What Causes Adversity?
At one point or another, most of us have wondered, Why is our world full of suffering? In this study, we’ll examine what causes adversity and how to respond to it correctly.
A. Sources of adversity
Much of the hardship in the world results from sin—either our own or someone else’s.
- Give one example of how you have suffered because of someone else’s sin.
- What hardship have you brought upon yourself?
- What is the end result of sin, according to James 1:14-15?
Sin always results in death, whether physical or a more subtle form. It destroys our relationships, ruins self-esteem, and kills ambition and desire. All these forms of death cause adversity to some degree.
Sin tainted our perfect world.
The story of Adam and Eve is the perfect illustration of how sin causes death. At first, there was no sickness, death, decay, or suffering of any kind on the earth.
- What were the consequences of their choice to eat the forbidden fruit (Gen.3:16-24)?
Adam’s sin negatively affected all of creation, and the earth is no longer paradise as it once was (Rom. 8:20-22). Death, disease, famine, earthquakes, and war are now part of our reality.
- According to the paragraph above, why do we have devastating natural disasters?
- What can we look forward to in eternity (Rev. 21:3-4)?
- What does the passage from Revelation reveal about God’s attitude toward suffering?
The second source of adversity is the Devil. The clearest example of this is the story of Job.
- How do we know that Job’s trials were not a result of sin (Job 1:1, 8)?
- Why did the Adversary want to bring calamity on him (Job 1:9-12; 2:4-7)?
Notice that God gave the permission, but the adversity came from Satan.
- What does the Devil seek to do to believers today (1 Peter 5:8-9)?
This passage from Peter is often used to talk about Satan’s involvement in our temptations. The real context, however, is that of suffering. The Devil looks for ways to bring adversity into our lives because suffering can destroy a person’s faith in God.
- The Lord
As difficult as it may be to grasp, the Bible depicts God as the instigator of some adversity. However, His ultimate purpose is always to develop our character and bless us spiritually (Rom. 8:28-29).
Read John 9:1-7.
- What did Jesus’ disciples assume about the cause of the man’s blindness?
- Why did the Lord say this man had been born blind?
We tend to attribute suffering to our sin. We think, Surely this is God’s way of paying me back. If, however, the magnitude of our suffering seems out of proportion to anything we might have done to deserve it, our tendency may be to question God’s goodness and faithfulness. As we saw in John 9, this view can also warp our perspective on the suffering of others.
A second example of hardship sent from God is Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.”
- Why was the apostle given a “messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7)?
- How could this hindrance make Paul more godly (2 Cor. 12:9-10)?
You might argue that this was a messenger from Satan, not from the Lord. But notice that Paul says it was given to him. Do you think the Devil would engineer a plan to keep the apostle from exalting himself? No. Satan’s goal is to see us exalt ourselves. He will not work against his own purposes. God wanted to keep Paul humble by allowing him to experience some pain.
B. Our response to adversity
- If you realize you’ve brought disaster upon yourself, what is the first thing you should do (1 John 1:9)?
- Initially, Jesus’ crucifixion must have seemed like a senseless tragedy to His followers. What did the disciples realize about the purpose of His death after the resurrection (1 John 2:1-2)?
- Name one hardship you have experienced, and briefly describe the purpose God had for it.
- How can you respond in a godly manner to the struggle you currently face?
On a day-to-day basis, it is sometimes difficult to determine the source of adversity unless it is caused by personal sin.
In time, the Lord often reveals His purpose for a particular hardship.
As much as we all want to know why suffering happens, a more important question is, “How should I respond?” Otherwise, we run the risk of missing what the Father wants to teach us. Regardless of its source, adversity is God’s most effective tool for deepening your faith and commitment to Him.
Closing: Adversity has three sources—sin, Satan, and God. However, try to spend less time worrying about the cause of your suffering, and more time focusing on reacting appropriately.
Prayer: Dear Father, thank You for caring about my struggles. Show me how to respond to trials in a way that will please You. Enable me to mature spiritually and emotionally through the adversity I face. Amen.
Adapted from “How to Handle Adversity” (1989).