“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”John 16:33
This line, “In this world you will have trouble”, is misunderstood by many as God wanting us to live a life of suffering. Often times, people use this verse as an antidote to curb the spread of prosperity gospel. But by using this verse without its context, they unknowingly prevent people from living a victorious life in Christ Jesus.
According to this world, victory and prosperity are dovetailed notions. Whereas, for the followers of Christ, victory and prosperity do not conform to each other. Not being able to discern the difference between victory and prosperity, leads many believers to become prey to the concept of suffering and end up losing their victorious life.
For such people, suffering is a path to attain eternity and they start believing in Karma, while completely ignoring the cross and the grace shown by our Lord. The saddest part is that some believers are trained to mourn or to live in difficult conditions in order to obtain a better life in heaven.
The lowly he sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.Job 5:11
This verse denotes the idea that God wants to lift us up from every trouble and give us joy. People tend to remain low forever in order to be eligible for this blessing. This is similar to a sinner wanting to remain in their sinful condition taking for granted the grace given to them ‘freely’.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?Romans 6:1
Determined to remain in their suffering, these people wait for others to suffer, taking it as an opportunity for them to share the Gospel by claiming the verse out of context, ‘your grief will turn in to joy’ (John 16:20).
When Job was in trouble, his four friends took the opportunity to blame Job saying that God is the one who is punishing him. Because of that, Job himself assumed that those blows are from God and that God through his sufferings wanted to chasten him.
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.Job 23:10
The Bible tells us that God counted him as a righteous man and with that 100% trust, permitted Satan to test him.
Jesus discussed something similar with His disciples when talking about the man born blind. But people categorize Jesus as an opportunist, who allows suffering in the life of others to exhibit the glorious works of God.
Is God so cruel that He would pressurize people with sufferings, that in fear they come to Him? In the present pandemic, some are actually personifying God in this manner.
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.John 9:3
The reason for his blindness may be any kind of blunder but Jesus can neither bring that reason to light nor can He blame God as the source for that suffering. God did not make the blind man suffer in order to display His might, but God did display His might by not only giving him eyesight but also bringing him from darkness to light.
At the same time the pharisees and teachers of scriptures whose physical condition was good, chose to remain in the darkness. Then, is it right to say that God made every person a sinner in order to display His might?
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8
God through the sufferings of His son Jesus Christ did not display His might but His love for mankind.
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.Psalm 119:71
As we have learnt that God does not use suffering as a source to correct His children, the above verse may contradict our learning. The Psalmist was not talking about God given sufferings but the sufferings he invited because of his own temptations. In that scenario also, God in His mercy taught him His decrees. God did not correct David through sufferings but through his abundant mercy.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.James 1:13-15
Again, the “fiery trial ” found in the below verse is not a suffering but a process of refining as like gold. For a waste material, fiery trial is not only a matter of suffering but also a destiny for destruction. Whereas, for gold, it is a routine process which makes it more precious.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.1 Peter 4:12-13
For a son, if a punishment imposed on him by his father seems like suffering, it is not the fault of the father but it shows how the son is not interested in correcting his sinful ways. In the same way, if we are unable to endure God’s discipline or if that discipline appears as sufferings to us, then it shows our disinterest in setting our ways right.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,Hebrews 12:4-6
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Some people do think that sufferings help them to grow spiritually. Suffering begins only when we are matured spiritually. For spiritually-matured Joseph, news about Mary’s premarital pregnancy did not flare his anger. For spiritually-matured Mary, amidst all social stigma, the message of Gabriel gave her hope. For the spiritually-mature Paul and Silas, the imprisonment gave them bubbling joy in their hearts to worship God.
Through his spiritual-maturity, Peter asked the believers to rejoice when suffering comes their way. After spiritual maturity, sufferings for the sake of Gospel will become a joy to go through. James is emphasizing the same thought in the below verse.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.James 1:2-3
Waiting is considered to be a psychological torture. The real suffering, for the true followers of Christ, is the eager expectation for His second coming. Do we really suffer because of this long waiting? Do we suffer while seeing the perishing soul as the Day of the Lord is approaching?
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.Romans 8:22-23
For some people, attending a prayer meeting on a hot Sunday afternoon is suffering. For some, setting aside their luxurious life and attending a meeting is suffering. For some people, Bible discussion appears to be the ultimate torture.
The organizers of the meeting thank people for bearing this suffering in other ways, that is, thanks for sacrificing your valuable evening and spending it with us. This trend should change and we should rejoice in His presence rather than wanting anything else.
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.Psalm 84:10
In John 16:33, Jesus does not say that troubles are mandatory for us, but He says that He has overcome the troubles of these world and so will we also overcome the troubles of this world. The stress is in overcoming the troubles and not in the sufferings. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.John 14:18-19
If God wanted to give us pain and suffering in this world, then why did He send His son to suffer on our behalf? This kind of understanding about “sufferings” will give us confidence to lead a victorious life in Christ.