We can endure the worst kinds of pain when there is a meaningful purpose. A cadet can endure strenuous labor and exhaustion as long as he knows that his suffering is designed to prepare him for future battle. A mother can endure severe labor pains if she knows the result will be the delivery of her long-awaited child. Take away meaningful purpose and suffering becomes nearly impossible.
We cannot avoid suffering in this lifetime. It is inevitable. However, as Christians we can endure and even embrace suffering when we are confident that God is doing something good. And in our suffering, God is always doing something good. The Scriptures give at least 11 reasons why God allows suffering.
1. To display the glory of God to a watching world
Paul saw the suffering of his imprisonment as purposeful in that it gave him an opportunity to share the gospel with the entire praetorian guard (Phil 1:12-13). Additionally, his suffering served as a motivator for believers to share the gospel without fear (Phil 1:14).
2. To reveal the quality of our faith
Peter talks about trials like a refining fire that shows the quality of gold (1 Pet 1:6-9). Trials are meant to reveal the substance of what is in us.
3. To strengthen our faith
James 1:2 says that we should consider it a blessing from God when we fall into various trials because we know that they accomplish something, “the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas 1:3-4).
4. To give us a heart of wisdom
Suffering helps us to appreciate our time on the earth. It brings perspective. Powlison in his book, God’s Grace in your Suffering, suggests that suffering is a down payment of our coming death (102-105). We will all die if Christ tarries. But we do not have to fear death because Christ has overcome the sting of death, 1 Cor 15:55.
5. To remove our independence and to cause us to depend more on God and to be more interdependent of the local church
Paul received the thorn in the flesh in order to keep him from exalting himself–to remove his pride (2 Cor 12:7). Suffering has a way of removing all the crutches that we use to hold us up. And when those crutches are all taken away, we are left to depend solely on the only One who can deliver us–God! Suffering also increases our interdependence on the body of Christ. The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone. God designed us to live in a community of believers where we help each other on to God.
6. To know the comfort of God
The God of all comfort comforts us in all of our trials, 2 Cor 1:3-4.
7. To teach us how to comfort others
One of the purposes of God comforting us in our suffering is so that we can comfort others in their trials with the comfort that we ourselves received from God, 2 Cor 1:4.
8. To increase our desire to be with God
Have you ever sat with a Christian who has been crippled by suffering and who is on the brink of death? They do not want to be healed. They do not want to go back to when they were young. They want to be ultimately relieved of suffering. They want to be with Jesus. They want to live forever. Martin Lloyd-Jones on his deathbed wrote to his wife, “Don’t pray for healing. Don’t hold me back from the glory.” He was ready to meet his Savior.
9. To fulfill Jesus’ promise that we would suffer
Jesus said that “if they persecuted Me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20).
10. To expose our sin
Sometimes God brings trials in our lives to expose our sin. Judges 2:22-3:4 shows the cycle of unbelief that Israel had. They would turn away from God. God would bring trouble. They would cry out to Him for help. He would deliver them. God used ordinary difficulty to heighten the awareness to a people who had a closed their ears to His Word. He was waking them up to the ugliness of their sin (cf. Hag 1:6; 1 Cor 11:30).
11. To discipline us
Sometimes God allows us to suffer in order to turn us away from the things that He knows are harming us (Heb 12:5-10). The loving Father wants us to share in His holiness, and so he uses suffering as a way to correct and to bring us back on the path toward righteousness.
The Scriptures give multiple reasons for why Christians suffer. And in the midst of any given trial, we may not know the one or more reasons why God is allowing us to suffer. But we must be confident that God is sovereignly orchestrating all of the events of our lives for His good purposes. And if we are confident of God’s sovereign rule and His good plan, we can be sure that our suffering is not meaningless. God is using it to magnify His glory in our lives and in the lives of others, and He is making us more like Christ (Rom 8:28-29). In our suffering, we do not have to despair as if there is no hope. We can confidently accept and even embrace suffering as God’s loving way of accomplishing His purposes.