It is inevitable that those who suffer trials cannot help but wonder “Why me?” One psychiatrist tried to give me some perspective when he said, “You are actually lucky. A worse illness than yours is schizophrenia. We have many people who come to us for treatment. It ruins relationships, families. They believe people are out to kill them. Be thankful you’re not like them.” I didn’t feel lucky, but over the years I have learned some things about why God allows suffering in the lives of His children in Jesus Christ.
You cannot understand suffering unless you understand who God really is and what He has in store for His redeemed people. I have learned through the school of suffering and by reading God’s Word some important things.
First, God is not obligated to give an all-inclusive answer to us as to our suffering. He does not owe me an explanation for His dealings, even when they involve me. He is the Potter; He can do with His clay as He wishes.
Second, suffering reveals what is in our hearts and gives us the opportunity to trust God. Suffering is the fire that heats the gold and separates it from the imperfections. First Peter 1:6–7 says this very well: 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, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Third, God is my Father, the Father of mercy and the God of all comfort. Whenever there is suffering in the life of a Christian, comfort overflows (see 2 Cor. 1:4). Sometimes the comfort is delayed, but God’s comfort is always greater than our suffering. We read in James 5:11, “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” Perhaps you are in the middle of intense suffering. The jury may be out, but when the trial is over, if you have endured, you will discover for yourself that the Lord is “full of compassion and merciful.”
Be still my soul! The Lord is on thy side;Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;Leave to thy God to order and provide;In every change He faithful will remain.Be still my soul! Thy best, thy heavenly friendThro’ thorny ways leads to a joyful end
Fourth, suffering is a privilege that God entrusts to His children. Philippians 1:29–30 says, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” As the Puritan Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680) said, “God’s champions are often in the dark.”He entrusts some of His choicest people to suffer intensely. North American Christians especially need to hear about the gift of suffering. We look at the Scriptures through the lens of our ethical hedonistic culture, which values the absence of pain and suffering as an ideal. In reality, the believer’s suffering is a blessing.
Fifth, suffering is wisely appointed by God and fitted for us. Such was the case when Peter was told
that he would one day be killed on a cross. He immediately asked whether John also would face execution. Jesus said, “What is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21:22, italics added).
Sixth, Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest, has gone before us as our example in suffering (see Heb. 9:11–26, and 1 Peter 3, for example). The Puritan preacher Thomas Manton said, “Jesus is propounded as our example, He endured cruel pains in His body, and bitter sorrows in His soul; deserted by God, contradicted by men, yet He bore all patiently and undauntedly; this is the copy and pattern which is set for our imitation, that we may not sink under our burdens.”
Seventh, suffering connects us closer to trusting prayer. Trust in God at all times; pour out your heart before Him. God is a refuge for us. If any man is sad, let him pray, praying always with all perseverance (see Eph. 6:18). Paul said that thanks may be given that you were delivered by many prayers.
Eighth, suffering takes us to the edge of eternity. Christians believe that this life prepares us for eternity. If there were no life beyond this one, then suffering would be most unfortunate. But if Christians are made holy and made more fit for the presence of God for all eternity, then their suffering has immense purpose (Matt. 5:3; cf. Rom. 8:18–19). From our book, Broken MindsHope for Healing When You Feel Like You're Losing It. pp. 84-86.
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