Devotional 3: Why Do We Have to Suffer?
(Excerpted from Sunsets by Deborah Howard, RN, CHPN, pages 133-147)
Since the Fall brought suffering into the world, God integrates it into His plan for us. It should be enough for God to tell His poor, sinful children that suffering exists in this world in order to accomplish His purposes. But He is a merciful God who loves us enough to provide more specific answers. Here are some of them.
1. TO COMPLETE OUR SANCTIFICATION. Sanctification means that we are being set apart for God . . . Sanctification is an ongoing process. It is gradual and progressive. We are now to grow in Christlikeness for the rest of our lives, and we never attain that perfection this side of death. Christ's standard is the one we strive for but cannot achieve in this life. What tools does God use to transform us into the people He wants us to be? He knows exactly what circumstances, both good and bad, are necessary to produce that result in us. He may use, in addition to our circumstances, all the gifts He gives us, all the people with whom we come into contact, and most of all the Scriptures. His tools are limitless.
2. TO DRIVE US TO GOD. One of the by-products of adversity is that we sense our utter helplessness and inability to change the events of our lives. We begin to realize that something more powerful than we are controls life's circumstances. For unbelievers, that thing in control is chance. Fate. Luck. Their lives are subject to a toss of a dice or the flip of a coin . . . Christian believers should not believe that fate, chance, or anything else apart from God controls our lives. We must know that God is in control . . . It's easy to start believing that we are in control . . . We can carelessly glide through life that way until when? Until we are brought face to face with a situation definitely, obviously, and completely out of our control. "Our tendency to self-sufficiency can only be overcome when our situation is beyond our sufficiency" (Susan Hunt, Spiritual Mothering, 161). It is then that we should fall to our knees in prayer, begging God to help us and to forgive our arrogance. And ironically it is then that we are our strongest, because we acknowledge God as our only true source of strength. And there is no strength mightier than God's.
3. TO TEACH US GOD'S LAW. Here is the correct response to affliction: "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (Psalm 119:71-72) . . . But don't lose sight of the point - that adversity sometimes serves to teach us the decrees of God, our Father. Our circumstances can bring us to a place where we hungrily turn to the Word of God for answers to the questions raised by our sorrow. Since God teaches us through adversity, it is our responsibility to learn from it.
4. TO TEACH US TO TRUST GOD'S PROMISES. God tells us in the Scriptures that we can place our trust in Him. He tenderly cares for us. As it is written in Isaiah 40:11, "[God] will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young." We are His lambs if we have chosen to follow Christ, the Great Shepherd. When we're facing death, or the death of a loved one, can we still trust in the promises of God? Absolutely. The more hurtful the trial, the more we can rely on His faithfulness to us.
5. TO DEMONSTRATE GOD'S LOVE. Suffering and death occur to demonstrate God's love? It sure doesn't seem like it, does it? It seems as if God has something against us. But that's not the case at all . . . God is faithful to keep His promises, and He has promised to work everything for our good (see Romans 8:28). As we're reminded in Romans 8:29, it is all for the purpose of conforming us to the image of His Son . . . So even the affliction we encounter is a demonstration of His kindness toward us. The result will be for our good. Affliction is the tool He uses to accomplish the result.
6. TO DISCIPLINE HIS WAYWARD CHILDREN. Another point worth mentioning here is that because He loves us, often He will bring adversity into our lives to discipline us when we are disobedient. This chastening is also intended for our good as it serves to increase our spiritual maturity and to make us who He wants us to be. "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him who he loves, as a father loves the son in whom he delights" (Proverbs 3:11-12).
7. TO EQUIP US TO COMFORT OTHERS. One of the reasons we go through trials is to equip us to comfort others. We are not given comfort from others so we can merely be comfortable. We are given comfort so that we can, in turn, become comforters.
8. TO PREPARE US FOR COMING GLORY. The Scriptures repeatedly juxtapose suffering and glory. These opposing concepts are yet intricately interwoven. Suffering and glory are so linked that sometimes it's difficult to see one without the other. We must live with eternity's values in view. We're told that a beautiful reward awaits those who remain steadfast under trial - the crown of life (James 1:12). The trials that come our way here serve to prepare us for heaven . . . The apostle Paul wrote, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). None of us had to suffer to the degree that Paul did, and yet he was able to make such a statement. Our sufferings last for such a little while compared to the glories of heaven.
