Patterns of Suffering

Before I get to the post I need to get some administrative stuff out of the way. I am taking my youngest daughter to a Tae Kwon Do tournament in Indianapolis. So, if anyone has any comments I won’t be able to respond until Sunday.

I decided this past weekend to post on the topic of suffering. Not only do I know several Christians who are going through some tough personal times right now but I have also noticed more blog posts on the subject. Dave at his God’s Pure Grace blog has a post titled “Religion of Fear” which touches on this issue as well as Daniel Gracely’s book “A Closer Look at Calvinism.” I would now like to add my two cents on the topic. I don’t believe that I have a solution for the “problem of theodicy” but I do believe I can at least offer a framework (from a free will perspective) that is much better suited to discussion of the problem.

I am going to provide a short summary of R.B. Thieme, Jr.’s teaching on suffering via Charles Clough. Before I get into the quote I need to get two preliminaries out of the way. First, in the Clough quote he refers to the divine institutions several times. If you are not familiar with the divine institutions I suggest you follow this link to my post on them otherwise you won’t understand what he is talking about.

I also need to deal with Romans 8:28. I believe that this verse has caused a lot of confusion and I think it will help if I provide Colonel Thieme’s interpretation of the passage before I produce Clough’s longer quote:

By integrating Romans 8:28 with it’s context, we discover to our surprise that most of the ‘comfort’ derived from this verse is illusory. In its strict interpretation, Romans 8:28 does not apply to all believers; it belongs only to the mature believer! In analyzing this passage of scripture, I am not trying to deprive any ‘suffering saint’ of his only consolation in life. Far from it! I am interested in the true meaning of a vital passage. When accurately interpreted, this verse contains a power, an encouragement, a wealth of doctrine that has not been properly explained in a generation.

You will recall from our study of undeserved suffering that the context of Romans 8:28 is Romans 8:23-25 (verses 26 and 27 are parenthetical). This context describes the mature believer.

R.B. Thieme, Jr.
The Integrity of God
p. 195

So, Romans 8:28 does not promise all that things work together for the good for all believers. Its promise is to the mature believer only. I do not provide this expecting all of you to believe it but it explains why the passage does not show up in the extended Charles Clough quote.

And now, without further ado, is an introduction to the patterns of suffering:

Remember all evil originated through creatures’ rebellious choices; evil wasn’t there at creation. In both angelic and human spheres evil can be traced back to responsible post-creation choices that had suffering consequences. All suffering, therefore, has an aspect of directness for its origin. Yet not all suffering is due to the immediate choices of those afflicted.

For example, what did an infant do to deserve to suffer and die in infancy, or what did we do as unbelievers to merit God’s “wake-up” call to salvation? Jesus warned in John 9:3 against falsely concluding that suffering is always in a simple one-to- one relationship to the sufferer. There is an indirectness, too, in suffering whereby it is an “interference” into a person’s life and is not directly “asked for”. The patterns of suffering, therefore, which follow are divided into direct and indirect categories. Some apply to all men; other apply to only unbelievers or believers.[20]

(Clear consequences of creatures’ choices)

1. General existence of sickness & death (physical and spiritual): law of Gen. 2:17 was disobeyed by Adam and Eve and consequences spread throughout world (Rom.5:12-14; 8:19-23); the “fall event” vindicates God’s Word as reliable. Applies to all men.

2. General existence of “self-induced misery” (intensified physical, mental, and spiritual deterioration): law of Gal. 6:7 works out through the first divine institution of responsible labor; continued rebellious living yields corrupt fruit of foolishness showing again that God’s Word stands (Rom.1:24-32; Eph. 4:17-19). Applies to all men.

3. General judgment pattern on nations and families: law of Gal. 6:7 works out through the third and fourth divine institutions (see Chapter 6 for fourth divine institution); preserves opportunities for repentance among those inside these nations and families (Exod. 20:5-6; Num. 14:18; Acts 17:26-27). Applies to all men.

