Suffering has a Purpose for the Christian
“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. “ 2 Cor. 4: 17
To varying degrees, we all experience some form of hardship during our lives that results in suffering. It is unavoidable. There is physical suffering or pain, as well as mental or emotional anguish that can be just as difficult as physical pain, or sometimes even worse.
One of the most asked question regarding the existence of God is “Why would a loving God allow suffering in this world?” I don’t believe that anyone has the complete answer for this. When this age is ended and Jesus returns to establish His kingdom, we may get the full picture of our situation and have the complete answer, but not before that time. We do know that some suffering has resulted from the curse that has been put on this world as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. Still, the suffering of innocent people is difficult to understand. I would recommend that you not dwell on this situation, but rather to leave it as God’s business, knowing that He is perfect and has a reason for His actions.
I want to focus more on our attitude towards our own hardships and trials and God’s purpose in these. I would like to look to the Scriptures to find wisdom regarding our sufferings. I have been reading through the 2nd letter of Paul to the Corinthians and have found some guidance on this topic.
After a short greeting, Paul starts the letter with this truth about suffering:
“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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Cor. 1: 3-5
Unless we experience suffering and find comfort from God, we will not be able to comfort others, nor lead them to find God’s comfort for themselves. This is part of our maturing as a Christian. We now can endure suffering by finding God’s comfort! And once we find that comfort, we can then share this with others who God leads us to, who are experiencing similar trials and suffering. This is God’s method of building up His people. Not only do we mature personally as we endure our afflictions, but as we reach out to others as they are suffering, we get connected to them and are able to bond in love with them. It’s like we are building blocks that are being strengthened and also connected to others to form a solid wall to build up God’s house.
It is important that we persevere in our trials and afflictions, for our own sake and for the body. We also must be open to let others share their experiences with us. God uses them to comfort us, just as he will use us to comfort others. We must humble ourselves and be weak because this allows Him to be strong.
Remember also that while in the world, before we came to Jesus and began our walk of faith, many of us did everything possible to avoid suffering and hardships. We avoided any circumstances that brought about pain or hardship. We did all we could to escape emotional discomfort. Whenever possible, we filled our days with the pleasure of music or video games, or the entertainment of television or movies, or laughing with friends, or other distractions. Any pain that we were forced to encounter, we dulled with drugs or alcohol. Our goal in life was to steer towards the things that gave us pleasure and away from anything that gave us pain or discomfort.
I am not suggesting that as Christians we should seek out hardships, or put ourselves purposely into positions that cause suffering. I am talking about our attitude towards the inevitable and unavoidable hardships that will come our way in this life. I am talking about the wisdom of facing and going through our trials, rather than avoiding or sidestepping them which only postpones their occurrence and worsens their impact.
As Christians, we must understand that God is now in control of our lives. All things work together for our good. This includes the hardships and trials that we face, no matter how intense and difficult they may be.
In fact, as difficult as it may be for us to understand this when we are in the midst of our trials, they are actually blessings! The transformation in our character that takes place during our endurance of our trials is of great value. The Lord uses our suffering to refine us. He refines us in the furnace like gold, bringing the dross to the top and removing it from our lives.
“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord test the heart.” Prov. 17.3
Anyone who had endured severe hardships knows of the transforming work that occurs in their own character. This is of great value – more precious than gold and silver.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, also shows us the key to obtaining the comfort needed to endure our hardships. First, he shows us that there must be a foundation of faith, the kind of faith that is focused on the future hope of eternal life.
“Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.” 2 Cor. 4: 13-14
Herein lies the source of comfort for us as we go through trials: the realization of the glory that awaits us in the future. Paul expounds on this in the next few verses in chapters 4 and 5 of his letter.
“So we do not lose heart, though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not make with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sight with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be walled up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Cor. 4: 16 – 5: 8
Clearly Paul’s strength and courage came from the realization of his future home in heaven and clearly he is encouraging all of us to have this same source of strength.
Paul also reveals that God allows us to be afflicted so that we may remain humble and to keep us from glorying in our flesh, but rather to recognize that it is God who is the source of life and truth, not our own abilities and wisdom. Sometimes the more profound the manifestation of God’s power and enlightenment in an individual, the more hardship they incur. Consider Paul’s case as an example:
“For it is the God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” 2 Cor. 4: 6-12
I don’t know what the future holds for us, but God does. I am sure that His plan is perfect. I do think that it is safe to say, though, that as we mature in our walk with Christ, and as we increase in our knowledge of the things of God, and as He uses us more and more in this world, that we will face more trials and affliction for the perfecting of our faith. This is for our own good and for the glory of God. Thankfully, we know the source of strength no matter what we encounter: the hope of future glory with the Lord Jesus and the love of God for us.
“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed interceded for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘for thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 31-39
Many Christians have suffered greatly throughout the ages, but I am convinced that not one of them would look back now and want it to be any different. Let us be strong and of good courage, enduring whatever our life has ahead of us, in the strength and comfort that is allotted to us by our merciful Father, the God of comfort.