1. Suffering is a result of the fall.
God warned Adam that eating the forbidden fruit would result in death (Gen 2). Romans 5:12 confirms that this happened after Adam’s fall, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Death (and the accompanying pain and suffering) came as a result of that first sin and our continued sin. Pain, suffering, and death—in and of themselves—are not good.
2. God uses suffering for good.
Thankfully, Romans 8 tells us “That for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God never tells us our pain is good, but he uses pain to work for our good in his miraculous and mysterious way.
One of the ways God uses pain is to wake us up and bring up to himself. Our tendency in times of trial may be to run away from God, become angry with God, or idolize worldly comfort. Charles Spurgeon said it well when he encouraged us to look to God in our pain. He is attributed with saying, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” We need to realize that God is in control over all our circumstances . . . and he is good. We need to open our eyes in our pain and see that our circumstances are taking us right to God.
3. We can’t always see what God is doing in our pain.
Augustine wrote of God and our circumstances, “If you understand, it is not God you understand.” We can hardly scratch the surface of the intentionality, creativity, and wisdom of God’s handiwork. Who can give him counsel or criticize his work? Proverbs 16:4 says, “The Lord has made everything for its purpose.” We can trust that God is always doing more than we can fathom.
4. God uses suffering to mature us in Christ.
James 1 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Trials can be counted as joy because God is persevering our faith. He is making us more like Christ, and that is always gain.
5. Persevering through suffering allows us to comfort others who suffer.
God brings us through suffering so we can comfort others who are suffering. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 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 may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” The best burden-bearers are the ones who’ve needed someone to carry their burdens in the past.
6. Suffering opens up ministry opportunities you’ve never dreamed of.
Growing up with a healthy body I never knew one day my life and ministry would include encouraging the hurting and helping those who care for the hurting. I am in constant pain—each day I feel burning sensations and sharp pains in both of my arms. I can’t put on my seatbelt, open a bottle of water, button my shirt, or shake hands with my friends. In the past couple of years I have begun to feel similar symptoms starting in my legs. Some days the pain is agonizing. Most nights I struggle to sleep. Depression has engulfed me on more than one occasion.
And yet! God’s grace is seen in the bright rays of light that shine through opportunities he has given me to encourage others. He has granted me grace to pastor out of weakness and witness to others about his unrelenting love. I never would have chosen or dreamed of a ministry like this—the Lord has done marvelous things.
7. God moves through weakness and suffering and not in spite of it.
Christianity teaches that the goal is not to eliminate pain and weakness (in this life), but for God to work in and through you in your pain. Paul had a thorn in his flesh and asked God multiple times but it remained. One could wonder how amazing Paul’s ministry would be if Paul didn’t have his thorn. But God didn’t use Paul despite his thorn, but through his thorn. God moves not in spite of our suffering, but through our suffering. Weakness is God’s way of moving in this world.
8. Our earthly perspective on the duration of suffering is very different from God’s.
Noah worked on an ark and waited for a flood. Abraham waited for a child with Sarah for years. Joseph was in prison for years. Moses wandered in the desert wilderness for 40 years. Hannah wept continually for a child. David fled from a wicked king for 13 years in the desert. Jeremiah “the weeping prophet” preached and saw no fruit for several decades. Paul faced imprisonment one after another. 2 Corinthians 4:17 gives us a healthy perspective on persevering in trials, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
9. Suffering can propel us into community.
My suffering has caused me to depend on the believing community for help, service, encouragement, and prayer. Though seeking help is humbling, it has an added bonus of friendship. I think of all the rides my friends Chris and Scott have given me over the years; I think of Glen’s encouragement; I think of John’s phone calls from halfway around the world and Darren and Kieron’s text messages. When we resist the urge to isolate ourselves God blesses us with sweet fellowship.
10. Christianity has the only solution to suffering.
All other religions have insufficient means of coping with and resolving pain and suffering. Some present plans of escape from the reality of pain. Some teach ways to placate the gods. Some tout karmic philosophies. Some focus on working for paradise—a place with no pain and unbounded pleasure.
But only Christianity provides true hope for the hurting. Suffering and death is inevitable for all of us but we can have hope because one has gone before us in death. Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, lived a sinless life in our place. He faced various temptations and trials—betrayal by those closest to him, mockery, emotional anguish, physical agony, and most of all, judgment by God the Father.
When Jesus hung on the cross bearing the weight of his people’s sins, he not only faced the worst earthly death imaginable (reserved for only the worst criminals), he faced the overflowing cup of God’s wrath. But the story doesn’t end there with the death of Jesus.
Three days later he walked out of his tomb; Jesus had risen from the dead. Christ’s resurrection means that our pain and our trials and even our death are not the end of the story.