Summary: God’s plan for your life is to bring you through regular periods of suffering.
Most people do not invite hardship into their lives; instead, we actively seek the path of least resistance, purposing to avoid difficulty at virtually any cost.1 When we finally experience suffering, it appears inconceivable that the situation could result in our benefit.2 However, the Apostles understood the purpose of suffering, and when viewing their circumstances through the lens of eternity, they found reasons to rejoice in their affliction (cf., Romans 5:2-4; 8:16-18, 28; James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:12-14).3 In addressing the issue of Christian suffering, theologian John Feinberg comments, “Though God isn’t the author of evil and affliction, he does allow it to happen. When it does and we suffer, God isn’t helpless to put affliction to positive use in our life. While the affliction isn’t good, it can serve as an occasion for God to work in our lives to bring some good out of evil.”4 This understanding, in light of our eternal hope in Jesus, ensures that we do not have to grieve as non-believers do (cf., 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Given the proper context, Christians understand suffering to be part of our sanctification—a spiritual purification process used to conform us into the image of Jesus (cf., Proverbs 17:3; Hebrews 12:7-13; 1 Peter 4:1; Romans 8:29). Although every situation is unique, God generally uses suffering to 1) manifest His power, 2) remove pride and provide an opportunity for the believer to demonstrate genuine faith, 3) demonstrate the Body of Christ concept (cf., 1 Corinthians 12:12-26), 4) promote holiness and intimacy with God, 5) prepare believers for future trials, 6) prepare Christians for judgment.5 Moreover, suffering exposes us to the detrimental consequences of sin, serving as a constant reminder to hate sin, while preparing Christians for our eternal occupation—reigning with Christ.
Furthermore, from an eternal perspective, our temporal suffering is reduced to insignificance, in light of the glory that awaits us (cf., Romans 8:18). The experiential education obtained during our life on Earth prepares us for our eternal occupation, proving invaluable from a heavenly perspective, and thereby considerably outweighing the suffering we endure during the process. Moreover, God promises that Christians will experience everlasting life, void of sorrow, tragedy, pain, and suffering (cf., Matthew 25:46; 1 John 2:25; Isaiah 25:8-12; Revelation 7:15-17; 21:4-8; 22:3-5). Therefore, plotting our lives on a perpetual timeline, the period of suffering approaches zero percent of our holistic lives (even if a person were to endure anguish continuously over a 100-year lifetime). Consequently, no matter how much suffering we endure in this life, it is infinitesimally small in comparison to joy experienced over the course of our interminable lives with Jesus. In this regard, heaven dramatically mitigates the suffering experienced on Earth, ultimately dwarfing our temporal anguish to insignificance.
- People occasionally endure significant pain and suffering to obtain personal recognition or fame, attributing greater value to their desired end state than the promise of relieving temporary suffering.
- It is essential to recognize the distinction between consequential suffering from sin (cf., 1 Peter 4:15-18), and righteous suffering (cf., 1 Peter 4:12-14, 19). Honestly evaluating the situation can help to identify God’s will, and determine how the believer ought to proceed. In either event, we can rest assured God will use the situation for our benefit, ultimately using our circumstances as a means of purification and eventual glorification.
- All Scriptural references are from the HCSB, unless stated otherwise.
- John S. Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil (Illinois: Crossway, 2004), 477.
- Ibid., 479-486.