Various factors distinguish people; humanity naturally divides by gender and geographic origin, and social distinctions such as wealth, education, religion, politics, and social status also set apart peoples and nations. However, two factors serve as equalizers. These equalizers remove all class and distinction from humanity.
Death is often referred to as the great equalizer. It is the appointment all living will one day keep (Hebrews 9:27). God declared, and the wise man observed, man’s body shall return to the dust and his spirit to God (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 12:7).
“cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3.17-19).
Job summarized this reality in a simple statement: “Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble (Job 14:1). This is not to say that God causes human suffering. Neither is God the originator of man’s trials. All of man’s troubles arise with man.
Suffering is a byproduct of man’s choice to “walk not in the ways of God.” The inspired historian noted that “David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5). David’s adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-4) and the conspiracy that killed Uriah (2 Samuel 11:5-25) bore spiritual consequences as well as physical grief and troubles.
God’s announcement to David that: “the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and has taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife” (2 Samuel 12:10), was not as much a sentence for David’s sin as it was a revelation of the consequences of it. In time, David’s son Absalom would himself engage in numerous conspiracies: to murder his brother (2 Sam. 13:19-29); to turn the hearts of the people from his father (2 Samuel 15:1-6); to take away the throne from David (2 Samuel 15:7-12). Furthermore, the turmoil that erupted from Absalom’s treachery intensified David’s grief when Absalom was slaughtered by the captain of David’s army (2 Samuel 18:9-15, 24-33).
David’s suffering in the matter with Absalom; the grief of all involved in the death of Amnon; the conspiracy, actions, and slaughter of Absalom arose as a consequence of David’s choices “in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” Thus we see, that a man’s suffering may arise when he chooses not to walk in the ways of God.
It is also the case that a man may suffer at no fault of his own, but because he lives in a world where wickedness, sin, and suffering exist. Many innocently endure grief and suffering because of the sinfulness of others. Because of envy and jealously, Joseph was sold into slavery (Genesis 37:15-28). Because of an immoral and bitter woman, Joseph was imprisoned (Genesis 39:7-20). None of Joseph’s sufferings were of his own doing but from the unjust and ungodly actions of others. Thus we see, that a man may suffer because he lives in a world where suffering exists.
Another origin of man’s sufferings is poor choices. While a righteous man may be innocent of sin, he may yet be regretful because of foolish decisions. Lot, the nephew of Abraham, is an example of such a case. To avoid family strife (Genesis 13:8), Abraham and Lot separated. When graciously given “the whole land” to choose from, Lot elected to pitch his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:12), a city noted to be full of men who were “wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly” (Genesis 13:13). Peter summarized the suffering of Lot: “For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (2 Peter 2:8; cf. Psalms 119:53, 136, 158). Lot’s suffering for choosing to pitch “his tent toward Sodom” culminated in the loss of his possessions and his wife (Genesis 19:15-26). Because of unwise and unthoughtful choices, a man may bring upon himself unnecessary suffering.
The suffering of man is neither God’s will nor is it by His design. The Creator of all things desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). His revelation fully equips us (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The word of God lights our path (Psalms 119:105) and directs our steps (Jeremiah 10:23; Psalms 37:23). We know how to “live soberly, righteously, and godly” because the word of God’s grace teaches us (Titus 1:11, 12; Acts 20:32).
Next week we will note how the Bible instructs us to avoid, not only suffering because of sin but unnecessary suffering in life by making better choices.