Suffering is an inescapable part of life. It is the tragic consequence of sin, which brought disorder, decay, and pain to the world. Everyone on earth suffers to some degree.
But the question is: Why do Christians suffer? If they have been chosen by God and granted the free gift of salvation (which makes them positionally righteous before Him), then shouldn’t they be a little better off than the average unbeliever? Shouldn’t God be blessing them with comfort, peace, and joy? Trials are the hardest part of the Christian life, because we don’t see what purpose they serve in our lives. When we get paralyzed from an accident, experience a major financial loss, or unexpectedly lose a loved one, we start to question God. Yet in trials, the same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay. Suffering can either humble us to draw closer to God or to harden us to move away from God.
Since Scripture teaches us that God works out all things for good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28), we can assured that suffering has a good purpose in our lives. As part of God’s plan for our lives, it can be used for good. The real issue is: How will we respond to it? It is the godly response that brings glory to God and stretches our character in the sanctification process.
There are multiple reasons why God allows suffering in our lives, many of which God has chosen not to reveal, much like in Job’s situation. But the Bible reveals some reasons that God allows suffering and what benefit that brings to the Christian’s life. Here are 7 noteworthy reasons:
1. Suffering teaches Christians not to depend on themselves, but on God. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 says, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope.” Sometimes we put hope in our intelligence, resources, or physical strength to win wars, achieve financial success, and lead strong families. Suffering can cause us to rely upon God’s guidance so that we don’t get puffed up in pride and depend too much on ourselves to get ahead in life.
2. Suffering reminds Christians of their heavenly hope. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 says, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” When we become too focused on the worries or lures of this world, suffering sobers us to the fleeting nature of this life and causes us to long more for heaven. We start to live more for the things that are eternal by using our times and resources to build our treasures in heaven instead of on earth. No Christian lives fully for heaven without experience a degree of hell on earth.
3. Suffering tests the genuineness of a Christian’s faith. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” Through suffering, God exposes false converts who have never been born again. This either gives them an opportunity to truly repent or to turn away from the gospel. For true believers, suffering gives them greater assurance of their salvation. This demonstrates the power of the Holy Spirit’s preserving work in those whom He has called.
4. Suffering helps a believer grow in personal holiness. Hebrews 4:7-9 reads, “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom his father does not discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons…All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” God does not bring judgment upon believers, but He does bring discipline. Discipline is not punitive, but instructive. Suffering can come as a result of a believer’s continual sin and drift into darkness. God uses these moments to bring believers back on the right track of obedience to His ways.
5. Suffering allows God to demonstrate His compassion. Psalm 103:13 says, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.” There is never a time in which God’s compassion and mercy are so brilliantly displayed than when Christians experience hurt. Suffering allows God to intervene to bring peace, healing, and comfort to His children, which cannot happen if Christians always experience a smooth ride in life. This teaches us about the greatness of God’s character, which we can certainly emulate when we encounter hurting people.
6. Suffering equips Christians to help others in similar situations. 2 Corinthians 3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Our testimonies and skills have a greater impact on the hurt, marginalized, and disadvantaged if we were in the same situation. Instead of miraculously healing paralytics or amputees, God uses these people to minister to the same people in order to bring them to saving faith and strengthen their trust in the Lord. It becomes an area of expertise that serves as a kind of contextualized ministry that is more effective than people who don’t know or understand those types of pains.
7. Suffering prepares Christians for greater usefulness in the world. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Suffering stretches the character of believers. It causes them to grow stronger so that God can use them for tasks that would not be fitting for weak, impatient, and immature believers. Many of God’s tasks (including missionary work) requires a sound and persevering character, which trials can produce in a believer. Trials can give a believer more strength that leads him to do stronger things for God’s kingdom.
According to God’s good character, suffering via trials is for the believer’s good. It is never the result of God’s judgment or an evil intent to harm believers like Satan does. Whatever God allows, it is designed to bring Him glory. Instead of figuring out the specific reason for our sufferings (like Job did with God), we are better off thinking how we can best respond to the Lord in those times. How can we still honor God in tragedies? It is those responses that will reveal what we really think about God and what our motive is in following Him.
Steve Cha is the teaching pastor of Grace City LA.