Why do so many people have to experience terrible suffering before death?

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Question: "Why do so many people have to experience terrible suffering before death?"

Answer: Suffering is a universal part of our humanity that exists in a fallen world. The question as to why there is suffering in death for some and not as much for others is really not answerable in full as long as we inhabit this vale of tears. For we reckon things from our human experience and do not understand the infinite mind and purpose of God. In the great faith chapter we often read of the heroes of the faith, but neglect the litany of those unnamed who suffered for their faith (Hebrews 11:33-40). These all died suffering deaths and yet are heroes of the faith. They are unnamed and unsung among men ,but God values their suffering and includes them in this great chapter of faith as a lesson to us.

Suffering and death are part of the curse of sin on the world (Genesis 3:16-19). Adam and Eve fell, and when they did, they brought to themselves and to all of their decedents the suffering of death. "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). We know that Adam and Eve did not die physically on the day that they ate of the tree. Adam lived to the age of 930 (Genesis 5:5). The statement "thou shalt surely die" would better be translated "dying thou shall die." When Adam sinned he was spiritually separated from God and this is the first "dying."

The question of why some suffer at death and others do not could be summed up in one statement, "God is sovereign." That is not just a trite and easy statement. When Jesus healed a man born blind the disciples questioned Him. "And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (John 9:1-3). There is in this passage a principle that can be applied to our question. God allows some to suffer so that "His works should be made manifest." In other words, God allows some to suffer to bring glory to His name and others not to suffer for the same reason. It is His sovereign will that determines. Therefore, we can safely say that no suffering is without a purpose in the plan of God, even though we as finite humans cannot see that purpose clearly.

The Apostle Paul suffered much in his life and ministry. A litany of that suffering can be found in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. The Apostle Paul was killed for his testimony and according to universal tradition was decapitated after a long imprisonment. However, during this time, the Apostle Paul wrote this testimony to Timothy, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Another purpose for suffering is to be a witness to those watching, that God's grace and strength is sufficient to enable a believer to stand in that suffering (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The Apostle Paul also gives us an example as to how we should view suffering as a child of God. "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). And the Apostle Paul also said, "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Therefore, how a believer dies, in suffering or in relative peace, it is but a transition to "face to face" with the LORD. Once that transition has been made, all of the sorrow and pain of the suffering will end. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

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