We celebrate in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope- Romans 5:2b-4 NASB
Suffering is ubiquitous in this life (John 16:33, 1st Peter 4:12). Every human irrespective of race, socio-economic status or religious affiliation will suffer in some way.
The Bible tells us humans suffer because we live in a world that was broken by sin, rebellion and evil. When Adam and Eve chose to blow off God, go their own way and do their own thing they did way more than become free moral agents, they opened the door wide for sin, evil and suffering to enter the world (Genesis 3:1-24). Misery, pain and difficulty have been hard-baked into the human condition ever since. For people who don’t know Jesus suffering just sucks. This life is a whole lot of pain with no real promise of hope or gain. In a good many cases life just sucks and then you die (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Christians have hope beyond the hardness of this life. God does not cause suffering but He will (if we let Him) use it as a force for good in our lives (Romans 8:28, Romans 8:38-39).
Here’s how it works:
God uses suffering to take us from one place to another-
Oftentimes God uses suffering, persecution and trouble to take His people out of a less-than-productive but comfortable spiritual situation into a far less comfortable but much-more-productive spiritual situation. Such was the case with the early church. The early days of Christianity were in many ways idyllic. The early Christians love for Jesus and each other enabled them to create a beautiful little faith community where everyone was loved and cared for (Acts 2:42-47). Nonetheless, early Christians did little (like no) evangelizing outside of the Jewish community (Acts 2-7). If it hadn’t been for some really nasty persecution Christianity would likely have remained a small sect of Judaism. It would have likely died out by the end of the first century. The stoning of Stephan and the persecution that followed changed the trajectory of Christianity forever. That awful event forced Christians out of their idyllic existence (Acts 8:1) and as a direct result of their suffering the gospel spread all over the world. If you are a gentile Christian you have directly benefitted from their hardship. God does the same thing today. Oftentimes, persecution, personal tragedy or job loss is a catalyst for change that brings about a whole new level of spiritual usefulness in our lives.
God uses sinful behavior to reveal spiritual truth to the sinner-
God does not make anyone treat anyone else badly. However, the way people behave reveals a lot about who they really are and what they’re all about. Such was the case with Saul. Saul was rejected by God as King (1st Samuel 15), then over the course of the next ten to fifteen years Saul caused David to suffer horribly by treating him very badly. When it was all said and done everyone (including Saul) knew he one-hundred-percent deserved to be rejected as King. God uses bad behavior as mirror to help individuals see their sin. What they do with that knowledge is entirely up to them. All we are responsible for in these situations is our own response. We can respond like David did and allow difficult situations to refine us and prepare us for the next big blessing or we can become just like the jerks who hurt us (Ephesians 4:26, Hebrews 12:15, Ephesians 4:30-31).
Suffering produces wisdom-
Suffering and hardship cuts through the noise of life and makes us aware of all the things that really matter in life. Suffering, pain and hardship cause us to cry out to God for help and wisdom in a way we just don’t in times of prosperity and ease. Anytime we ask God for wisdom two things happen: He gives it in abundance without finding fault and we grow closer to Him (Psalm 57:1-3, James 1:5, Proverbs 2:3-6)
Our suffering has the power to make us like Jesus-
Suffering is hard. There is literally nothing fun about it. That being said, suffering is what makes us more like Jesus. In fact, suffering even made Jesus better (Hebrews 2:9-10, Hebrews 2:18, Hebrews 5:7-9) Suffering made Jesus more obedient, more able to sympathize with the pain of others, and more able to comfort the hurting (2ndCorinthians 1:5). Ultimately, it was Jesus’ suffering that gave Him glory in His resurrection (Luke 24:25-26, Romans 8:17) If we let it suffering does the same things for us that it did for Jesus. Suffering makes us better, kinder, more sympathetic and it gives us a better resurrection (Hebrews 11:35-38, Philippians 3:10-11, Revelation 20:6).
We control how we respond to suffering.
We can shake our fists at God. We can let our personal pain transform us into harsh, angry, haters. Or we can allow God to take our suffering and transform us into something beautiful and precious. Faith is the key to becoming something beautiful in the midst of hardship. Hebrews eleven tells of those who lived by faith. All suffered. All were confused by their circumstances. Some were flogged and tortured. Some were imprisoned. Some even died for their faith.
In spite of their circumstances the heroes of Hebrews eleven held tenaciously to the belief God is good. God’s assessment of these people is that they were so good and pure and beautiful this world was literally not worthy of their presence. They trusted God with their suffering and He transformed them into spiritual gold.
God is still in the business of doing beautiful things with hard situations.