A Robust Theology of Suffering

posted in: Faith, Focus, Illness, Spirituality | 0

      Work was slow and I wondered if I would have to find a new job.  I didn’t know how I’d pay my bills.  And I was sleeping for the moment in a friend’s guest room because I didn’t have a home.

My pity party was, I thought, well-justified.

Then one morning as I was journaling, it occurred to me to make two lists—one of hardships, one of blessings. I quickly jotted down my three areas of stress—work, money, homelessness.  But as I started my list of blessings, I was amazed to watch it to grow to 15 things—big things!

Some religions teach that suffering is an illusion, or that the goal of religion is to eliminate pain.  Christianity, though, has a robust theology of suffering.  Jesus says that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God caring (Matthew 10:20).  Paul says that God works all things (yes, even evil things) together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28).  James has the audacity to say, “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow”   (James 1:2-3 NLT).

Jesus has a surprising take on persecution:  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:11-12 NIV).

I think we often feel that life ought to be pain-free. We look forward to the hard times ending and life “returning to normal.” A far more realistic—and Christian—view is that life is always a blend of blessings and hardships.  We can rejoice, even in hard times, not because they’re fun, but because we can choose to focus not on the hardship, but on an all-loving God who is always with us in the midst of pain, and who refuses to waste any suffering in his people’s lives, but insists on redeeming it, bringing good out of evil (Gen. 50:20).

As I looked over my lists that day and thanked God for the blessings, the hardships didn’t go away, but they did shrink.  It felt like I was looking at the canvas of my life.  Most of it was filled with beauty.  One corner pictured pain.  I had started my day letting that corner fill my mind.  But once I stepped back and looked at the big picture, I saw signs of God’s care all over the place, and it reminded me that God would take care of my immediate needs just as surely as he had all the others.

And, of course, that’s just what he did.



  1. When hardships feel overwhelming, can you make two lists—one of hardships, the other of blessings?
  2. Are you able to thank God for trials? If not, can you ask God to teach you to trust him enough to do that?

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Follow Eddy Hall:

Author. Pastor. Consultant. Coach.

My lifelong passion has been to help the church become healthier. I have lived this out through youth work, urban ministry, denominational staff work, and pastoring; through writing, editing, and publishing; through consulting with churches throughout the U.S. and Canada. During this season, I am living out my call to help churches become healthier by focusing on helping church leaders become healthier and more fruitful, through writing, coaching, and leading retreats and training events.

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