It can come from God in the general, physical suffering and death unleashed in the world after man sinned (Genesis 3:16-19). “And so God placed the curse on man and on his whole environment, thus forcing him to recognize the seriousness of his sin, as well as his helplessness to save himself and his dominion from eventual destruction.” (Leon Morris, The Genesis Record, p. 126.)
The curse on man himself was fourfold: sorrow, pain and suffering, sweat or tears, physical death. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope…” (Rom 8:20). Romans 8:20 seems to be an allusion to Genesis 3:16-19 and this reference to the past must surely be to the judgment of God, which fell on the natural order following Adam’s disobedience. The creation was the recipient of the action indicated but only as a result of man’s sin. God is the One who did the subjecting. The curse of sorrow, pain and suffering, sweat, tears and physical death was brought about by God…but He did it with purpose…God subjected the creation in hope.
It can come from God in specific cases to humble and/or strengthen…consider Israel (Deuteronomy 8:2-3), Miriam (Numbers 12:1-10), and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:10-20).
It can come from Satan through God’s allowance…consider Job (Job 1-2) and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). We must note, however, though Satan caused suffering for one purpose…God used each of these for very different purposes than the Tempter intended and in such a manner as to humble and/or strengthen one of His children. God sees suffering differently than we do and His heavenly “forest” gets lost on us for our earthly “trees”.
Finally, it can come as the inevitable fruit of our own sins…“…the way of the transgressor is hard.” (Prov 13:15)……be sure your sin will find you out.” (Nu 32:23). Sin has temporal consequences – physical, emotional and social. “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” (Rom 6:21). Yet, at last, unless there is some direct link to our sin it is very difficult to know the exact origins of our adversity…and that is just as well. For far more important than knowing why we are suffering, is our response to it.
Adversity and discouragement, regardless to its source, is one of God’s most effective tools to deepen our faith in Him and transform our lives. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” (Psa 119:67)…“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psa 119:71). It is difficult for us to truly understand through our earthly lenses…it is only as we come to understand God’s perspective that we are able to respond appropriately. What better example than in the anguish of Christ on the cross in regards to: the influence of God…“…the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:6)…the sufferings of Christ both humbled and strengthened Him (Hebrews 5:7-8). The influence of Satan “…the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him…Satan entered him…” (John 13:2, 27). The influence of our own sins…“…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree…” (1 Pet 2:24)…yet it was our Savior’s trusting response to this awful suffering that enabled God to work by it something transcendently wonderful.
So it will be with us if we choose our response to suffering wisely – especially when we don’t understand why…“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18)…“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Rom 5:3-5)
At last, like that ancient blind man, what we suffer here is in order that “the works of God may be revealed in us.” (John 9:2) Our God is Holy…He is eternal…He is love…He is merciful…He is gracious. Take comfort in that He will not give you more than you can bear…and in all your suffering or adversity or disappointment, whatever the cause, glorify your God and Father, trusting Him to work all things together for your good (Genesis 50:20; 1 Pet 1:6-8).
God has left you here for only a little while (1 Pet1: 6-9) not only for your sake…but for the sake of your brethren (2 Tim 2:10). In your adversity…go to your Heavenly Father and your Elder Brother and your brethren to be sure…but take the time to see past your suffering or disappointment…see that God has begun a good work in you (Phil 1:6)…and be encouraged… so that you might be an encouragement to me and those of the household of faith!