Why should we suffer?



“but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it” (Matthew 14:24).



Why do we Christians suffer?  How should we understand our suffering?  What is God's will?  Why does God make us or allow us to suffer?  What is the purpose of suffering?


Our God has a profound knowledge that our human being cannot fathom (Ps. 92:5; Eccle. 3:11).  We cannot fathom the things that He does (Job 5: 9; Ps. 145: 3).  We cannot understand His will fully.  We don’t know why God allowed Job to suffer (Job 1:13-19; 2:7-8), why He threw the great wind on the sea so that the ship that Jonah was aboard was about to break up because of the great storm (Jonah 1:3-4).  Who could understand the will of God fully who gave suffering to Job and to Jonah?  So this is what Apostle Paul said in Romans 11:33-34: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?”  Although we cannot fully comprehend the heart of God who gives us suffering, we can speculate about His mind in the Bible about why God allows us to go through suffering.


For example, in the case of Job, we can assume that God's purpose in allowing him to go through suffering is to make him to come forth as gold (Job 23:10).  In the case of disobedient Jonah, we can assume that God made him to go through from one suffering [the ship that he was aboard was about to break up because of the great and wind and the great storm that God sent (Jonah 1:4)] to another suffering [in the stomach of the great fish (ch. 2)] so that he could pray in the stomach of the great fish (ch. 2) and could have the second opportunity to obey the God’s command (ch. 3).  The Psalmist understood his suffering as follow: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.  …  It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes” (Ps. 119:67, 71).  He knew that he had suffered because he went astray.  In other words, he accepted that suffering was the result of his sin.  Nevertheless, David said that it was good for him to suffer.  The reason was because he learned God’s statutes through suffering, and after the suffering he kept the word of the Lord.  How should we understand the suffering that we are going through now?


In Matthew 14:24, we see the Jesus’ disciples suffering.  They were suffering because the boat they got into (v. 22) was buffeted by the waves because the strong wind was blowing (Jn. 6:18) and it was against the boat (Mt. 14:24).  So the disciples were straining at the oars (v. 48).  When I was meditating on this, I remembered the words of Jonah 1:13 – “Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.”  d


Even though the prophet Jonah told the Gentile sailors, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea  …  and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you” (v. 12), the sailors did their best to row back to land instead of throwing him into the sea (v. 13).  But more they rowed back, the sea grew even wilder than before (v. 13).  It seems to me God is fighting with the sailors.  The reason I think this way is because it was God’s will for the sailors not only to throw the cargo into the sea to lighten up the ship (v. 5) when God threw the great wind on the sea (v. 5) but also ultimately to throw Jonah into the sea (v. 12) but they didn’t.  “Instead, the men did their best to row back to land.  But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before” (v. 13).  Who won this fight?  Of course, God did.  Eventually after the sailors cried to the Lord, they took Jonah and threw him overboard (vv. 14-15).  And the result was “the raging sea grew calm” (v. 15).  The Jesus’s disciples in Matthew 14:24 also strained at the oars because the wind was against them (Mk. 6:48).  And it seems to me that they were fighting against Creator God who created the sea.  The reason is that Creator God sent the strong wind that was against the disciples and the disciples strained at the oars (v. 48) and had rowed three or three and a half miles (Jn. 6:19).  They did so until the fourth watch of the night (3-6 am) (Mt. 14:25; Mk.6:48).  So they wrestled with the great winds and waves of God that were against them.  How draining this wrestling was both physically and mentally.  Didn’t Jacob also wrestle with the angel of the Lord till daybreak? (Gen. 32:24).  When Jesus’ disciples  were wrestling with the wind that was against them by straining at the oars (Mk. 6:48), Jesus approached the boat by walking on the water (Jn. 6:19).  When I was meditating on this, I remembered the words of Exodus 3:7-8: “The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey--the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.”  God saw the misery of his people, the Israelites, in Egypt.  He heard them crying out.  He had concerned about their suffering.  So He came down and called Moses and sent him to Egypt in order to deliver the Israelites our of Egypt and to lead them to the Promised Land, the land of Canaan.  Like this, God sees our sufferings, hears our cry out, knows and concerns about our suffering and comes down to delivers us.  Jesus saw that His disciples were suffering and walked on the sea and came near to them (Mt. 14:25; Mk. 6:48, Jn. 6:19).  At that time, the disciples were terrified and cried out in fear because they thought Jesus who was walking on the sea was a ghost (Mt. 14:26).  To those disciples who were in terrible fear, Jesus immediately said, "Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid" (v. 27).  Peter replied to Jesus, ‘Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water’ (v. 27).  Jesus said to him, "Come" (v. 29).  “Then Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (v. 29).  “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and , beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (v. 30)  Then Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him and said, “You of little faith  …  why did you doubt?” (v. 31)  When we think about Peter, we think that he wasn’t of little faith.  Who would come down from the boat like Peter when Jesus said "Come”?  I don’t think we won’t even move one step because we firmly believe that inside the boat is much safer than the outside of the boat.  Especially, since we firmly believe that it’s much safer to stay inside the boat than to step outside of the boar and try to walk on the water like Peter did, we won’t obey Jesus’ command “Come” (v. 29).  We won’t get down out of the boat at all.  Actually, we won’t even ask Jesus ‘Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water’ (v. 28).  But we have to think about this: 'Is the ship that Jesus is not, safer than the water that Jesus is?’  Here, the important matter is not staying in the boat or walking on the water but whether Jesus is with us or not (cf. Exod. 33:15).  At least Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and went to Jesus when Jesus said "come" (Mt. 14:29).  But immediately Jesus reached out his hand and rescued Peter and said “You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ (v.31)  Then, Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat and the wind died down (v. 32; Mk. 6:51).  Here, Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat means they both walked on the water and climbed into the boat.  When Peter walked down on the water alone and tried to go to Jesus, he was afraid because of the wind and fell into the water.  But until he climbed into the boat with Jesus, the Bible doesn’t mention that Peter saw the wind and he was afraid.  At that time when Jesus got into the boat with Peter, the disciples were utterly astonished because the wind stopped (Mk. 6:51).  “Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Mt. 14:33).


The disciples of Jesus suffered because of the great winds and waves.  Why did they suffer?  We cannot fully understand God’s unfathomable wisdom why He made them (or allowed them?) to go through suffering.  But what we can speculate is that the purpose their suffering was so that they could confess that Jesus is "the Son of God".  In other words, the purpose of the Jesus’ disciples’ suffering was to know who Jesus is. Therefore, when we are suffering, we must ask the question “Who is my God?” instead of "Why?" (Why did this trouble happen to me?) or "How?" (How did this happen to me?) and "What?” (What is God's will?).  As we do so in our suffering we must meditate on the Word of God more than before.  Thus, we should be able to make the same confession as Apostle Paul did because we grow in the knowledge of God more through suffering: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).  I hope and pray that we may grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through suffering.