Eight Kinds of Suffering in the Old Testament

Greg Strand – March 5, 2013 1 Comment

The Lord has used Walt Kaiser in significant ways over the years, through his teaching, preaching and writing ministries. He taught and trained many Free Church pastors during his years of ministry at TEDS from 1966 until 1992, during which he was also ordained in the EFCA. From 1992 until his retirement in 2006, Kaiser served as professor of Old Testament and president at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. We are grateful that many of Kaiser’s years of ministry were within the EFCA.

In an excellent essay written a few years ago, Kaiser addresses “Eight Kinds of Suffering in the Old Testament,” in Suffering and the Goodness of God, Theology in Community, ed. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 65-78.

Kaiser frames this essay by outlining the eight ways to understand suffering according to the Old Testament:

I would offer another organization of the kinds of suffering in the Old Testament: (1) retributive suffering, (2) educational or disciplinary suffering, (3) vicarious suffering, (4) empathetic suffering, (5) evidential or testimonial suffering, (6) revelational suffering, (7) doxological suffering, and, finally, (8) eschatological or apocalyptic suffering.

In the rest of the essay, Kaiser defines and explains the various kinds/types of suffering, which I only list and summarize. I find this extremely helpful.

Retributive Suffering: One of the fundamental principles by which God governs the world is retributive or judgmental suffering. It is the most comprehensive type of distress or suffering mentioned in the Bible.

Educational or Disciplinary Suffering: Another type of suffering is educational or disciplinary suffering, which does not necessarily come upon us because of our misconduct or rebellion against God and his word; instead, it is a constructive use of suffering for our growth as believers and for the shaping of our character.

Vicarious Suffering: A third type of suffering is called vicarious suffering. It is the enigma seen at times in the prophets, where in their roles as the messengers of God they experience suffering and abuse from the very people they want to rescue from the coming destruction.

Empathetic Suffering: Often the pain and grief that come from suffering affect not only the sufferer, but also the lives and feelings of those who know, love, and watch the sufferer. Accordingly, empathy produces another form of suffering.

Evidential or Testimonial Suffering: The first two chapters of Job are classic examples of evidential or testimonial suffering. Despite his intense suffering, Job refused to give up the integrity of his trust in God.

Revelational Suffering: Often our Lord uses suffering to bring us into a deeper knowledge of himself.

Doxological Suffering: Sometimes our Lord calls us to go through suffering not as a result of our own sins or to teach us some needed lesson but in order to show his own purpose and glory.

Eschatological or Apocalyptic Suffering: The historical period of this present world age ends, according to the plan of Scripture, with a period of intense suffering. The depth of the darkness and the intensity of suffering during those days will assuredly end with the triumphant appearance of the kingdom of God.

Even though there is not a definitive explanation of evil and suffering, Kaiser concludes with the sure and certain hope of God’s purposes and plans that ultimately find their consummation in the Lord Jesus Christ and his return, which is consistent with God’s Word.

The hope of the world is found in the God who cares and knows about our suffering, hurts, and disgrace. Even if it has not been necessary for him to give any kind of definitive explanation as to why he ever allowed evil in this world in the first place, he has assured us that all of the misery, suffering, hurt, and pain do fit together in a plan that he is working together to the honor and glory of his own name. This plan is seen even more clearly in the New Testament, especially in the Son of God’s  incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and second coming.

This is one of many reasons we cry “maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!”

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

One response to Eight Kinds of Suffering in the Old Testament

  1. I’m thrilled by this revelation of eight types of sufferings in the Old Testament. Can you help me with the biblical references? April 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Thanks for your hard work and doggedness.

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