This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
What does the Bible say about suffering? Does the Assemblies of God believe Christians are to go through difficult times such as physical or emotional pain, financial stress, sorrow, relationship conflicts, and other difficult problems that bring about suffering? Is it possible to live victoriously, either above, beyond, or in spite of our circumstances?
The Assemblies of God believes strongly that divine healing is included along with the many spiritual benefits in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5, NKJV). But we also recognize that Scripture describes suffering as the lot of all humans, culminating in the ultimate suffering–death–the appointed physical end for every man, woman, and child (Hebrews 9:27).
Suffering was not created by God. His original creation contained no suffering. But the entry of sin, through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, brought sickness and suffering. "By man came death [and sickness] . . . in Adam all die" (1 Corinthians 15:21,22). To Eve, God said, "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children" (Genesis 3:16). To Adam, God said, "Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread" (Genesis 3:17-19).
God is sovereign in all human affairs and particularly so in the lives of believers. We must therefore conclude that suffering can touch the believer only as God permits it. Yet God is not responsible for illness and sickness just because He has divine purposes to accomplish when He allows Satan to afflict the believer temporarily. God works in the lives of believers by turning suffering into an agent for spiritual growth and by demonstrating that He has triumphed over the curse Satan has brought on the human race.
Suffering can serve as a teacher to instruct us in deeper spiritual truth (2 Corinthians 12:7), as a disciplinarian to correct or call us back from a wrong pathway (Numbers 12:10), as a judge pronouncing a penalty for sin and wrongdoing (2 Chronicles 21:18,19), and as an example to others of God’s faithfulness in providing strength in the midst of suffering.
People continue to struggle with the question, "Why do good people suffer?" or "How can a loving and personal God allow suffering, especially in His children?" Certainly, God has the power to exclude evil and suffering from the universe. Why then does He not do what He can do? Life, we assume, would be so much more pleasant. But machines do not experience pleasure. To take from humankind the power of choice, God’s special gift to human life, would make us robots doing only the things we were permitted to do. Instead of blotting out sin when it first reared its head in the Garden of Eden, God had a divine plan of sending His Son into the world to be our Savior and give us victory over sin.
The daily routine of adversity and suffering we all face–emotional pain, financial difficulty, sorrow, grief, relationship conflict–is nothing compared with the sufferings of many in the 20th century. Two world wars (including the Holocaust), numerous bloody smaller conflicts, sophisticated weapons of fearful destruction, acts of savage terrorism, and natural disasters of unprecedented magnitude cause theologians and laypersons alike to cringe at the degree of suffering. But such intensified suffering was prophesied by Jesus, "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains" (Matthew 24:6-8). This increase of global suffering impacts the suffering of individuals. Sin has exacted a great toll on the universe and is increasingly active as its reign of terror is coming to an end.
But the Christian should not be alarmed. When God gives such instruction, it must be for a good reason. God can and does deliver His children from pain and suffering. Healing and deliverance are the hope of all who suffer. Yet because of universal laws and principles that God has allowed to rule the world since the entrance of sin, deliverance from suffering is not a blanket benefit experienced by all believers. But there is always available a special help in the time of suffering.
Although God’s Word does not explain why deliverance from suffering does not always come the moment it is requested, it does describe the life of faithfulness that waits patiently for deliverance. It also gives some important instruction for those in the midst of suffering:
1. Pray. "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray" (James 5:13, NKJV).
2. Enjoy communion with Christ and His sufferings. "Indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish...that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:8,10, NIV).
3. Wait upon the Lord for His strength. "He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength... But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength" Isaiah 40:29,31 NIV).
4. Be encouraged in God’s faithfulness. "This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope... Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed...His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:21-23, NIV).
The members of the Assemblies of God admit they do not have all the answers to the many questions concerning suffering. But we cling fast to the truths of God’s Word. We know that God heals and delivers; Scripture affirms that, and we have seen miracles of healing and deliverance in answer to prayer. Though God heals and delivers, many continue to suffer through no fault of their own. The Bible gives sufficient evidence that suffering is a natural part of life. Deliverance from suffering that does not come immediately is no proof that God does not heal and deliver; God’s timing of answered prayer is His prerogative.
With all these uncertainties and unanswered questions, our faith is still firmly planted in His right to do as He pleases. Abraham asked the rhetorical question, "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25, NIV). We affirm that God, the great Judge, does right in these areas where we do not have all the answers. We trust Him and His ways implicitly.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.