Eight Kinds of Suffering

I am going through the book of Job with my boys during our evening Bible time, so I found Walter Kaiser’s article on “where Job’s friends went wrong about suffering” very interesting. In the article, Kaiser identifies eight types of suffering mentioned in the Bible.

  1. retributive suffering (caused by sin and disobedience to God)
  2. educational or disciplinary suffering (as in Proverbs 3:11 or Hebrews 12:5-6)
  3. vicarious suffering (as in the case of our Lord’s death on the cross)
  4. empathetic suffering (where one person’s grief affects many others, as Isaiah 63:9 illustrates)
  5. evidential or testimonial suffering (as in the first two chapters of Job)
  6. doxological suffering for the glory of God (as in the man born blind in John 9)
  7. revelational suffering (as in the case of the prophet Hosea’s wife abandoning him)
  8. apocalyptic or eschatological suffering (that will come at the end of this age)

“The epilogue of Job 42:8 indicts Job’s three friends (but not Elihu, who argued that Job’s suffering was instructive) for wrongly applying to Job the doctrine of retributive suffering. ‘You have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has,’ concluded the Lord. Where then did Job’s three friends go wrong? They reduced all evil to ‘retributive suffering,’ which is caused by sin and disobedience to God.”

HT: Between Two Worlds


  1. eclexia says:

    Thank you for this post. As I continue to walk through some very difficult things, I am always trying to understand and develop a theology of suffering. My view of God’s grace in suffering was quite simplistic I think: cry out to the Lord and He makes it all better. The all better would be proof of His grace at work. In ways that are hard to put into words I am learning what it means to continue to live in suffering while experiencing and knowing God’s grace there–not as deliverance in the way I might hope, but real, powerful and enough (even when I sometimes want to demand “more” relief).

  2. Ray Fowler says:

    That’s one of the things I appreciated about Kaiser’s list here. He has obviously spent some time reflecting on suffering in the light of God’s word, and I find this list helpful in understanding some of the theological reasons behind suffering.

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