Does God Suffer With Us?
My philosophy of persecution begins with the premise that God entered the world, became one of us and suffered along with us (Isa. 53, Heb. 4:15). We are not abandoned to a cruel world of "acts of God" or human suffering, isolated from our Creator and Heavenly Father.
Frequently, I am asked by unbelieving family or friends how a just or a "good" God can allow such terrible suffering in the world. Although I can't give complete answers to every question, I can state that God suffers, too. Many things that hurt us also hurt God.
The Bible is very clear on this subject. For example, quadriplegic Joni Earekson Tada points out that her turnaround came when a friend suggested that God, too, was "paralyzed" in His body when nailed to the cross. What she suffers God suffered, too. That gave her the strength to change her entire attitude about being paralyzed from the neck down - and she went on to inspire millions with her ministries.
Suffering with Purpose
The second most important key to me is that Jesus warned us that if the world hated Him it would hate us, too (John 15:18-20). All who would try to be godly will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12).
Neither of those scriptures is negotiable. Bible believing Christians and Jews are hated by the world, and if we desire to live in a godly manner according to the Bible then we will be persecuted or suffer hardship in one form or another. But our suffering and pain has purpose.
We are asked to potentially give up a number of things: family ties, relationships and possessions or businesses for His Name (Matt. 19:29). It may be given to us to suffer illness, physical and emotional pain as a witness or example for others - or to teach compassion.
Yet, it is selected Scripture passages about persecution, stories from the Bible about martyrdom, and victims written about in publications such as Voice of the Martyrs that give me not only the courage to continue, but the ability to feel extremely grateful for my circumstances. The persecuted church is a role model for American Christians. How we endure suffering counts!
Becoming Like Him
The last (but not the least) important point is that our enduring suffering will produce those character traits which will conform us into the likeness of Christ (Ro. 8:29, 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:12:
…"if we endure, we will also reign with Him."
Similarly Hebrews 3:14 notes, "we have become partakers (companions) of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end."
This goal of "becoming like Christ" forms the foundation of the "metochoi" or reign of the servant kings which is taught in Scripture.
This has been articulated by notable authors such as Dr. Joseph Dillow who authored The Reign of the Servant Kings and Dr. Paul Benware who wrote The Believer's Payday..
These books have profoundly changed my life and attitudes about suffering for Christ. In addition to Voice of the Martyrs, these have become the basis of a philosophy of persecution to which I cling.
What is God's Role in Suffering
I think that God's role in our suffering is to purposely give us on-the-job training in overcoming forces hostile to the Lord - both human and non human (Eph. 6:12) - in order that we might serve and help people in the here and now, and eventually to reign with Christ effectively in the future Kingdom.
2 Timothy 2:12 says that "if we endure (suffering, KJV), we will also reign with him…"
Ephesians 6:12 so clearly delineates our battle:
"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (ESV).
In our temporal, earthly sphere this will involve suffering. But, our Lord assures us that suffering will assist in strengthening our faith and trust in Him.
1 Peter 5:10 says, "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."
For reasons like these James even says we should "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness…" (James 1:2-4, ESV).
Suffering also glorifies God through us. John 9:1-2 reminds us that a man was born blind in order to glorify God through his suffering and healing. God sometimes uses our suffering so that we can become like Him.
Philippians 3:10 presents Paul's impassioned plea that "I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…"
Finally, in our suffering God tests, and strengthens our love for Him - like the testing of Abraham in the sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22.
Author Valorie Mays Emilio holds an MA in History from UCLA and a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University.