“For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart… For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…” ~ II Corinthians 4:15-17
It was a beautiful, slightly breezy day in Clearwater, Florida, and I was enjoying some time with my adorable three year old grandson. We were feeding birds and turtles on the bank of a pond near my son’s home when I received a telephone call. It wasn’t just any phone call. It was one of those calls when time seems to stop, and everything in you wants to believe that there has been some sort of terrible mistake. As I heard the devastating news from someone I love very dearly, a lump formed in my throat. My heart suddenly felt as heavy as lead, and the tears began to flow freely. My mind was racing… “How can this be?” “Why would God let this happen?” My six month old granddaughter had just gone through open heart surgery fifteen days earlier. Due to complications, a second surgery to implant a pacemaker was performed ten days after that. The last year and half had held a lot of sorrow, and now more grievous news.
Over the course of that sobering day I kept thinking about suffering, and the role it plays in the life of a believer. We must all deal with pain and suffering. Job said it rightly when he proclaimed, “Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” We live in a fallen world, and because of that trouble is inevitable. It comes to all of us sooner or later in one form or another. But what makes suffering different for the Christian? I mean God could prevent difficulties and distressing situations from disturbing the lives of His children, right? He could make all our days full of sunshine, prosperity, and only good news. But, would that be what is best for us? I think not. In fact, because the Scripture has much to say about suffering, I know that is not the case. So, that being true, let me ask what most of us have contemplated at one time or another. Why does God allow His children to suffer? What is His greater purpose in our sorrow?
In His great kindness, the Lord has given us some insight into the reasons He sends hard things into our lives. We find one purpose for suffering in II Corinthians 1:3-4. The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the church at Corinth, “Blessed be the God and Father or our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” The Lord allows us to suffer so that we can experience the mercy and comfort of our heavenly Father. We would never know the sweet solace of the consolation afforded believers through the power of the Holy Spirit if we never faced trials. The book of James tells us that one of the explanations for the suffering of Job was so He would find that the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (Js. 5:11) But that isn’t all. He wants us to experience His tender mercies first hand so we can extend that same comfort to others who are facing difficulties. A few verses later we find another purpose affliction serves, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead…”. (II Cor. 1:8-9) Sometimes when we are sailing along it can be easy to think that we are handling life’s waves pretty well. We can begin to trust in our own wisdom, strength, and abilities. But, then we are thrown a curve ball. Something overwhelming happens that we have no power to change. In the midst of the heartache the reality of our weakness and limitations comes crashing in on us, and we realize that our only hope is in God. And that is exactly where He wants us.
A third good purpose of affliction is our sanctification. One of the most beloved and well-known verses of Scripture is Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” The Puritan, Thomas Watson, called this verse “God’s divine cordial”, and it is indeed a very reassuring verse. But, when we think of the purposes of God in the circumstances of our lives we should not stop at verse 28 in this passage. The following verse goes on to tell us what God’s “good” for us is, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” You see, God’s ultimate best for us is conformity to His dear Son, the Lord Jesus. Often, the things we complain about and want to be rid of are the very things God is going to use to shape us into the image of Christ. The chronic illness, the difficult marriage, the financial struggles, the wayward child…these are the tools the Lord uses in the wonderful process of making us more like Jesus.
While I’m sure there are many purposes in the mind of God for sending painful situations our way, for the sake of time I will only share one more. We must always remember that God’s purposes are never as short-sighted as ours. We are reminded of this in the fourth chapter of II Corinthians. The Apostle Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed…For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…” God sends hardships our way in order that He might be glorified. I believe if we fight to develop an eternal perspective we can learn to view our trials differently. In the light of eternity any afflictions we suffer here are light. While to us they seem to last so long, from God’s point of view they are just for a fleeting moment.
All things are for our sakes that thanksgiving may abound to the glory of God! So, when heartrending circumstances come my way, whether it is a grandbaby with a heart defect or dreadful news received by a precious loved one, I can rest in the knowledge that the Father of mercies and God of all comfort will comfort me in ALL my tribulations. I can take delight in the fact that He is going to bring people into my life that I will be privileged to comfort in the same way that I have been comforted. I can rejoice in the truth that in the midst of my pain, the Lord is making me a little more like Jesus. And I can marvel that as God is moving around me and in me, He is being glorified. After all, for the redeemed that is what this life, in preparation for the next, is all about…the glory of God!
Soli Deo Gloria