The Purpose of Suffering

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Is it wrong for Christians to be sad? After all, we are the recipients of ‘every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.’ Meeting some Christians, you might get the impression that a Christian is never troubled, or that they shouldn’t be (and if they are, they definitely shouldn’t let on). Is this right?

Even the greatest of Christians, full of faith and mightily used by God, have been subject to great sorrow.

As he considered the privilege of being entrusted with the Gospel, Paul openly confessed that he held ‘this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us,’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). Part of that weakness is being ‘perplexed, but not in despair’ (2 Corinthians 4:8). So a Christian may be unsure what is happening to us or what we should do, but we should never be completely without hope.

Indeed, the confirmation comes as we look at the life of Jesus. We find that He experienced every sort of emotion, yet without sin as we are reminded in Hebrews 4:15.

In John 11:33, we read that Jesus about Jesus coming to the tomb of Lazarus and seeing the mourners wailing. He was ‘deeply moved in His Spirit and greatly troubled’. The first phrase ‘deeply moved’ should be more strongly translated as ‘indignant’, but what about the second phrase ‘greatly troubled’? When He came face to face with death, He was strongly affected by pain and sorrow. So much so, that He wept (John 11:35). Yet, Jesus did not despair because He knew that it was the will of His Father for Him to raise Lazarus and to conquer death for us all (John 11:11, 23, 25-26).

Christians suffer. It may be caused by ourselves, other people, God or indeed Satan. There may be more than one cause. Some causes are internal, as we either respond to our circumstances by worshipping God or by serving something else. Other causes are external, as we respond to our fallen world, the influences of our world, or the work of the Devil. In some cases, we may never know the reason for suffering.

Even if we never find the cause, we can know the purpose of suffering: It is to answer the questions ‘Whom will I trust?’ and ‘Whom will I worship?’ Christian counsellor, Ed Welch points sufferers to God: ‘Somehow, turning to God and trusting him with the mysteries of suffering is the answer to the problem of suffering.’ (Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, pages 30-31).

If we seek answers in the Bible, we find that Jesus has experienced and is moved by our suffering, and that God has generously given us Jesus (Romans 8:32). This should prompt us to cry out to the Lord in dependence and worship; to believe that we are engaged in warfare for Christ against our own desires; to remember that God forgives sinners such as us; to recognize that our reason for living is not about us but about fearing God; and to hope in God (who Himself perseveres) even when suffering and depression say, ‘Surrender!’. That’s how we reveal the life of Jesus even though we live in mortal bodies, with weak minds and bodies (2 Corinthians 4:11).

It is not wrong for Christians to mourn but we should always remember that God is God, that He is good and that He is working everything together for our good, if we are His (Romans 8:28).

Yours in Christ’s service,

Stephen McDonald

Published by Stephen McDonald

Christian, preacher, broadcaster

%d bloggers like this: