I believe there is a side to suffering we miss when we focus solely on our pain rather than on God’s greater purpose. If you can see the purpose behind the pain, you can find the way out of this lie. If you can see the purpose beyond the pain, you will understand God’s ability to leverage the suffering in your life for greater things.
If your suffering won’t go away, it might as well go to work. Hard times have the capacity to deepen your faith and the faith of those around you. And when you submit your situation to God, he can purify your motives and teach you wonderful things that you can only learn when suffering humbles you and forces you to pay attention to the deep work the Holy Spirit is doing inside of you.
I’m not suggesting God hurts us on purpose just to watch us squirm in agony. On the contrary; God doesn’t hurt us. The world we live in does. Things are breaking down here on earth. People hurt each other. Greed and violence and war and deception are everywhere, and you can’t get away from the constant cycle of sickness, poverty, and death. God doesn’t create these things to hurt you. He is the very One who wants to rescue broken people from these evil forces. And how does God do that? What is his plan to redeem humanity from the curse?
It begins with Jesus. God sent his own Son to this earth to live a sinless life and die a horrible death in our place, so that we would not have to be punished for our sin and rebellion.
It continues, however, with us. The plan God began with Jesus was handed off to God’s people, Christians, to carry on. Jesus himself promised that we would do even greater works than he did, simply meaning that billions of Christians can accomplish unimaginable good in this world for the glory of God when we understand that God wants to use us in his plan. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
And how does he use us, exactly? One way is through our suffering. Consider these words written by Peter, the disciple who spent years with Jesus only to deny him at his crucifixion, and then was restored to lead the New Testament church:
But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Pet. 2:20–21)
Does this mean it is God’s will for me as a Christian to suffer? At first glance, the answer seems simply . . . yes. But let’s consider a more nuanced reading of these verses.
This Scripture states that it is God’s will not that you simply suffer aimlessly, randomly, or mindlessly but that you suffer for the purpose of doing good and, more importantly, that you endure that suffering. Therefore, God does not orchestrate purposeless suffering in your life but rather, on the contrary, redeems your suffering, giving you the grace to endure it for the purpose of serving as a witness to the power of the gospel. People—our children, our spouse, our friends, our boss, our extended family, even skeptical nonbelievers—will observe the way we handle suffering, and they’ll learn from us. When they see us endure the same kind of hurts and hardships they experience while remaining humble, faithful, and prayerful before God, they’ll pay close attention, curious about the source of our strength.
To put it another way: there is always a bigger story encompassing the painful place in which we find ourselves. God is always up to something much bigger. And while we may not focus on or even be aware of the bigger God-story in the midst of our suffering, the God-story is still there.
When it comes to suffering, sometimes the way we overcome is to simply, humbly, and faithfully endure.
Nothing testifies to the deep, authentic reality of God’s presence in the life of a believer like watching that believer keep their eyes on Jesus while enduring hell on earth. Observing a Christian cry out to God in confusion, pain, and anger, while maintaining the faith to keep calling, to keep weeping, to keep reaching out in hope and trust, is perhaps the greatest apologetic for the Christian faith the world will ever see. Our suffering has the power to change those who are watching us suffer.
By Clayton King