In his book Grief & Pain in the Plan of God: Christian Assurance and the Message of Lamentations Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. offers the following typology of suffering in the Old Testament (see pgs. 128-136):

  1. Retributive Suffering
  2. Educational or Disciplinary Suffering
  3. Vicarious Suffering
  4. Empathetic Suffering
  5. Doxological Suffering
  6. Evidential or Testimonial Suffering
  7. Revelational Suffering
  8. Eschatological or Apocalyptic Suffering

Here in the conclusion to the book, Kaiser has a brief discussion of each type of suffering with biblical examples. These are helpful categories to have tucked away in your mind so that when we see suffering (in our own lives or in the world around us) we don’t commit the same error as Job’s friends, automatically assuming it to be one kind of suffering when actually there is something else going on. Here is how Kaiser concludes (pgs. 135-136):

Suffering then is multiplex in its causes, purposes, and explanations. All attempts to reduce the explanation of suffering both in that day and ours to a single reason, such as retributive suffering, could earn the quick rebuke of God as it did for Job’s three friends. Let us be biblically sensitive and spiritually alert to the wholeness of God’s revelation, and let us be reticent to postulate total patterns based on the presence of a single swallow.

Let us bow before our Maker and recognise His infinite wisdom in His distinctive and numerous reasons for suffering. And when none of these eight explanations, or any additional reasons that may have eluded us here, seems to fit our own moment of crisis, then let us return to the lodestone and central affirmation of the book of Lamentations: ‘Great is Thy faithfulness.’

This book is available on Amazon as well as Logos.