This is part three answering the question, “What Kinds of Suffering do We Suffer in What God Allows?” It is a part of the project answering the question, “How can a loving God allow suffering?”
The fifth category is spiritual suffering. This results from the unseen spiritual conflict of angelic warfare and the turmoil of sin itself. People suffer spiritually as a result of trying to proclaim the name of Jesus, which is seen in the persecuted church.2 The early church endured incredible persecution (1 Pet. 4:12-17), as does today’s church is suffering persecution in many countries around the world.
However, much spiritual suffering is due to individual slavery to sin. Paul wrote,
16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. (Rom. 6:16-19 NKJ)
And then Paul wrote,
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom 7:23-24 NKJ)
There are abundant reasons why we become enslaved spiritually. Prior to salvation, everyone is enslaved to sin as a “son of disobedience” (Eph. 2:1-3). We were all children of wrath, but through Biblical training, spiritual growth and the grace of God, a Christ-follower can be sanctified and spend less time enslaved to sin (John 17:17).
Many suffer spiritually far more than others, depending on which part of the world they live in. During a trip to Uzbekistan, as our church team visited Samarkand on a mission to share the gospel, I sensed an evil presence I had never experienced. The culture seemed oppressive and did not provide spiritual light. Paul addressed this on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17:23). Paul declared that they worshipped many idols and he used one addressed to the “Unknown God” as a means to introduce this Greek audience to the Lord Jesus Christ.
You will often suffer spiritually due to the behavior of the ones with whom you are living or working. An abusive atheistic husband will cause not only physical suffering, but spiritual suffering by his spiritual neglect and failure to be the head of his marriage and reflect Jesus to his wife. The sin patterns of other people can cause great spiritual suffering. Paul was not telling spouses to leave theirs when he wrote, “Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33 NKJ) He warned that there is a corruption that can happen based on association. Just living in God’s family will result in spiritual suffering, because the devil wants to spiritually neutralize or defeat Christians,
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:10-12 NKJ)
As the believer slips down the downward spiral (Eph. 4:17-19), he runs into his own sinfulness. Some people call this back-sliding,3 others reversionism,4 but it still results in the self-induced misery from personal sinfulness, whether enslavement or random temporary sinful decisions. David described this spiritual suffering as he described the effects it had on his body, “For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. (Ps. 38:4 NKJ)
This only begins to describe the five major categories of suffering. It does not answer the question of why, however. Why does God allow so many forms of suffering?
Questions for discussion:
In what ways have you seen people suffer in the five types of suffering? How did they handle it?
How many of the different categories of suffering have you gone through, or are going through, in the last month?
Do you see one type of suffering as more difficult than another? What makes you sense that is more difficult?
Do you think that people will see others going through various categories of suffering if they have not gone through those forms of suffering themselves? What is likely true for people who do see and understand each form of suffering if they have not gone through those forms of suffering?
As you go through these forms of suffering, what has the Lord taught you regarding how to deal with the suffering from His perspective?
This concludes this question, but why does God allow suffering? Stay tuned for more!