I have never experienced real suffering. I mean, I’ve endured a single 5-year long headache, but somehow it was manageable and didn’t feel like true suffering as I know some of you have suffered. My marriage has had its moments (as all do), but for the most part I have been very grateful for the man God has given me. I have never experienced true loss in my life, save for my grandparents who had long been expected to pass, or who felt distant to me at the time.
But this year, my husband has been plagued with one health hurdle after another as his body has mechanically failed him. Nothing life threatening, nothing that can’t be fixed, but there has been no explanation and it feels as though there is no end. He has been in such pain, recovery has been long, and unfortunately, we’re not done. He is currently gearing up for the fourth (and hopefully last) surgery that he’ll have had in eight months’ time. Through weeks of being bed-bound, learning to use a walker, crutches, knee scooters, shower stools, and bedpan urinals, he feels tired and utterly forgotten.
Through my husband, I am learning what it means to truly, heartbreakingly suffer. The anxiety, depression, and despair are real, and there have been many days that I have found him in bed, with the lights off, staring out the window at nothing. Through my husband, I have developed a compassion and empathy for suffering. For every one of you reading this who is experiencing this level of pain, whether in your marriage, in your grief, in your health or otherwise, I see you…and I feel your distress.
Why Does God Allow Suffering?
Here’s the question of all time. Highly intelligent men and women have written dissertations on this conundrum and still many are left wondering and doubting God’s goodness in the answer. I am not as well educated as other might be, but I’ll attempt to share with you my simplistic answer.
God allows suffering because we chose to live in a fallen world, and He has given us the free will to make our own choices. Many times we suffer because of our own poor decisions, and many times we do so because of the poor decisions of others. Sometimes though, there doesn’t seem to be anyone to blame and there is no way to make any logical sense of it.
So, what then? Why does God allow suffering in those situations? It just doesn’t seem fair.
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God allows us to suffer so that we can grow in Him.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. Isaiah 48:10
Just as impurities and imperfections are burned away from precious metals through the refiner’s fire, so do our flaws get put to the test through our suffering. It may not be pleasant, on the contrary I can assure you that it won’t be, but only when life gets tough can you see real growth.
When we avoid, distract, or run from the pain of suffering, we deprive ourselves from the real growth that God is wanting to do in and through you.
Can I be super brutal and honest for a second? Life is pain, there is no way around it. As Americans, we tend to expect life to contain a certain amount of ease, so when any level of tribulation arises, we complain. But most of the world experiences more trials in a single day then we will experience in a lifetime.
Many of our Christian brothers and sisters on other continents face attacks, kidnapping, prison time, or death simply by worshiping the same God we take for granted. Many around the world don’t have running water or plumbing. Children in parts of Africa, Asia and South America have to travel hours each day just to go to school.
While I don’t envy their situation, I do wonder at the level of intimacy they have with their creator and provider. Will I ever be blessed to experience the same?
God allows suffering because through it, Jesus was made perfect.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. Hebrews 2:10
Prior to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, a lamb free from blemish, perfect in every physical way, would be the sacrifice for a man’s sins. This was a ritual that the Israelites alone had been instructed to observe, the shedding of blood being the payment of death for the sin(s) committed.
Jesus, both fully God’s son and fully God, came to earth as the perfect lamb. But His perfection was not made complete until He suffered in His sacrifice.
Now we, being called to imitate Christ in all we do, are also called to perfection through suffering. If Christ could do it, being fully man and feeling all of the emotions men do, so can I try.
He allows us to suffer so that He will be glorified.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7
What greater testimony than to share how God has carried you through? Because there is no other point than to glorify Him in the end. After all, that is why we were created.
Where is God in Our Suffering?
He is right where He needs to be, holding you in His arms. He has promised to never leave you nor forsake you. Even if this means that things will still get hard, He will be there.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2
Here’s the thing though, in order to receive His help, you need to obey His instruction. When we go off track, trying to solve our problems on our own, we tend to create further suffering. Allow God to help you, His way.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. Psalm 34:19
Please do not interpret this verse incorrectly. God will deliver the righteous from his affliction; however, it may not happen until all has passed away. He promises a better tomorrow with no more sadness or pain, but that day is not today.
Our sister in Northern Africa, persecuted daily, hiding her faith in fear, will most likely not see relief this side of heaven. Why do we expect God to provide a quicker turnaround for us than for her?
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:8-10
God Himself is with you, just as He is with her. Through your suffering, He will not leave you. He is waiting, full of grace, to restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you in Christ Jesus.
Life might get hard, but it will not destroy you. Your suffering might pull you down into the depths of despair, but you will not drown. The same God who built the universe, who dug the depths of the sea, and told the mountains to rise, He is on your side.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10
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Count It All Joy
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
It seems a cruel joke to ask a person to find joy in suffering, doesn’t it? I know my husband has always struggled with understanding the meaning of this, picturing a forced smile of enjoyment and resenting the Lord for requesting it of him.
Are we really being called to “enjoy” our suffering? Is that what James meant in his letter to the Jews? I don’t really think so. There is a big difference in finding enjoyment in our awful circumstances vs. finding joy in what those circumstances will bring.
Nobody is asking you to “like” the difficult season that you are in. You don’t have to be happy with the pain you are experiencing. But it will do you great good to allow joy to rain over you with the prospect of growing closer to the Lord, becoming more like Jesus in His suffering, and in glorifying God because of all He will do through this period in your life.
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Not only that, but 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. Romans 5:3-5
Count it all joy, dear sisters. Suffering is really hard. It brings so many tears. But it also brings so many good and glorious things in the end. Stay the course, allow yourself to be encouraged by God’s word, cry out to Him in your time of need, and He will deliver you in the end.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12