4. Eternal existence of Hell and Lake of Fire: Justice of God originally directed against the fall of angels but which a man comes to share through Adam’s fall, if he never responds to God’s grace in this mortal life (Matt. 25:41,46; Rev.20:10-15); provides for a permanent exclusion of evil from the new universe to come. Applies to unbelievers only.

5. Judgment in Mortal Life of Believers: God the Father disciplines every believer as a spiritual parent when he rebels against His authority; warning to confess sin and be restored to fellowship (I Cor.11:29-31; Heb. 12:5-13; Rev. 3:19-20); can include physical death; can work simultaneously with authorized church discipline (Matt. 18:17-18; I Cor. 5:1-5). Applies to believers only.

6. Judgment after Resurrection of Believers and Denial of Rewards: Jesus Christ evaluates fruit of believers whether produced in obedience to His Spirit or produced in the energy of the flesh (I Cor. 3:10-15; II Cor. 5:10-11; II Tim. 2:11-13).
Applies to believers only.

(God personally intervenes but not as a direct consequence of some particular choice by the individual)

7. Evangelistic “Wake-up Call”: specially designed suffering can shock arrogant unbelieving self-confidence in pagan idolatries and selfrighteousness (I Sam 5; I Kings 18:21-40; Jonah 3; Acts 9:1-9); provides an extra opportunity for repentance unto salvation independent of choices of unbeliever. Applies to unbelievers only.

8. A “Nudge” to Spiritually Advance: specially designed suffering to immunize against arrogant autonomy and protect a sense of dependency upon God’s grace (Deut. 8:2-6; Psa. 119:71,75; II Cor. 12:1-10; I Pet. 1:5-9; 5:5- 10); provokes growth and preparation for coming service to others (II Cor.1:4-7). Applies to believers only and to the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:10; 5:8).

9. Evidence for Evangelization of Unbelievers: specially designed suffering to convince unbelievers of the reality of the gospel (I Tim. 1:16; I Pet. 2:12-3:17). Applies to believers only and to the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:13-18).

10. Evidence for Edification of Believers: specially designed suffering to convince other believers of the adequacy of the gospel (II Cor. 1:5-15; 4:7- 18; Heb. 12:1). Applies to believers only and to the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 2:5-9; I Pet. 2:21-23).

11. Evidence in the Unseen Angelic Conflict: specially designed suffering that has unknown (to us) ramifications in the angelic conflict between God and Satan (Job 1-2; Lk. 22:31-32; I Cor. 6:2-3; 11:10; Eph. 3:10). Applies to believers only and to the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:1-11; 26:53-54).

Here, then, I have sketched eleven distinct patterns of suffering, each of which reveals that the limits of evil are very carefully controlled with a real purpose. Now, let’s go to the last element in a biblical coping strategy…

Charles Clough
Biblical Framework
Part 2
pp. 66-68 (76-78 in the PDF)


20. Much of the concept of these patterns of suffering were given to me by R. B. Thieme, Jr., Christian Suffering (Houston, TX: Bible Ministries, 1987).

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6 Comments on “Patterns of Suffering”

  1. Hi Glenn,

    The name Theime is a little familiar to me. I once had a used book store and had some of his books. In fact, I may still have them, because we stored the books in a garage when my family sold the building.

    Re: Romans 8:28, although I think I probably agree with Thieme on many things, this verse is not one of them. That is, I would not agree with Theime if, by the phrase “all things,” he means to literally include ALL things, not just the list of things in that context, i.e., our calling, justification, etc.

    I think the best explanation of Rom. 8:28 has been given by Tim Geddert, who explains that the phrase “works together” literally means to work SYNERGISTICALLY together, and that no where in the Bible does it teach that all things do this. In fact, I note that Paul specifically tells us that Christ and Belial, light and darkness, righteousness and unrighteousness, have no compatibility whatsoever, and therefore also, it seems to me, any ability to work synergistically together. Geddert goes on to explain that the Greek grammatical construction of Romans 8:28 allows for God, not (necessarily) “all things” to be the subject. The result is something like: “God works (synergistically) with us in all things to produce good…” I personally find this answer satisfying, since it doesn’t imply that evil can become cooperative with godly experience. Anyway, that’s just my own view, and I realize it cuts across the grain of standard Evangelical thought.

