Bible Question:

How can we tell if our suffering is from God or the devil? If we knew, then we could pray to God about our suffering in a more knowledgeable way. For example, if I sinned and was given a punishment from God then I would repent and ask for forgiveness. If the suffering is caused by the devil, then I would pray for God's strength to fight the devil.

Bible Answer:

God allows Christians to be disciplined in different ways for the purpose of changing us and causing us to move more toward holiness.

. . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. (NASB) Hebrews 12:10

He wants us to be holy as He is holy.

. . . but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” (NASB) 1 Peter 1:15-16

God’s Molding Tools

He wants us to sin less. We will never be without sin, but by His Holy Spirit we will have increasing victory over sin (Gal. 5:16-21). God also uses others means to do this in our life. God is a loving craftsman Who knows how to carefully shape our lives. There is an old statement that says that metal left to itself is worthless but if it is put into the heat and pounded with force it can become a useful water pot, a protective horse shoe, a valuable knife, or many other wonderful things. So it is with Christians. God is molding us into holy persons and preparing us for His usefulness. He is the master craftsman Who makes no mistakes. Suffering is one tool He uses to shape us. Here are some of the different tools that He uses in our lives.

His ToolImmediate PurposePassage
Church disciplineTo motivate us to stop sinningMatt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:9-11; 1 Tim. 5:20
Friend’s rebukeTo prevent or stop us from sinningProverbs 27:6; Galatians 6:1-2
PersecutionTo cause spiritual growthHeb. 10:32-34 with Heb. 12:4; Job 1-2
SatanTo prevent us from sinning To stop us from sinning2 Cor. 12:7-10; 1 Timothy 1:20
Sickness & diseaseFor God’s glory To prevent us from sinningEx. 4:11; 1 Cor. 11:27-30
Word of GodTo cause spiritual growth2 Tim. 3:16-17

Why Am I Suffering?

In some cases we will know why we are suffering. If the church has disciplined by excommunication or if a friend has warned or rebuked us, then we know why “suffering” occurred. Too often we blame the person or the church when if fact God can and does use people to get through to us. We can also suffer for doing what is right and for obeying God. It is not popular with God’s people to suffer this way. Even the Jewish people in Malachi complained because they were suffering and not the “evil doers” (Malachi 3:14-16).

For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. (NASB) 1 Peter 3:17

Sometimes we suffer because we have done wrong. Yet, God usually shows us mercy. We rarely get what we deserve. He seems to be willing to let us continue in our sin for awhile before He disciplines us. But before He does this, He speaks to us through His Word.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (NASB) 2 Timothy 3:16-17

But there are times when you may be sick or “everything” seems to be going wrong and you do not know why. When this happens, it is time to ask God to convict of any sin or sins that you have committed so that you can honestly admit your sins and stop sinning. I have found God to be faithful in reminding me of some sin that I have not confessed to Him, sometimes even before I finish my prayer. I have also found that when I confess or admit my sin, my suffering usually stops some time later. But what should a person do if the suffering does not stop? Then I have asked God to protect my family and myself against Satan and his demons. I have asked God to put a hedge – a fence, or protective wall (Job 1:10) – around my family and myself just as God did around the patriarch Job. God has always proven faithful to stop Satan’s attacks.

Jesus told us that the ultimate-cosmic-killer defense against the attacks of Satan and demons is prayer and not exorcism. If this is a surprise, read about the time Jesus healed a boy from a demon in Mark 9.

And when Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” And after crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. And when He had come into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” (NASB) Mark 9:25-29

Jesus had just finished exorcising the demon and Jesus’ disciples asked, “Why could we not cast it out?” Jesus’ disciples could not do it. They were His apostles! Jesus gave them the ultimate weapon in dealing with demons – prayer!

Conclusion:

How can we tell if Satan is involved in our suffering? Pray for protection from Satan and if the affliction goes away, then the answer is obvious. But if we have confessed our sins and asked for protection from Satan and our suffering still continues, then God has decided to leave us there just as He did Paul the apostle (2 Cor. 12:8-9). If it is persecution, there are many thousands of martyrs who have gone before us and died for Him.