The children of God, in Christian life, have to go through diverse experiences. Sometimes things may happen as they desire and plan. But quite often, things may not happen as the way they desire. Sometimes God may allow His children to go through severe trials and suffering in their Christian life. It may come in the form of financial crisis, problems at work place, relational problems with the loved ones, marital problems, sickness, or even bereavement. The question we may ask is this: Why does God allow His dear children to go through trials and sufferings? Every believer must understand one thing, that is, when we go through suffering, God has a purpose for us; No matter how great the suffering is, God is always at work. The Apostle Paul says, And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). It is for the Almighty God to direct all events, whether good or bad, to work out good for His children.
Suffering Unavoidable in Christian Life
I Peter 4:12 says suffering is part of Christian life. Every Christian should expect some suffering. Peter says, Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. In this passage, Peter is specifically speaking about suffering for the faith of Jesus Christ. Suffering was common for the early Christians. The book of Hebrews chapter 11 gives a long list of the saints of the past who underwent severe trials and sufferings for their faith in the Lord. The Apostle Paul reminds the believers in Philippi that suffering is part of the Christian calling, For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29).
Divine Purpose in our Suffering and Trials
God allows His children to go through suffering for various reasons:
Firstly, in order to make us strong in the Lord. The Apostle James writes, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (testings or trials); Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:2-4). James here calls on believers to positively consider the different kinds (divers) of trials in their lives because God allows the trials to come to believers for a purpose. God allows trials in order to put our faith to the test. The trials of lives will prove whether we truly believe in Christ. In this connection, James states that the testing of our faith will produce ‘patience’. The word ‘patience’ literally means ‘to remain under,’ means when an object is placed under intense pressure, it remains intact. Hence, the Lord allows trials in our lives in order to build up our endurance, that is, to make us strong Christians. The Apostle Paul views trials in the same way, We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Romans 5:3-5). Becoming mature Christians is a process, and it is like the formation of a strong and beautiful diamond. The diamond is the hardest rock on earth because it has undergone very intense pressure and heat for a long period of time. Likewise, trials make us spiritually mature and perfect.
Secondly, in order to draw us closer to God. In the Old Testament, the case of Job is a good example for this. When the righteous man Job underwent intense suffering, he responded to God, Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him (Job 13:15). In another occasion he said, For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth (Job 19:25). Later he said, When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined (Job 23:10-11). These words express the unquenchable faith of one who lives by faith, trusts in God for strength, and draws close to God for comfort. Even when it appears that God Himself has turned against Job, he will still trust in God.
Thirdly, in order to make us humble and depend on Him. For the Apostle Paul God allowed a particular suffering in his life in order to keep him humble and depend on God. Paul says, And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). At times suffering is very necessary to make us humble and depend on Him.
Fourthly, sometimes God allows suffering in our lives because of sin that we have committed against the Lord. Through suffering God wants to punish us because sin has its consequences and we must bear it. The king David went through such an experience in his life. Because of the adultery he committed with Bathsheba, the LORD announced to him through the prophet Nathan, Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun (2 Samuel 12:9-12).
God’s Presence in Our Suffering
When Christians go through suffering, they are never alone, for they have the Almighty God to comfort and console the afflicted souls. Our God is a God of all comfort who comforts us in all our struggles. The Apostle Paul encourages the Corinthians, Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). God comforts us through the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is called the ‘Comforter’ (John 14:15-16). The Spirit is the one called alongside to help, console, and intercede.
In our trials, we have a High Priest who empathizes with us. The author of Hebrews says, Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16). In trials, God not only blesses us with His grace and strength, but even makes a way of escape for us. Paul says, There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
For the children of God, in times of trials, the Almighty God is the refuge and fortress. The psalmist says, He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways (Psalms 91:1-11).
Our Response to Suffering
It is important that Christians must face suffering with the right perspective. I want to suggest few ways by which we should respond to our trials and suffering:
First, submit humbly to God. Job, in his severe affliction, responded to God with humble submission. When he was told that he had lost all that he had, he fell down upon the ground, and worshipped God. And he said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed by the name of the LORD (Job 1:21). The Apostle Peter reminds us, Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you (1 Peter 5:6-10).
Second, surrender our lives for God’s will be done. At times we may not know what God’s will for our lives are. But one thing we know that God knows everything and He does only the best for our lives. Therefore, in trials, we should surrender our lives to Him and pray as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane when He underwent the agonizing moments in His life, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done (Luke 22:42).
Third, rely on God’s Word. The psalmist says, It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver (Psalms 119:71-72). God’s Word is the divine counsel for the aching souls; God’s promises become our hope and source of strength.
Fourth, hope in God. In times of trials, we should never loose our heart, but firm by hoping in God. Jesus encourages His troubled disciples, Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me (John 14:1). The psalmist calls on his own troubled soul, Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance (Psalms 42:5).
Fifth, keep on running with patience. No matter how severe the trials are, we should never give up our trust and faith in God, but keep on believing Him, trusting in Him, and going in our Christian walk with Him. The author of Hebrews encourages us, Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Sixth, examine our lives. Since God sometimes send suffering into our lives because of sin that we have committed in our Christian lives, when we go through trials, it is necessary that we examine our lives for unconfessed sins and ask the Lord for forgiveness. Hence, David prayed, Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me (Psalms 51:1-3). In another occasion he prayed, Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalms 139:23-24).
Seventh, be joyful. The Lord Jesus calls on the disciples and says, In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33b). The Apostle James instructs believers to be joyful in trials, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (James 1:2). We can be joyful in trials because our Father in heaven is in charge of every situation in our lives (Romans 8:28).
Eighth, be thankful to God. In every situation, Christians should be thankful to God. Job’s response to his suffering was, The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed by the name of the LORD (Job 1:21). The Apostle Paul reminds us, In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Amen!