By Kathleen A. Trissel
When we suffer we want to know why, but few answers are satisfying. The meaning we draw from our suffering may answer some of our questions, but that often requires waiting until the suffering has passed. So, why do we suffer?
All suffering points to sin, and sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden. In the beginning, Adam and Eve didn’t know suffering. They knew only the presence of God walking with them in the cool of the day. But then they sinned, and suffering entered their lives. They worked by the sweat of their brow. One son killed another (Genesis 4:8). Fear and shame filled their hearts (see Genesis 3). Sin is at the root of all suffering.
David’s adulterous act with Bathsheba made sin personal, and he suffered for it the rest of his life. Second Samuel 12:10, 11 shows us the consequences of David’s sin: “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah. . . . Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.”
The pain he inflicted became his own pain.
The Promise of Suffering
Another reason we suffer is because Jesus promised it: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus told his disciples he was going away to the Father, so they needed his peace. His resurrection sealed this peace in their hearts.
We, too, can take heart and have courage when we put our hope in the resurrected Christ. But what happens when our suffering is all-consuming and disabling?
Steven Curtis Chapman offers one way to place our hope in Christ’s resurrection. He wrote the song “Not Home Yet” to capture the heart of hope. He sang, “We are not home yet. Keep looking ahead.”
Scripture echoes this refrain in Romans 8:22, 23: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves . . . groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
I know well the longing to be home with Jesus. The hope of Heaven is what keeps me going; it’s the joy set before me. Chronic illness, loss of career and friends, and emotional distress ripped my life apart. But these same circumstances also built me up again in Christ. Suffering has a way of shaking any comfort this world offers, and it calls us to cling to Jesus, the only one who matters and can lead us safely home.
God’s Word tells us that suffering produces perseverance, character, hope, and freedom from shame (see Romans 5:3-5). Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” None of us welcomes suffering, but through it Christ is formed in us at depths not previously known.
Steve Saint is the son of martyred missionary Nate Saint, one of five missionaries killed in Ecuador in 1956. He recently suffered a head and spinal cord injury after conducting a test at I-Tec, the company he founded to help reach indigenous people groups throughout the world. He said, “I’ve never felt so helpless. The intense pain and fear of drowning in my own saliva has given me compassion for paraplegics.” Steve added, “I’ve never asked God ‘why.’ God is teaching me that he writes his greatest stories from the most difficult beginnings.”
Refining and Turning Us to God
Malachi 3:2 says, “Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” The word for launderer’s soap refers to washing by stamping with the feet. The purpose of this intense washing is “so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord” (Malachi 3:3, New Living Translation).
What’s different about the worship we offer in suffering and the worship we offer when all is well? Worship in suffering comes from brokenness and dependence on God. The fire of our suffering consumes self-sufficiency. Paul shows this to us in 2 Corinthians 1:9: “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (NIV, 1984).
Suffering reminds us of our deep need for God. While God doesn’t want us to live indefinitely in the heat of our suffering, he does want us to live out of our brokenness and dependence, placing our full trust in him. Job is a perfect example.
Job never knew the reason for his suffering. When the Lord appeared to Job it wasn’t to explain that he was tested because Satan challenged his faithfulness. Instead, God confronted Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4). The discourse the Lord had with Job continued in this manner. God spoke. Job listened. Humility and awe resulted as Job was made aware of the wonders and majesty of God in a way he never knew. Job experienced the benefit of his suffering, but he never knew why he suffered.
Much of our suffering is unexplained. But even when our suffering has no explanation, the Word of God assures us it has purpose.
Romans 12:12 encourages us to be patient in affliction. Deliverance doesn’t always come quickly; we survive suffering by holding to the promises of God. Second Corinthians 1:3, 4 gives us the promise of comfort, reminding us that through the comfort we receive, we will be able to comfort others. Knowing our suffering is not in vain and that God will use it to help others gives us hope, purpose, and meaning.
God can turn our mourning into dancing (see Psalm 30:11). Circumstances may or may not change, but if we trust in Christ, he will change us through our suffering. It may be a change in attitude, a change in relationships, or a change of heart that enables us to see beyond our suffering. Knowing this world is not my home helps me endure suffering. While it’s different for each person, God will give us something of himself to hold on to.
Sometimes suffering destroys what we know and leaves us with ashes, and we may feel we don’t have the strength or ability to rebuild. It’s a painful place to be, but it’s a great place for God to receive the glory for rebuilding our lives. Life may never be the same, but God is always in control. To the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, and those who mourn, the Lord says he will “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).
God’s love for us never changes. It is unshakable. Jeremiah 31:3 tells us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
When there’s no strength to hold on, we don’t have to worry. He holds on to us and will never let go.
Kathleen A. Trissel is a freelance writer in Canton, Ohio.
Tools For Surviving Suffering
• Ask others to pray for you as you help carry
• Lean on family and friends who are supportive.
• Give thanks to God for the small things.
• Don’t judge yourself or your emotions.
• Read or listen to the Word of God. The Psalms offer a full range of emotional expression, as well as
declaring trust in God.
• Hold on to the promises of God.
• Do one thing a day that is part of your normal
• Listen to Christian music—even play it 24 hours a day from the hard drive of your computer or a favorite radio website.
Letting the Spirit Work in Your Suffering