Suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. It often interrupts our lives with such force and leaves us reeling. Whether a phone call in the middle of the night, a positive test result, a pay cheque that never seems to cover the expenses, an unexpected pregnancy, a prodigal child, anxiety and depression, or a loved one in crisis, difficulty comes to all of us. Although trials range in severity, they are a part of our fallen world.
What if we dared to believe God allows difficulty to come into our lives for a greater purpose? What if, instead of running from trials, we embraced them, believing God is up to something good?
James MacDonald defines trials this way: “A trial is a painful circumstance allowed by God to change our conduct and our character.” God uses trials to affect both our behaviour and our hearts.
There are three main questions about suffering we should ask as we examine this topic:
- What does God want us to know about seasons of suffering?
- Why does God allow suffering in our lives?
- How should we respond to suffering? In other words, how can we allow suffering to fulfill God’s intended purpose in our lives?
What does God want us to know about seasons of suffering?
- We should not be surprised by suffering, instead we should expect difficult times.
God promises in His word that we will suffer (James 1:2, John 16:33, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Peter 4:12-13). Sometimes we give a false impression of what Christianity is like, communicating to people that if they follow Christ their lives will be rosy. This is not the case. Scripture says trials will come. We ought not to let them take us by surprise. If we know that difficult times are coming, we can prepare ourselves for them by using every opportunity to get to know our God. As we meditate and memorize His Word we have tools when live gets hard. Take advantage of the good times to get to know your God better so you can be equipped and prepared when the storms of life hit.
- Suffering proves we are children of God.
According to Hebrews 12:5-8, God disciplines His children, and not coincidentally another word for discipline is trials. God disciplines those He loves. Parents who love their children discipline them and allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions so they will learn. God brings difficulty into our lives to teach us and shape us.
Also, as believers we have the privilege of believing in Christ and suffering for His sake (Philippians 1:29).
- God is not the author of suffering, but He allows it (Job 1-2).
While Satan is the author of evil, mankind chose suffering by falling into sin in the Garden of Eden. Many people shake their firsts at God or wonder why a good God could allow such horrific suffering in the world. Perhaps we need to point the finger at ourselves. We suffer because we live in a sin-soaked controlled by the enemy of our souls.
Think about the life of Job. God allowed Satan to cause Job to suffer. He didn’t author Job’s suffering, but He allowed it.
Even if we understand that God is not the author of suffering, it is sometimes still difficult to accept that He has allowed the painful circumstance to come into our lives, because then we realize He could have stopped it from happening. However a belief in a good God quickly concludes He can use it for His glory and our good.
- God’s character remains the same, regardless of our circumstances.
Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever. What you believe about God is so important, especially during trials. When life gets hard we are most tempted to doubt God’s goodness. How could a good God allow such a horrific thing? We doubt His sovereignty. God must be powerless to stop this. Or we doubt His love. God doesn’t care about me. Or perhaps we doubt His presence. Where is God in all of this?
Most people make one of two conclusions about God when trials come. Either God is powerless to stop this (doubt His ability) or God mustn’t be good (doubt His character).
But what if God wants to reveal Himself to us in new and deeper ways through the hard things He’s allowed into our lives? What if He wants to prove to us that He will never leave us? What if He wants to make us realize that He is so faithful?
- Things are not as they seem.
Second Corinthians 4:16-18 describes our affliction as light and momentary. Of course it certainly doesn’t feel that way, but in view of eternity it is. How long will you have to suffer? Just a little while longer. In the midst of difficult times, our focus should be on the things unseen, specifically on what God is doing in and through the suffering.
Things are not as they seem. God is doing a work in and through you in the midst of your suffering. He has a far greater purpose than you can even imagine. We have to realize that what we can see and hear and touch is not the whole story.