainy day! Life, without trials, burdens, or suffering would be neither productive, challenging, nor creative. It is those storm clouds that Yahweh sends to blot out our sunny days that at times seem to completely engulf us, but which can turn out, at a later moment, to be the precursor to blessings in abundance.
→ Job claims the Lord gives, the Lord takes away: He has complete sovereignty (Job 1:20)
→ Job claims we receive good from the Lord, should we not also receive the bad, as well? His wife claims he should curse Yahweh and die (Job 2:10)
→ Eliphaz claims that Yahweh strikes but heals, wounds but binds up (Job 5:18-27)
→ Yahweh does as he pleases: sends rain or drought; feast or famine (Job 12:14-25)
→ Yahweh thwarts the wicked, but feeds the righteous (Proverbs 10:3)

4. Suffering Is Used by Yahweh to Gain People’s Attention!
Throughout the Older Covenant period, suffering and punishment were Yahweh’s means of calling his people to repentance, so that they will know that “Yahweh is the God of gods!” (Joshua 22:22)
→ Yahweh speaks, but not all perceive it (Job 33:14)
→ Yahweh opens ears by adversity (Job 36:15)

5. Suffering Often Develops or Refines Character, Making of Us a Better, Stronger Person!
This is only for your good, dad said. I’m not spanking you to get my jollies. This will build character, it says between the lines, no matter how much it hurts.
→ When he has finished testing we come out like gold (Job 23:10)
→ A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1)
→ Wounds cleanse away evil; beatings make clean the innermost parts (Proverbs 20:30)
→ Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts (Proverbs 27:6)

6. Suffering Helps Us Grow in Our Trust in Yahweh’s Wisdom!
Despite an obvious depth of suffering, Job continually calls on Yahweh to be his ally. He accepts his suffering as a part of human life to be endured through trust in Yahweh in good and bad times. He refuses to accept his wife’s admonitions to curse Yahweh and die. While many, indeed, turn away from any claimed faith in Yahweh during a crisis or period of suffering, we, like Job, are called upon to strengthen our faith and petition Yahweh’s justice and mercy.
→ Job calls for Yahweh to answer him (Job 16:9, 19:11, 31:35)
→ Those who don’t call on Yahweh will suffer (Job 19:23)
→ Yahweh’s wisdom too great, wonderful for Job to know (Job 42:2-3)

7. Suffering Proves to Satan That Yahweh’s People Are Faithful, No Matter is Tossed Our Way!
Job teaches that some sufferers are saints. Like Job, we must hold fast to the hope of salvation through Yahweh [for us, Yeshua]. We are not expected to be successful, but faithful.
→ Yahweh calls him his faithful servant (Job Chps 1 & 42)
→ The faithful testify, give thought to Yahweh. The faithless wither (Proverbs 21:28-30)

8. Suffering Can Demonstrate That Yahweh Is Required in Order for a Miracle to Happen!
Though Job does not fully know Yahweh’s plan of salvation, he has a profound realization of what must be involved in such a plan. The suffering and the complete sacrifice of Christ as a substitute for the deserved punishment of sinners exemplifies the miracle that had to happen in order for man to be saved.
→ Trees die, yet stumps revive, so why can’t mortal man? (Job 14:7-14)
→ Fear of Yahweh is fountain of life; one may avoid snares of death (Proverbs 14:27)

9. Suffering Makes Us Ask the Hard Questions of Life!
Nine speeches later, and they still don’t know why Job is suffering. Elihu is upset. All of Job centers on the hard questions: Why do good suffer but the evil not?
→ Too many verses to list!

10. Suffering Can Emphasize or Show Us Our Laziness or Foolishness!
Laziness can bring calamity upon our heads and others, like employers, friends, or people being guarded.
→ A little sleep or folding of the hands to rest and poverty comes (Proverbs 6:10-11)
→ A slack hand causes poverty (Proverbs 10:4)
→ Lazy folks are like smoke in the eyes to their employers (Proverbs 10:26, 26:10)
→ Lazy will be put to forced labor, and that’s no fun (Proverbs 12:24)
→ Laziness makes one poor, and the poor really suffer (Proverbs 12:27)
→ Lazy folks go hungry (Proverbs 13:4, 19:15, 19:24, 20:4)
→ Hanging around with foolish brings suffering (Proverbs 13:20)
→ The way of the lazy is overgrown with thorns (Proverbs 15:19)
→ The lazy person gets killed or hurt (Proverbs 22:3, 22:13, 27:12)

11. Suffering Can Show Us How to Remember Joy Even in the Midst of Disaster!
A little toil, a little pain, a little laughter. Not all things come easily, but often at the expense of suffering. The trick is to keep your eyes on the goal and smile despite the pain or suffering. SoloFlex says, no pain, no gain.
→ Joy in the Lord better than treasure combined with trouble (Proverbs 15:16‑17)
→ Better little food than a feast with strife (Proverbs 17:1)
→ Better to live in a corner of housetop than with a contentious wife (Proverbs 21:9)

12. Suffering Can Be a Call to Repentance!
Job steadfastly proclaims his innocence, despite the counter-claims of his three friends. According to Bildad, Job’s punishment is not as bad as it could have been; after all, his children died. Being alive means Job’s sin is not unforgivable and his suffering can be endured. If Job successfully endures, then he will be alive to have his sin forgiven! Many times, it is the obvious disaster or suffering that beckons us to take a hard look at our own lives, and to turn to Yahweh for forgiveness and healing.
→ Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? (Job 7:21)

