Why Do the Righteous Suffer?
Of the many deep questions facing Christian believers, e.g. the nature of the Trinity, the
dual nature of Jesus Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the nature of eternity in
relation to time, the relationship of the sovereignty of God and the free will of man the
problem of evil stands out as one of the most difficult. In the following three statements
one can see clearly what is the problem: God is all-good; God is all-powerful; God
created a universe in which evil exists.
On the face of it, these three declarations which are held to be true by all Christians
constitute an impossible problem. In fact, some thinkers have rejected Christianity out-
of-hand because they have seen no way out of the difficulty. Even those of us who are
believers wonder how to solve the dilemma! As we examine Scripture, we begin to see
some of the reasons why God has allowed evil to exist. (Such reasons are called a
theodicy.) Our purpose is to discover a theodicy in the book of I Peter, the New
Testament letter which concentrates on the problem of evil and particularly on the
reasons why believers suffer. (Job would be its counterpart in the Old Testament.)
On thing must be kept in mind before we dig into I Peter. If God is omniscient, then by
definition He knows all things (in stark contrast to our feeble capabilities). We can,
however, discover what God has seen fit to reveal to us! As we get a glimpse into some
biblical answers to the problem of evil, it is always good to keep in mind the beautiful
doxology of Romans 11:33-36:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his
judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or
who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever!
As we delve into I Peter, it is good to remember the letter was written to believers
scattered across that is now present-day Turkey in order that they might be prepared for
the almost certain persecution they would face in the midst of a pagan Roman empire.
As we know from history, Emperor Nero who ruled from AD 54-68 delighted in torturing
and killing Christians. This madman cruelly blamed believers for the disastrous fire of
Rome, making them hated scapegoats in the eyes of Roman citizens. Most likely both
Peter and Paul died in Rome as a result of the tyrannical rule of this maniac.
In this paper, then, we will study the following reasons for believers suffering as
revealed to us in I Peter:
- 2 -
1. So that our faith might be proved genuine, 1:6,7
2. So that we might understand that our suffering is part of the normal Christian life,
2:19ff, 3:13ff, 4:12ff
3. So that we might be kept from sin, 4:1-6
4. So that we might be disciplined, 4:17-19
5. So that we might understand what our Christian brothers are going through, 5:8,9
6. So that we might desire all the more our eternal home with Christ, 5:10
Reason #1: so that our faith might be proved genuine, 1:6-7
The argument goes something like this: if God has truly given us a free will to believe
Gods revelation in Scripture (or not to believe), then He will also allow us to be tested in
order to prove the genuineness of our faith.
1. The illustration of Job
a. Satan, the accuser, is sure that Job trusts God simply because of the benefits he
receives, 1:9-12; 2:4-5.
b. Through severe testing allowed by God, Job proves the genuineness of his faith,
2:3,9.10; 13:15; 23;10.
c. God upholds the integrity of Job and condemns the simplistic counsel of his friends,
42:7-9. Whereas Jobs counselors were sure that Jobs suffering was due to some
sin he was unwilling to confess and forsake, righteous Job was willing to trust God
although he did not comprehend why God allowed him to suffer, 42:1-6.
2. The illustration of gold in I Peter 1:6-7
a. In order to tell if a certain metal is real gold or not, it is tested by fire.
b. So it is with the authenticity of our faith. Any religion will do when things are easy.
Genuine Christian faith is proved through difficult times!
c. Such faith is to the praise, glory and honor of Jesus Christ when He comes again!
3. The illustration of Romans 5:3-4 and James 1:2-4,12
a. As in Peter 1:6-7, the testing of our faith is something in which we actually ought
to rejoice because we know our faith is the genuine article as we grow in
perseverance, character, hope and maturity.
b. Furthermore, if God did not allow suffering to test us, how would our Christian
character be built up?
4. The illustration of Matthew 5:11-12
a. Again we find the element of rejoicing in the context of suffering.
b. Why? Because those who persevere have a great reward in heaven!
c. Also, when we rejoice, although having to pass through suffering, we join the good
company of the prophets!
5. The illustration of Hebrews 10:32-39; 11; 12:1-13; James 5:7-11
a. Here again we find we ought to expect our faith to be tested in many ways.
b. However, as we persevere through our difficulties we discover that real faith comes
through even stronger on the other side.