    Cordially, and Happy Thanksgiving,


  2. One main correction to my last comment: the phrase “and therefore also,” should read “nor therefore also,”.

  3. Glenn Says:

    Hi Dan,
    Thank you for stopping by and commenting. At one time Colonel Thieme was rather well known in American protestant (for lack of a better word) circles. He was one of those teachers that other Christians either loved or hated; there was very little middle ground. Since I have used his name so much on the blog I am fairly sure that one day my blog name will show up in some pretty nasty people’s Google searches.

    By reading your book (I’m not finished with it yet) I knew that your position was going to be similar to what you have laid out here. I am glad that you have found a biblical explanation that you find satisfying for Romans 8:28. I am not so sure that your understanding of the verse is so terribly at odds with Colonel Thieme’s teaching. I will admit, though, that Colonel Thieme would teach that God can use all events in the life of a mature believer for divine good. One of the things that is drilled into my memory is the rhetorical question: Can God make a perfect plan for imperfect people? Of course the answer was always “yes.” The application was that for those who are spiritually mature (mature Christians follow God’s plan for their lives) all events in life work out for “divine” good (he taught there is human good and divine good).

    I am pleased that you took the time to read the post and at least gave it some thought.

    Someone has taken notes on many of the books Colonel Thieme exegeted at a site called Syndein (I don’t know what that means). I am going to paste the section on Romans 8:28 below just in case you find it of interest. Of course the quote uses a lot of the technical vocabulary that few can understand but I think it is useful none the less.

    Oh, and by the way, have a great Thanksgiving!

    [Verse 28: Third ‘Hope’ – Blessings]
    28~~We {mature believers} know/perceive
    in fact, that for those who love {agapao} The God
    {Who and what He is – Him and His divine Characteristics
    to love God, you must have developed the capacity to love Him
    through the consistent study of His Word.},
    that all things work together
    for {the purpose of} the good {agathos}
    to those {mature believers}
    who are the called/elected ones { kletos}
    according to the ‘predetermined plan’/’His purpose’ {prothesis}.

    {Note: ‘The Good’ is the 7th imputation. The first is a real imputation of life, the second is a judicial imputation of Adam’s sin, the third is the judicial imputation of all personal sins to Christ on the cross, the fourth is the judicial imputation of divine righteousness at the point of salvation, the fifth is the imputation of eternal life at the point of salvation, the sixth is blessing in time imputed to +R. And, blessings in eternity future is the 7th potential imputation.

    So, agathos here is used for divine good. This is the 7th imputation and the ‘third hope’. The first ‘hope’ is potential salvation. Once saved, the hope is no longer a ‘hope’, but a reality (see previous verses). The second ‘hope’ is spiritual maturity and the hope of blessings in time. Once that hope also becomes a reality, then that sets up the third hope – blessings for all eternity future. RBT says that ‘good’ here means that the ‘hope’ then fulfillment, and ‘hope and fulfillment, gives mature believers the ‘absolute confidence’/hope that blessings in eternity future is a reality. He says that this is the 7th imputation to the believer. There are 6 in time and they combine to form the seventh and unique one in eternity at the Judgment Seat.}

  4. Glenn Says:


    I missed something in the quote I provided in my last comment. If you look at the last paragraph you will see that in this passage that Colonel Thieme defines “good” in a way that most pastors don’t. Just so it is easier to find I will quote just that statement:

    RBT says that ‘good’ here means that the ‘hope’ then fulfillment, and ‘hope and fulfillment, gives mature believers the ‘absolute confidence’/hope that blessings in eternity future is a reality. He says that this is the 7th imputation to the believer. There are 6 in time and they combine to form the seventh and unique one in eternity at the Judgment Seat.

  5. Johnc347 Says:

    Superb post but I was wanting to know if you could write a gdfkdgeedeba

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