We all feel it: the pain of this world, the darkness trying to cloud out the light. You don’t have to go very far to feel overwhelmed by how devastating life can be.
Sickness, loss, failure, heartache, tragedy, disappointment, death. We all know these things too well. In moments of suffering, it can be easy to ask the question, Why? Even those of us who have experienced the goodness of God sometimes wonder why suffering exists.
How do we reconcile a God who has shown us such goodness with pain and suffering?
Perhaps this is why my friend Jon Bloom’s books have been so encouraging to me, and why out of the many hundreds of books I’ve enjoyed, he has become my favorite author. Bloom writes masterfully on this subject: why God allows suffering, and how God is working through the pain of this world to bring about his good purposes.
Scripture is not silent about the pain and suffering in our world.
Peter told us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
Paul and Barnabas told those they ministered to, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
God doesn’t deny the suffering in our world. Instead, he mercifully prepares us for when suffering happens.
He is not just a God who relates to us, but he is also a God who has taken part in our suffering and suffered immensely on our behalf through the cross of Christ.
Scripture is no stranger to the messiness and disappointment of our world, even while trumpeting the goodness of our God.
Nothing can encourage us like God’s Word. Here are five powerful, biblical reasons why God allows suffering in our lives.
1. Suffering humbles us.
Suffering reminds us of our humanity, of our finiteness. When we go through sickness or loss, we are reminded that we are not in control of our lives.
Bloom writes, “God gives us grace in opposing our pride, for ‘the humble will dwell with God’ (Isa. 57:15). Humility is our greatest friend, and often comes through no other avenue than by suffering in our lives.”
In Psalm 119:71, David says what so many of us already know by experience: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”
2. Suffering drives us to dependence on God.
Pain and suffering cause us to run to God with our need. When we realize we are not in control and that our lives are a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14), we cling to our God in heaven, who alone is our rock and sure foundation.
Suffering drives us to lean on God like nothing else can, and it allows us to see that God is enough. It allows us to see that we have something worth far more than anything this earth can afford.
3. Suffering reminds us that this world is not our home.
Suffering and pain cause us to long for our heavenly home and live more fully for eternity. Suffering shocks us into remembering that we are “temporary residents and foreigners” on this earth (1 Peter 2:11) and “this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come” (Heb. 13:14).
When this happens, we redirect our lives with more eternal purpose than before, and we focus more on pleasing the Lord.
The good news in our suffering is that, according to Dave Willis, “Because of Jesus, all our pain is temporary and all our joy is eternal.” Paul writes, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18)—”an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Cor.4:17).
4. Suffering helps us identify with Christ’s sufferings.
Multiple times, the Scriptures point to how suffering allows us to identify with and draw near to Christ through suffering like nothing else can.
Peter says, “Rejoice when you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. (Phil. 3:8-10)
Paul is saying that nothing is worth as much as knowing Jesus, and we come to know him more through his resurrection power—but also through sharing and identifying with him in suffering. There is a level at which you cannot know Jesus more except through your suffering.
5. Suffering is used to train us in righteousness.
God often uses suffering to train and discipline us as his children in order to grow us into maturity in our faith.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:7-11)
Endurance and patience are vital aspects of growing into maturity in our faith. Look at these three important Scriptures on it:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5)
“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)
God isn’t just interested in coddling us. While he definitely gives incredible comfort in all our trials (see 2 Cor. 1:4), he is also interested in using them to mature us and teach us to trust him and to spend our lives chasing what matters most.
Matt Brown (@evangelistmatt) is an evangelist, author and founder of Think Eternity, an evangelistic ministry that reaches thousands of people with the gospel each year through live events and online. This article was originally published on Matt’s blog at ThinkE.org.