It would be very unrealistic to say that I’m going to provide anyone with a satisfactory answer as to why even very mature and committed believers go through the experience of human suffering at some point in their lives. In fact, it’s not unrealistic to say that some of the most mature people in their faith are people who have had to endure more than their “fair share” of suffering.
For whatever reason, I was reflecting over the last 9 months and realized that many of my closer friends, as well as a number of relationships I have through our local church, have all gone through some of life’s most difficult suffering in just this past 9 months.
That’s why I approached our small group Bible study in the “Rooted” curriculum which was on the topic of “Where is God in the Midst of Suffering?”
The more reading and preparation I did for this week’s study a somewhat different perspective began to take shape in my understanding of the experience of suffering and to some degree the “why” we all seem to go though it and not just once in our lives in most cases.
Unquestionably, the most common and understandable response to the experience of suffering, whether it be physically, relationally, emotionally or even spiritually, is to seek to find answers as to why God does not seem to hear our prayer and in some way relieve us from the sufferings that we are having to endure. In other words, suffering happens to us and we expect that God will deliver us from these painful and often debilitating experiences.
It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that that is something God wants to do as the life of Jesus, as recorded in the four Gospels, is replete with illustrations of how Jesus seemed to be drawn to suffering people and without exception would do what was necessary for people to experience the healing, restoration, deliverance or forgiveness necessary for the suffering to be removed.
That’s why it’s always an appropriate thing to pray for the Lord to heal, renew or restore us in times of suffering. However, there also seems to be one other critically important thing that we often overlook in a season of suffering. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”
Yes, it’s absolutely accurate to say that positive things take place within our lives as a result of suffering! It’s the same reason why James declared
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”
It’s not that we are rejoicing or thanking God for suffering; that would be an irrational response to something that is painful and even potentially damaging in our lives. It is, however, appropriate to say that God will use the very specific experiences of suffering to do positive work in our lives; that He will actually benefit us in some way through the suffering experience.
This is the paradox that the experience of suffering provides for us. On the one hand, it can be the most painful and difficult time or season of our lives, but on the other hand, as we go through the experience with our eyes on God and our heart open to His presence through praise and worship, the Word and fellowship, we actually experience the transformation of our character to be more like Christ. Is it too much of a leap to say that suffering is one of the necessary experiences that we must go through because the world into which we were born is a fallen one and sin still has influence on our lives even though the Lord has provided ultimate victory and triumph over sin and it’s consequences.
Studying these and many other scriptures and reading a number of things along the way has brought me to a renewed conviction that suffering is actually a redemptive experience in our lives. In other words, suffering is a way in which the character of Jesus that has been imparted to us through faith in Christ and His work on the cross is increasingly revealed as we endure suffering in these seasons of our lives.
My intent is to speak into this proposition a little more in my next installment on the “why” of suffering.
So be encouraged, dear friend, if you are in one of those seasons. God has not left you there alone and you are not suffering without a redemptive and beneficial purpose.