This is Part 3 of 5 parts answering the question, “Suffering: What are the Benefits of the Suffering God Allows?” in the larger question, “Why does a loving God allow suffering?” Parts 4-5 will be posted on succeeding days.
Suffering Can Be Preventative
Suffering can be preventative when it keeps a person from making poor decisions or perpetuating wrong thinking. It’s like a warning light on the dashboard of a car. The light is not the problem, but warns of a problem in the car so that appropriate action can be taken and further harm can be avoided. In the same way, suffering can warn about the consequences of further sin and potential suffering. Larry Waters expertly writes about how the book of Job demonstrates this,
Suffering, Elihu said, is preventive in five ways. First, suffering warns and instructs (33:16b; cf. 4:13; 6:4; Ps. 88:15-16). Second, suffering can turn the sufferer from wrong doing and sin (Job 33:17a; cf. 5:17; 20:6). Third, suffering can keep a person from pride and the destructive conduct connected with arrogance (33:17b; cf. 20:6; 2 Cor. 12:7-10). Fourth, suffering preserves and saves a person from the pit (Job 33:18a, 22, 24, 28,30). Fifth, suffering can save from divine discipline (v. 18b; cf. 15:22).4
If suffering does all this, then why do we fight it so much? It’s likely that we want to just continue doing what we want to do instead of learn! That is why pride is such a problem in the human race! Waters summarizes,
Preventive suffering is instructive, directive, and salvific in that it can deliver from God’s disciplinary action. Preventive suffering is used by God to warn (Ps. 88:15-16), to urge obedience (119:67), to keep down pride (Job 33:17; 36:9; 37:24; 42:5-6; 2 Cor. 12:7), and to keep the believer on the right path (Job 33:18, 30). In Job’s case it also protected him from violence (15:22) and death (33:22,24,28,30).5
Suffering can be preventative, but it can also be corrective.
Suffering Can Be Corrective
Suffering can help warn in order to prevent further harm, but it often goes beyond the warning to correct the wayward person by means of Divine chastisement. Waters identifies this difference and adds,
Elihu indicated that this category of suffering may have been used in the life of Job to correct the false theology that had surfaced during the debates (32:3, 14). Job misunderstood God’s goodness and interaction with humanity (33:19-30), God’s justice (34:12,21-37), and God’s righteousness and its rewards (35:2-14).6
Whenever I bump my head or feel some other pain, I ask the Lord, “Okay Lord, what did I do wrong?” This may be a little hyper-sensitive or even silly, because it may not be from any particular sin or just be a part of living in a sin-infested world), but whether it might be preventative or corrective suffering, I want to avoid additional agony from my own stubbornness and foolishness. The reality is that suffering teaches about life.
Suffering Teaches About Life
It seems as though almost everything written about suffering includes good reasons why we experience it. Yes, there are actually benefits from suffering! Waters includes an excellent summary of some of these benefits,
Suffering produces knowledge and teaches God’s will (Job 34:32a; 36:22; Ps. 119:66-67, 71). Suffering teaches the sufferer to look to future glory (2 Cor. 4:17; 1 Pet. 5:10) and to learn obedience and self-control (Job 33;17b; 35:12-13; 36:9; 37:19-20; Ps. 119:67; Rom. 5:1-5; Heb. 5:8). Suffering teaches patience and perseverance (Job 35:14b; Rom. 5:3-4), as well as sympathy for others who suffer (2 Cor. 1:3-7), and encourages a life of faith (Job 13:14-15; Rom. 8:28-29; James 1:2-8). Suffering helps the sufferer to understand God’s gracious purpose (Job 36:15; Jer. 29:11), to share in Christ’s suffering and represent him to others (cf. 2 Cor. 4:8-10), and to pray and give thanks in time of trouble (cf. 1 Thes. 5:18; 2 Cor. 1:11). Suffering can glorify God (Job 1:21; 2:10; John 9:1-4; 11:4), deepened one spiritually (cf. Rom. 5:3-4), and teach humility (Job 36:24-37:24; 1 Pet. 5:6-7) and contentment (cf. 2 Cor. 12:10; Phil. 4:11). The ultimate objective of Elihu’s presentation of educational suffering is to lead the sufferer to a deeper understanding of a true relationship with Yahweh, the definitive teacher (Job 36:22; 37:19-24).7
Even though there are so many things for us to learn while suffering, I think we would all rather learn by some other way! However, some things in life can only be learned through trials, and it is often through the school of “hard knocks” that the Lord gets our attention more readily. Ultimately, God designed all things to give Himself glory, including suffering in the human race.
4Larry Waters, “Suffering in the Book of Job,” Why, O God. (Wheaton, Crossways, 2011), p. 119.
7Ibid., p. 120.
Part 4 will be posted tomorrow.