Application: Can you think of some instances in which God has tested the genuineness
of your faith? Can you see a growth of character and spiritual maturity because of that
testing? Can you accept that this testing is one of the reasons God has allowed evil to
Reason #2: so that we might understand that our suffering is part of the
normal Christian life, (2:19-25; 3:13-18; 4:12-19)
Perhaps another way to state this reason would be to assert that suffering for the Christian
should not be considered abnormal or unusual. Rather, it should be expected! Why is
this so? As each of the three passages cited above indicates, every Christian (i.e. Christ-
follower) is identified with Christ at the moment of true faith. Consequently, as Christ
suffered, so his disciples will suffer. It is inevitable!
Lets take a look at the straightforward language of I Peter 2:21: To this (unjust
suffering) you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that
you should follow in his steps. What a powerful statement! As followers of Jesus we
are called to suffer! We are identified with Christ!
I Peter 3:17-18 makes the point that unjust suffering for us can be Gods will, (cf. 4:19).
What is the supreme example of this? Surely it is the totally unjust suffering of Christ on
Please note the emphasis of I Peter 4:12-13. Dear friends, do not be surprised at the
painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But
rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when
his glory is revealed. For the Christian, suffering should never be something strange or
unexpected. Since we are identified with Jesus, part of the normal Christian life will be a
participation in his sufferings!
As we noted in the texts cited under Reason #1, the element of rejoicing in the midst of
unjust suffering is so pervasive! This kind of rejoicing defies human logic, but I Peter
makes clear when we suffer for what is right, we are blessed! The words, rejoice, and
blessed, are also used in 4:12-14. Frankly, the only reason I can think of for the use of
such terms in the agonizing context of unjust suffering is this: such suffering indicates
close identification with Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.,
Hebrews 12:2b. Joy is identification with Christ even though it is experienced through
undeserved pain and suffering.
Other biblical corroboration of Reason #2 is extensive:
Mt. 10:38; 16:24: Following Christ entails commitment which endures even through
John 15:18-21: Do we think we are to expect something better than what our Lord and
John 16:33: Jesus promised suffering as part of the Christian life.
Romans 8:17: As Gods children heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ we will share in
his sufferings just as surely as we will share in his glory!
II Cor. 1:5: As the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives, so through Christ our
Phil. 3:10: Being crucified with Christ, (i.e. close identification with Him in his suffering),
is what we should both desire and expect!
Col. 1:24: We identify with Christs sufferings as we give ourselves for his Church -- just
as He did!
II Tim. 2:12: When we suffer with Him we then reign with Him!
II Tim. 3:12: Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted!
Reason #2: additional notes
Although salvation costs the believer nothing since Jesus paid the price in full on the
Cross, when that believer trust Christ for salvation it costs him everything. There is not
crown without a cross if New Testament Christianity is truly taught! The cross-life is
the normal Christian life! Must Jesus bear the Cross alone, and all the world go free?
No; theres a cross for everyone, and theres a cross for me., Thomas Shepherd,
The greatest evil in history God used for the greatest good. If God could accomplish the
greatest possible good out of the greatest possible evil through the death of Christ, could
He not also accomplish good in our lives through the allowance of evil/suffering? Since
Jesus took up his cross voluntarily, do we not take up our cross voluntarily when we enter
the Christian life? Then He said unto them all: If anyone would come after Me, he must
deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his
life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it., Luke 9:23-24.
Paradoxically, rather than producing a kind of gloom and doom Christianity, suffering
and denial coexist with Christian joy. Although Jesus was a man of sorrow and
acquainted with grief, He radiated a deep-seated joy such that it attracted people of all
ages to Him especially children! So it is with those who follow Christ! I never cease to
be amazed that the terms, rejoice, blessed, joy, and gladness, are found in the
context of suffering in the New Testment. Doesnt it seem as though the most mature,
contented and genuinely happy Christians you know are those who have gone through
some of the most difficult experiences in life?
To be identified with Christ is to suffer with Him! We have all heard of religious fanatics
who purposely mutilate their bodies mistakenly thinking that in some way they are
identifying with Christ. Obviously Jesus did not have that kind of identification in mind!
What He did wish to communicate, in my opinion, is the reality of his Presence in us! If
Jesus lives in and through us, then we can expect the world to treat us in a similar way to
that in which the world treated Him! Remember the words I spoke to you: No servant
is greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also.,
John 15:20a. Therefore, identification with Christ will entail suffering with Him but
also blessing because He lives in us!
