STUDY SIX: JESUS’ ATTITUDE TO HUMAN SUFFERING

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

When we read the four gospels we see Jesus talking about suffering and interacting with suffering again and again. In this study we will look at Jesus’ teaching about suffering, Jesus’ actions towards those who were suffering, and Jesus’ attitude to suffering.

A. JESUS’ TEACHING ABOUT SUFFERING

A.1 Suffering is the common human lot
Jesus knew that suffering and trouble are part of human life in the world as we know it since Genesis 3.

How do Jesus’ words reveal this commonality of suffering?
Matthew 6:13

Matthew 6:19

Matthew 6:34

Matthew 7:24-27

Matthew 24:6,7

Luke 17:1

 

A.2 The cause of suffering

Jesus identified a number of causes of suffering.

A.2.1 The human heart
Jesus identified the human heart as the source and cause of a great range of human suffering. As he indicated, in the reference to divorce, suffering was not God’s original plan for creation. ‘In the beginning’ there was no suffering. The hardness of the human heart, not God, is the cause of suffering.

Read these verses. What does Jesus teach about the human heart and the suffering it causes?
Matthew 5:27,28

Matthew 15:17-19

Matthew 19:8

Matthew 20:20-27

 

Mark 9:33-35

Luke 6:43-45

 

Luke 10:25-36

 

A.2.2 The human mind
Jesus identified human ideologies, teaching, perceptions and expectations as a cause of human suffering. In our spiritual blindness and ignorance we have either rejected or distorted the truth. The result is the imposition of twisted religious perceptions and expectations upon one another, and the result is suffering.

How did Jesus respond, by word or action, to the suffering caused by the false or twisted religion formulated by the human mind?
Matthew 7:15

Matthew 12:1-14

 

Matthew 15:1-9

 

Matthew 16:12

Matthew 23:1-4, 13-15, 23, 25

 

 

We will look further at the suffering caused by human religious ideas inthis study.

 

A.2.3 Jesus referred to the devil’s involvement in human suffering

Read these verses. What insight do they give about the devil’s role in suffering?
Luke 13:10-17

 

 

Go to this study. for more on suffering caused by Satan.

A.2.4 Jesus affirmed a general, but not a particular, connection between human sin and suffering.

As we have seen the study on the study on the beginning of suffering, suffering exists on earth because of human sin and God’s judgement on human sin. This suffering impacts every human being. No one escapes it, regardless of how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ they are. Even Jesus, the sinless one, suffered during the years of his incarnation, not just at the end. (See the study on Jesus' suffering.) The sinless, but suffering, human life of Jesus is a very clear evidence of the wrongness of the popular error that connects personal suffering with personal sin.

Jesus on a number of occasions spoke about this popular assumption that there is always a direct, punitive connection between an individual human’s sins and the suffering they experience. He rejected the particular application of the view that a person’s suffering is a direct punishment for their sin. He did, however, affirm the broader truth that everyone is guilty and is under the threat of God’s judgement. It is only the forbearance of God that prevents punitive suffering happening to everyone.

What is Jesus’ understanding of suffering in these verses?
Luke 13:1-5

John 9:1-3

John 11:4,14

A.2.4a Jesus saw a deeper purpose in suffering – the glory of God
The two above references from John’s gospel point beyond the suffering, and beyond the idea that suffering is deserved punishment, to a deeper, eternal reality: the glory of God.

By the blind man’s suffering, God is glorified.
By Lazarus’ suffering, God is glorified.

Suffering, even death, does not have the final word. Jesus does.

For extended studies refuting the popular but twisted theology that connects personal suffering to personal sin go to the studies on Job.

 

B. WHAT JESUS DID ABOUT SUFFERING

Read these passages from Mark’s gospel. What did Jesus do about suffering?
1:40 – 42

2:1 – 12

4:35 – 41

5:1 – 20

6:30 – 44

7:31 - 37

As followers of Jesus Christ it is important for us to know what we should think about suffering and how we should respond to suffering. The Appendix briefly looks at what a range of human ideologies and religions say about suffering. Our beliefs about suffering contribute to what we actually do about suffering. But it is not only our belief about suffering, but also our beliefs about God and about humans that determine our attitude to suffering.

Jesus’ attitude to suffering expressed his beliefs, and we know that his beliefs were actually the real truth, and not a human distortion of the truth or a human speculation about the truth.

Jesus knew that suffering is not part of the original perfect creation.
Jesus knew that all suffering is here only because of our human rejection of God.
Jesus knew that God’s just judgement demands that sin is punished.
Jesus knew that beyond this era of suffering is an eternity of no suffering.

Jesus knew that human beings are special, created by God and for God.

Jesus knew that there is an enemy whose intention is destruction.
Jesus knew that, either deliberately or inadvertently, humans join the enemy in his destructive purposes.

On the basis of this truth, Jesus confronted human suffering head on. He did not engage in a massive anti-suffering campaign, nor even in a ‘healing mission’, but when he came face to face with a suffering human, or a situation of human suffering, he removed the suffering. He saw no conflict between the fact that suffering is here by God’s decree (Genesis 2:17; 3:1-24) and his action in reversing suffering. Rather, his miracles were consistent with God’s original creation of a world without suffering and his future restoration of a world without suffering.

Christ by his miracles demonstrated in a temporary, physical and micro way, what he was about to accomplish in an eternal, spiritual and macro way by his death and resurrection, and what he will achieve in an eternal, physical and macro way at his return in power and glory.

When Christ healed the blind and raised the dead, when he did any of the miracles that reversed or undid the impacts of Genesis 3 and beyond, he demonstrated that he is the King. His miracles are evidences of his kingdom breaking through and over-powering the suffering that entered the world in Genesis 3. So when John the Baptist sent messengers asking Jesus if he really was the expected Messiah, Jesus replied by referring to his miracles:

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.’ (Matthew 11:4,5)

In these redemptive miracles we see the divine power of Christ – we see the glory of God, not only in the immediate release from physical danger, physical disability, physical sickness and physical death, but in the promise of the eternal kingdom of Christ which they anticipate.

 

C. JESUS’ ATTITUDE TO SUFFERING AND TO THE SUFFERER

The gospels report two distinct attitudes of Jesus in the presence of human suffering: compassion towards the sufferer, and anger. His anger, which sometimes included something like frustration, was directed either towards people who lacked compassion for the sufferer, or towards the presence of suffering and death in the world he had created.

From these references what do you learn about Jesus’ compassion and anger in the presence of suffering?
Matthew 9:35, 36

Matthew 14:14

Matthew 20:29 – 34
Mark 3:1 – 6

Mark 8:1 – 3

Luke 7:11 – 15

John 11:33 - 38

It is important that we as followers of Jesus Christ and members of his kingdom display the same attitudes to suffering as Jesus Christ, our King. His values should be our values. His perspectives should be our perspectives. We will look more closely at the implications of this in the study How Should We Live?