9. TO GIVE US OPPORTUNITIES TO WITNESS. Sometimes we speak more loudly by our actions than by our words. Sometimes we have greater opportunities to show Christ in our lives through adversity than through obvious blessing. The courage and devotion of the men and women of the Bible demonstrate that truth. Even now their attitudes and their responses to hardship and suffering teach us, encourage us, and even inspire us to develop those same qualities . . . We have the opportunity, through the way we handle suffering and pain and death, to speak loudly and clearly to those around us. They can sense our devastation and despair, or they can see our quiet, accepting submission to God's will . . . The New Testament encourages us to view our own death not with fear but with joy if we are believers in Christ. The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8, "Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
10. TO MAKE US MORE GRATEFUL AND APPRECIATIVE. You've heard the stories again and again. Someone is diagnosed with a terminal disease, and suddenly the person gains a new appreciation for life. Even the little things seem so previous. Priorities change with this new perspective, and the person sees the world around him with new eyes . . . If there was no suffering, how would we even recognize the good times, the blessed times, when we are so completely happy? If we didn't feel bad every now and then, why would we ever thank God for the times when we are pain-free and feeling great? We would just take the good times for granted, wouldn't we? Suffering gives us the contrast we need to become grateful for what we have.
11. TO WEAN US FROM THIS WORLD.
Would you like to live your life conpletely free from pain, problems, suffering, and death? Of course. Well, guess what. Those of us who have a faith relationship with Christ will get to live that existence - it's called heaven. Ask yourself a question: If you were living in a pain-free, problem-free, suffering-free world, how anxious would you be for heaven? Therefore, one of the purposes of suffering and death is to make us long for heaven. If we were always youthful, slim, great-looking, healthy, wealthy, and wise, how much would we actually look forward to God taking us home?
12. TO CREATE ULTIMATE GLORY AND REWARD IN THE LIFE TO COME.
Significant rewards await us in heaven. Our rewards are things we want to think about and to anticipate if we are heirs with Christ. We wouldn't have been told about them if that were not so. No, I don't think rewards should be our primary motivation for obedience or our total focus in desiring heaven. If that were the case, we'd be looking toward heaven to fulfill ourselves, for our own selfish gain. No, that won't happen. Greed does not exist in heaven. However, it might heighten our desire for heaven if we understood more about the rewards awaiting us there. Here are just a few: "He who overcomes [those who have been saved by faith in Christ alone] will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son." (Revelation 21:7 NIV)
13. TO LOOSEN OUR GRIP ON THE PEOPLE AND EARTHLY THINGS WE LOVE.
When it becomes apparent that the patient is not going to get well and is admitted to the hospice program, the patient and their families begin the process of letting go. Many people confuse letting go with "giving up," Which si a different thing altogether. The change in the family's mind-set is gradual and subtle. The goal changes from making the patient well, an unrealistic and unattainable goal, to keeping the patient comfortable, both realistic and attainable. I have come to believe that another change also takes place. As the disease progresses and the family witnesses the loved one becoming more and more distant, they discover that it gradually becomes easier to let go. Eventually we get to a point where we can honestly say that we would rather our loved one pass away than to stay in his or her present state.
14. TO REVEAL SIN IN US.
One of the ways God reveals sin in us is by sending us through trials and suffering. How we go through adversity says a lot about our inner character. Do we fret and wring our hands as if there were no God at all? Do we get angry and throw things and lash out at everyone around us? Do we feel sorry for ourselves to the point of despair and hopelessness? Do we blame God and accuse Him of not loving us? These are all symptoms of sinful thinking. These symptoms can help identify what's wrong with us so we can repent and obtain God's help to change . . .
God blesses us by revealing sin in us. Many times we are suffering under the burden of sin without even realizing it. It is easy to overlook our own faults, weaknesses, and sins. If we are to clean up our lives (and/or our thinking), we need our sins exposed. Then we can deal with them with the Holy Spirit's enablement and move on toward greater maturity. Other times we may not see ourselves clearly enough, or - even seeing ourselves clearly - we may be uable to deal with the sin ourselves. That's when it's time to "call the doctor."
15. TO PUNISH THE WICKED.
God is a God of wrath for those who do not believe in His son. John MacArthur writes, "God's wrath is almost entirely missing from modern presentations of the gospel. It is not fashionable to speak of God's wrath against sin or to tell people they should fear God." It's just not nice. Well, guess what. Sometimes you need to talk about things that are not nice for the sake of those who need to hear it . . .
"Now I want to remind you, though you one fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe . . . just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing punishment of eternal fire." (Jude 5, 7)
This is the ultimate punishment of hell. Even in this life, though, God may use suffering to punish disobedience and wickedness.