Reason #3: so that we might be kept from sin, 4:1-6
Therefore since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude,
because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the
rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God,, I
This argument has to do with our attitude toward sin as we go through suffering. We find
we become more in tune with Gods will and less in tune with our own evil human
desires. Actually, we begin to see things more from Christs perspective.
What is the most dangerous time in our life with regard to temptation when things are
going well or when things are more difficult? Lets take a look at some biblical answers
as to why God may allow suffering in order to keep us from sin.
1. Dt. 28:45-47; 31:19-22; 32:1-43, esp. vv. 10-18:
a. In times of prosperity Israel fell into the sin of idolatry: Jeshurun (Israel) grew fat
and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God
who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior., Dt. 32:15.
b. Strange as it may seem, when God allows hard times for us He may be acting in
mercy! Throughout history, whenever Gods people have faced suffering and
persecution they have become more pure and fervent in their devotion to Him!
2. Neh. 9:5-37, esp. vv. 25-28; (also please see Judges):
a. As one can find repeatedly throughout the Scriptures, the history of Gods people is
cyclical. First, they cry out to God for deliverance in the midst of oppression and
anguish. Then, the Lord sends release from their bondage. After that there is
prosperity and plenty which leads them again to forget God who then allows
b. We might ask ourselves: Are we really better off spiritually when we are better
off materially and physically? If we will only reflect a moment on the history of
Israel and the Church, we will see that the suffering God allows for his people has
only served to strengthen and purify!
3. Psalm 78, esp. vv. 17,18, 32,40,41,56
a. It seems as though the more God provided for the physical welfare of his people
the more they responded in rebellion and unbelief!
b. Even though we appreciate material bounty and thank God for it, in time of
prosperity we are more tempted to allow things to cloud our relationship with Him.
c. None of us would ask God for the loss of all we possess, but Scripture and history
tell the sad story of pitfalls which always seem to accompany material prosperity!
Illustration: Contrary to popular belief, may Jews under Babylonian and Medo-Persian
rule did not want to return to the hardships which awaited them back in Jerusalem after
seventy years of exile because they had become quite secure and comfortable where they
were! Avoiding suffering they missed the blessing, cf. Ezra and Nehemiah.
Illustration: After the Edict of Milan pronounced by Emperor Constantine in AD 313
which banned discrimination and persecution against Christians, the Church was
considerably weakened and gradually lost the zeal it maintained during the previous
centuries of suffering. It no longer cost anything to be a Christian! When the cost of
discipleship is cheap, so is the quality of that discipleship! Easy Christianity is
deceptively dangerous. Costly Christianity eliminates those who come along just for the
ride. They are not willing to pay the price. This is the basic theme of The Cost of
- 7 -
Discipleship, a fascinating volume by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German believer executed
for his faith on April 9, 1945, shortly before his concentration camp at Flossenburg was
liberated by the Allies.
Application: Some food for thought where does the US Church fit into all of this?
Reason #4: so that we might be disciplined, 4:16-19
However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear
that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins
with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?, I
Part of being a child of God entails the acceptance of his discipline. When we do suffer
according to his will, (v. 19), our reaction should be that of deeper commitment to Him
as evidenced by an even greater desire to do good.
Scripture is replete with teaching concerning Gods discipline of his children:
Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God
disciplines you., Dt. 8:5.
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. I know, O Lord,
that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me., Ps 119:17,75.
My son, do not despise the Lords discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the
Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in., Prov. 3:11,12.
He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.,
When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be
condemned with the world., I Cor. 11:32.
Endure hardship as discipline: God is treating you as sons. For what son is not
disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline),
then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human
fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we
submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while
as they thought best: but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his
holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it
produces an harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.,
- 8 -
Those who I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent., Rev. 3:19.
Some modern psychology would have us believe that any kind of physical punishment of
children is bad! Certainly, there are many other means of discipline which are good and
useful, and physical discipline can be administered in an abusive and improper manner;
however, the elimination of physical discipline both in the home and school has
contributed to a deplorable lack of control and order. One needs only to compare homes
and schools of today with those of a generation or two ago to see the difference! Because
of serious disciplinary problems today -- no wonder little Johnny has difficulty adapting
to adult life -- when he never learned discipline either at home or at school. Obviously,
children can be abused when discipline is administered in blind anger, but a slight perusal
of biblical teaching about discipline shows that physical correction can and should be
applied in love when needed.
In like manner, God disciplines his children! Some modern theologians would have us
believe a loving God would never allow his children to suffer when disciplined by Him,
but that is precisely what the Scriptures teach! Like modern psychologists, modern
theologians are more likely to take their cues from culture rather than from biblical
In summary, as believers we will experience the suffering of Gods discipline! But
always behind the hand of his correction is the compassion of his love which will lead us
to godliness of life and character.
Application: What is your concept of God? Has it been shaped by culture or Scripture?
Since God is our heavenly Father, what does it mean to be disciplined by Him? Is Gods
discipline something we should expect to happen?
Reason #5: so that we might understand something of what our Christian
brothers and sisters are going through, I Peter 5:8-11
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know
that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering.,
I Peter 5:8-9.
Here we find a great truth emphasizing our universal solidarity with Christian brothers
and sisters around the world. All of us face the wrath of the evil one, but some more than
others. No member of the Church suffers in isolation, because all griefs and joys are
shared. Therefore, we must make it our business to learn what our brothers and sisters
are suffering in order to stand with them in prayer and assistance. Any web-search using
the words, persecution of Christians will turn up any number of websites documenting
- 9 -
the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world mostly in Marxist and Islamic
states where Christians are marginalized and even severely persecuted to the point of
Without controversy, more believers have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their faith in the
last century than at any time in the history of the world. With the rise of Marxism in
Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba etc., believers have had to face the same persecution as
early believers under the Roman Empire either you bow down to the State or you face
the consequences. With the growing radicalization of Islam, an increasing number of
believers have often had to face total intolerance and deprivation of human rights -- all in
the name of Allah and the Koran. Any infraction of Sharia law by believers can bring
persecution and even death. And Sharia law the total merging of Islam with the state
is the goal of an increasing number of Muslims
Increased secularism in the US is beginning to bring pressure to bear on believers who
will faithfully proclaim the truths of Scripture in the marketplace. For example, even the
Chief Justice of a state supreme court can be deposed if he upholds the posting of the Ten
Commandments in his supreme court building something which would have been
unheard of a generation ago. Consequently, even today Christians in our own land can be
hauled before the courts because they dare to declare publicly what they believe
something that used to be considered essential to us as a nation according to our
The enemy of our souls does prowl around looking for believers worldwide to devour;
and when that occurs, we need to remember the Church has faced and will face satanic
persecution until the return of Christ. Whatever the enemy throws at the Church, we
have the powerful promise of the Master: I will build my Church, and the gates of
Hades will not overcome it., Matthew 16:18b.
Application: Have we comprehended what it really means to be part of the worldwide
Body of Christ the Church?
Reason #6: so that we might desire all the more our eternal home with
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have
suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
I Peter 5:10.
This is not some morbid longing to die. Gods eternal glory in Christ for us as believers
is our joyful hope! After the night the morning comes! Yes, suffering will occur. Satan
will prowl around looking for someone to destroy, but we can stand fast knowing eternal
glory awaits the true believer.
Heaven is not pie in the sky as some would tell us. It is reality as promised to those
who take the words of Scripture seriously. Seen in the perspective of heaven, our
sufferings do not overwhelm us. They are not forever. Heaven is!
The Word of God speaks much about heaven and eternal life in relation to our temporal
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will
be revealed in us., Rom. 8:18.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly
we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving
for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now
we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an
eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be
clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found
naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not
wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal
may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and
have given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come., II Cor. 4:16-5:5.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy He has
given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the
dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade kept in heaven for you,
who through faith are shielded by Gods power until the coming of salvation that is ready
to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while
you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials., I Peter 1:3-6.
Our perspective on life with Christ in heaven has a lot to do with our perspective on life
with Christ on earth! It can make us or break us when were going through suffering
especially unjust suffering! Some say we can be so heavenly minded that were no
earthly good. Actually its just the opposite. Show me a believer with heaven on his
mind, and Ill show you a believer who is counting for eternity on earth!
Pie in the sky? No! Reality! Yes! You can count on it! After all, didnt Jesus
In my Fathers house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am
going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will
come back and take you to be with Me that you may be where I am., Jn. 14:2-3.
Application: How real is heaven for you?