13. Suffering Shows Us That We Need to Be More Giving in Our Lives!
A rather rare concept, but there it is: give or suffer! Take your choice.
→ Some give freely; others withhold what is due, and suffer (Proverbs 11:24-26

14. Suffering Has No Reason!
There are some things in life that just happen without any apparent reason. Pure chance or bad luck, I suppose.
→ Yahweh crushes and multiplies wounds without cause (Job 9:17)
→ Job’s three friends find no answer, no reason. (Job 32:3)
→ Job’s wound incurable, though he is without transgression (Job 34:6)
→ The wicked do not know what they stumble over (Proverbs 4:19)
→ Who has wounds without cause? (Proverbs 23:29)

15. We Suffer Because of Our Big Mouths!
The tongue is a fire from hell, it can bring about curses and praises. When it curses, or swears, watch out!
→ The evil are ensnared by the transgression of their lips (Proverbs 12:13)
→ Rash words are like sword thrusts (Proverbs 12:18)
→ A bad messenger brings trouble (Proverbs 13:17)
→ Harsh words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1)
→ Cursing a parent causes your lamp to go out in utter darkness (Proverbs 20:20)
→ Abominations are concealed when an enemy speaks graciously (Proverbs 26:25)

16. We Suffer Because We Enjoy the Pleasures of This Life Too Much!
We lust, we enjoy, we get busted. No need to explain this one any further.
→ Whoever loves pleasure will suffer want, won’t be rich (Proverbs 21:17)
→ Drunkards and gluttons are stricken with poverty (Proverbs 23:21)
→ Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has redness of eyes? (Proverbs 23:29) – [The answer is in 23:30]
→ If you eat too much honey and you will vomit. A lovely picture (Proverbs 25:16)
→ Drunken kings pervert the rights of all the afflicted (Proverbs 31:4-5)

17. We Suffer Because of Greed!
Greed not only causes us to take our eyes off of Yahweh, but can actually lead us into death. It is a source of suffering for both the greedy and those with whom the greedy has contact.
→ Greed takes away the life of its possessors (Proverbs 1:19)
→ Those who are greedy make trouble for their households (Proverbs 15:27)
→ Those who rob the poor will be robbed of life (Proverbs 22:22)
→ Stealing and eating someone’s bread makes you throw up! (Proverbs 23:6)
→ Those in a hurry to get rich don’t know that loss is sure to come (Proverbs 28:20-22)
→ The greedy person stirs up strife (Proverbs 28:25)

18. We Suffer Because We Are Too Doggone Stubborn!
Who says we willingly go forth, without any prodding?
→ Anyone who is hard-hearted will fall into calamity (Proverbs 28:14)
→ One who remains stubborn will be broken beyond healing (Proverbs 29:1)

19. We Suffer Because of Unwanted Help!
Job says to his friends, “Shut up. I don’t want your advice, just your compassion!”
→ Feed your enemies, that will heap coals of fire on their heads (Proverbs 25:21)

20. We Suffer Because There Are Too Many Chiefs and Not Enough Indians!
One head of the household is enough. One boss is enough. One king is enough. Too many cooks spoil the broth, and . . .
→ When a land has many rulers it rebels (Proverbs 28:2)

21. We Suffer Because of our Actions Toward Others or the Actions of Others Toward Us!
Our actions towards others, especially if of evil intent, can cause us to suffer, as well.
→ One can experience a loss of sleep due to wronging another (Proverbs 4:16)
→ A scoundrel sows discord, and suddenly is engulfed by calamity (Proverbs 6:12)
→ Guaranteeing loans for a stranger brings trouble (Proverbs 11:15)
→ Evil will not depart from the house of one who returns evil for good (Proverbs 17:13)
→ If you don’t help others in need, your cry for help won’t be heard (Proverbs 21:13)
→ A faithless person in time of trouble is like a toothache. Ouch (Proverbs 25:19)
→ An unjust king makes heavy exactions ruins the land (Proverbs 29:4)

22. We Suffer Because We Don’t Listen!
Listen up, Chump. Because if you don’t, you’re gonna get hurt. Listening to Yahweh is closely associated with reverencing and honoring parents. Listening to parents has divine sanction and builds moral character, but failing to listen often results in suffering.
→ Give heed to Yahweh’s reproof or he will laugh when distress and anguish come upon you (Proverbs 1:23)
→ Those who don’t listen to parents end up in Sheol (Proverbs 1:8)
→ Those who listen will be secure, will live without dread of disaster (Proverbs 1:33)
→ Yahweh shields those who listen from suffering (Proverbs 2:1-8)
→ If you don’t listen, your step will be hampered, you will stumble (Proverbs 4:10-12)
→ Don’t listen, you’ll be at the point of utter ruin (Proverbs 5:13)
→ Listen or get laid low (Proverbs 7:24-26)
→ Those who don’t listen injure themselves (Proverbs 8:32-36)

23. Last, but Not Least: You Reap What You Sow!
[I know you’ve been waiting for this one!]
Kill a man, be killed by a man. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Steal, and be stolen from. Do this unto the least of these, and Yahweh will do this unto you!
→ Yahweh will repay all according to their deeds (Proverbs 24:10-12)

Suffering is universal. Suffering is caused by events, situations, failure to listen, and a host of other reasons. No matter what happens, like Job we are to continually call on Yahweh to be our ally. We are to accept our suffering as a part of human life to be endured through trust in Yahweh in both the good and the bad times.