What is suffering? Suffering is pain or discomfort that may be experienced physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It’s associated with adversity, misery, hardship, or affliction.

Physical suffering includes the pain of scrapes, cuts, burns, broken bones, strained muscles, surgery, toothaches, headaches, backaches, or stomach aches. Emotional suffering includes embarrassment, shame, loneliness, depression, abuse, neglect, addiction, emptiness, or stress. Spiritual suffering includes persecution, loss of faith, feeling abandoned by God, questioning one’s beliefs, struggles with temptation and sin.

In other words, suffering comes in all shapes and sizes.

For Christians, the more important question is this: What’s the purpose of suffering? The purpose of suffering is to draw us to God. 

Even when we experience what we might call minor suffering, believers should still turn toward God. I may have a head cold, and my atheist neighbor may also have a head cold. Spiritually speaking, my head cold is no less or no more significant than my atheist neighbor’s head cold. The difference, however, is that while I have a head cold, I pray to God and ask for his help, strength, and comfort. When I’m healed, I thank God for what he did. My atheist neighbor simply blows his nose.

The psalmist said, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.” 
(Psalm 119.71, NASB)

The psalmist was simply acknowledging the power of suffering to move us in a Godward direction. Suffering is God’s version of Post-It Notes — reminders everywhere that he’s still there, awaiting our reply.

We all suffer, and we all suffer in different ways and in different degrees. But we all suffer. It could be chronic pain or a terminal illness. It could be a broken marriage, or children who’ve broken our hearts. It could be financial catastrophe or a ruined career. It could be depression, despair, uncertainty, loneliness, frustration, abuse, neglect, or a hundred other things. But it’s still suffering, and for God’s people it’s an opportunity to draw near to him.

As you go through your day, don’t grumble and grouse about affliction and suffering. Be thankful that our God has arranged our world so that even in distress, we have constant reminders of him, and constant invitations to return to him.