Meditation on Suffering

This is a translation from “Day by Day”, the Russian book of scriptural meditations.

Scripture: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?..neither this man nor his parents, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John: 9: 2,3)


"Are sorrows sent to us as punishment for sins? In ancient times people thought so. But the Savior gives another explanation. He said that the man was blind in order that the power of God be revealed in him. His blindness brought him to Jesus and thus brought him a double mercy: he acquired sight both physically and spiritually. He probably would never have met Jesus had he not been blind, and would not have experienced this miracle.

“Very often great mercies also come to us through our sorrows. Lazarus’s sickness led to “God’s glory”, according to Jesus’s words, – “so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John: 11, 4). There is no doubt that any sickness can be an occasion for the sick person or those around him to receive a blessing from above. The Lord often glorifies those who suffer through trials sent to them. Every loss should open our eyes to a deep truth, and every disappointment in life is meant to bring us something much better than the happiness we expected.”

Here is what Lewis writes in “Letters to Malcolm” (letter 20):

“most real good that has been done me in this life has involved [suffering]”

In my life, I have sometimes subsequently understood the purpose of my sufferings. But like the author of another of the above meditations says, “The time will come when in the afterlife we will understand the meaning of our sufferings and will thank the Lord for them.”


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

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I’m sure I should get around to reading The Problem of Pain, but this idea appears in other places in Lewis too–I’m thinking most specifically of the undragoning of Eustace. I think it’d be accurate to say that it informs his view of purgatory as well. Though I think it’s important to note that in both of those cases, as well as in Malcolm, it isn’t so much the case that pain brings (i.e., is the causative agent of) the good outcome (the “real good”, the undragoning, the “washing-up” that he sees as the purpose of purgatory), as that the process that results in the good outcome also causes some pain.

And really, in broad terms, it’s a common idiom: “No pain, no gain.” But what separates us from the world is that we have God’s promise that nothing will separate us from his love (Rom. 8:38-39), nothing can take us out of his hand (John 10:28,29), and that he is working all things for good for us who love him (Rom. 8:28).

I think it’s beyond dispute that they can be, and at least sometimes are–and if we amend “punishment” to “discipline”, even more so. The Biblical evidence is sufficiently overwhelming to barely warrant citation, but consider pretty much the entire pre-Christian history of Israel–both they and their neighbors suffered sickness, death, war, etc., as God’s judgment/punishment/discipline (depending on the particular object) for sin. Certainly the people of God aren’t exempt from this in either the OT or the NT; Prov. 3:12 and Heb. 12:6 read almost identically (see also 1 Cor. 11:30).

But against this, we see the cited passage in John 9. We also have the entire book of Job, and we see throughout scripture that God’s people experience trials and tribulations while (often, on account of) serving him–consider pretty much all of the prophets, all the apostles, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, etc. Consider also Christ’s words in John 15:18.

So: Does God send sorrows to unbelievers as a demonstration of his wrath? Yes, he does. Does he send them to believers to discipline them for their sin, and turn them from their wicked ways? Yes, he does that too. Does that mean that when we see a person in difficulty, we can conclude that the difficulty is a result of his sin? Most definitely not.