For both Judaism and Christianity belief in the goodness of God has made the universal experience of suffering the supreme problem for theology. Broadly, two kinds of suffering are recognized in the Bible: that which comes upon us because of our humanity; and that which is visited upon the people of God because of their faith (as Jews or Christians). The first category embraces illness, bereavement, anxiety, depression; the second is caused by persecution or by personal discipline. Several OT texts suggest that some human suffering comes as a result of sin (Gen. 3: 14–19); the Exile is interpreted as punishment for the nation's sins (2 Kgs. 17). Job's ‘comforters’ are persuaded that he must have done some great wickedness to have deserved such suffering; Job rejects that solution (cf. John 9: 3), and in Job 38–41 he receives an answer directly from God which is overwhelming in its power: the problem is beyond human understanding, and Job must relax and leave it to the wisdom of God. Apocalyptic writers took the view that undeserved suffering would receive its compensation in a state after death (Dan. 12: 2).

The second category is of suffering accepted for the sake of good, or even embraced, as did the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah. In the NT followers of Christ are warned to expect to take up a cross ‘daily’ (Luke 9: 23), and to suffer hostility and persecution. It is the message especially in 1 Peter. Such suffering is not only an imitation of Jesus; it is said to be a means of completing what is lacking in the Church's burden of suffering (Col. 1: 24).