What comes to mind when you read the word ‘suffer’ in the Bible?
Physical pain? Emotional torment?
I was born in 1955 and the NIV Bible wasn’t released until 1978, so I grew up with the King James Bible, with its old-fashioned language.
Perhaps the most famous, contrary, ‘suffer’ verse is:
Matthew 19: 13, 14.
“13 Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 15 And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.”
In this context, ‘suffer’ means ‘allow it to happen’, contrary to the modern definition of suffer.
Even though this is English, it ain’t our English, and goes contrary to what we think it should mean,
which is the reason for this article; to clear up unnecessary difficulties about the word ‘suffer’, that can build a wall between us and God.
I hear a lot of people talk about how they suffer and how pitiful their lives are.
The picture above gives perspective to the American definition of 'suffering'.
I suspect many feel they have a right to self-pity because of the way the Bible talks about suffering.
But this article is not to add to anyone’s self-pity.
(I am writing this, while temporarily acting as a full-time caregiver to my wife, who is recovering from her second cancer surgery in 6 days, this being her second cancer diagnosis in 5 months, a total of three surgeries. Oddly, the two cancers are unrelated to each other,
but both seem to have good prognosis.
I intend to explore the use of the word suffer, (suffered, and suffering), to see the context associated with its use in NIV English.
Now, I am not a Bible language scholar, by any means, but I will assign categories of meanings to the word, and then give a count of how many times a ‘suffer’ word is used in the Old and New Testaments.
I do not Itemize, but I summarize.
This is done using the Strong’s NIV Concordance, which lists 156 uses of the word, in 150 verses.
I have decided upon 9 different definitions for ‘suffer’ and its variations, given the way I read the Bible and the way I see life:
1) Title or heading. An inserted heading to help the reader see what that chapter contains.
Isaiah 52:13 "The Suffering and Glory of the Servant"
2) The suffering of Christ as spoken of by the Prophets, the Apostles, or by Christ himself.
Luke 9:22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests
and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
3) The persecutions that Christians may be subjected to, and expected to endure, because they are Christians.
1 Peter 3:14
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”
4) To endure or experience difficulties or weariness as part of the Human race, not specific to hatred or conspiracies.
Acts 7:11 “Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food.
5) Some form of physical pain or mental distress, not specific to particular actions; perhaps disease, accident or tragic loss.
Luke 14:2 “There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body.”
6) Harm received due to the evil intent of others, but not related to religious persecution.
because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me
and assail me in their anger.
7) Harm or difficulties due to self-induced consequences.
Psalm 107:17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
8) The suffering of animals.
Joel 1:18 How the cattle moan!
The herds mill about because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep are suffering.
9) Items I couldn’t categorize elsewhere.
Here are the numbers I was able to crunch from my interpretation of the NIV Concordance:
Type Old Testament New Testament Totals
1) Chapter Heading 1 5 6
2) Suffering by Christ 33
3) Suffering for Christ 34 34
4) Endure/Experience 25 8 33
5) Misc. pain, distress 12 10 22
6) Evil intent of others 9 see # 3
7) Self-consequences 11 6 17
8) Suffering by animals 1 0 1
9) Undefined 1 1
So, out of 96 references of New Testament suffering, according to my calculations:
5 references are mere chapter headings.
27 point to Christ’s suffering. (excluding Old Testament prophesies)
34 point to religious persecution.
6 point to self-inflicted woes, many of those belong to god-haters, not Christians.
18 point to miscellaneous woes and hardships, that can happen to everyone.
There you are. Feel free to do a count of your own, categorize items as seems reasonable, and see what you come up with.
John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
The surest way to minimize the grief of one's own suffering is to:
1) Consider Golgotha.
2) Step into the suffering of others and help relieve it.