The cross and the resurrection are the ultimate answer to suffering. And we really can trust the good purposes of God in suffering to make us more like Jesus.
1. God uses suffering to teach us His Word.
Suffering makes us more receptive to God’s transforming Word. “Though the word and the Spirit do the main work, yet suffering so unbolts the door of the heart, that the word hath an easier entrance.” (Richard Baxter) Thomas Watson called afflictions our “preacher and tutor,” and “A sickbed often teaches more than a sermon.” (Ps.119:67, 71, 75, note: Matin Luther said Psalm 119 follows the pattern of prayer > meditation > trial)
2. God uses suffering to wean us from idols.
“Sinful desires can lurk in our hearts unnoticed because those desires are neither threatened nor thwarted. But suffering stirs the calm waters of latent sinful desires. It reveals the true state of our hearts. It’s God diagnostic tool, preparing the way of the medicine of gospel truth.” (Tim Chester, Ps.119:50, 92, 107, 153; Ecc. 7:13-14)
3. God uses suffering to discipline us.
Suffering through discipline is a badge of sonship. There is a distinction between God’s father discipline and punishment for guilt (Ps.103:10-13). Suffering is part of our training (Heb. 12:5-11). “God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively on us.” (Thomas Watson)
4. God uses suffering to test and purify our faith.
Endurance is essential, not optional (Mt. 10:20; Rom. 5:3-5). Rejoicing in trials reveals the genuineness of our faith (Js. 1:2-4; 1 Pt. 1:3-7) Suffering refines our faith (Ps.12:6; Prov.27:21; Job 1:13-19; 2:7-8; 23:1-10). Like a Damascus blade, a believer is strengthen only by sleeping in the flames. The refiners fire is hot–but it burns away the dross and tempers the metal of our faith, making it stronger.
5. God uses suffering to increase our usefulness.
“Let a Christian be but two or three years without an affliction and he is almost good for nothing.” (John Flavel) God uses suffering to work on our character to become dependent on Christ and useful to others (Jn.15:1-2). Sometimes, God positions us in difficult circumstances that paradoxically make us more effective (i.e. Paul, Philippians 1:12-14; 2 Cor. 1:3-7; 4:7-12). The gospel achieves victory through our apparent defeat.
6. God uses suffering to prepare us for glory.
Present afflictions actually work for our future glory (Rom.8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” (C.S. Lewis) View your trials as seeds of eternal glory planted in the soil of your present lives. God is using our trials to make us better, more beautiful creatures than we could ever otherwise become. Demolishing our old cottage is painful, but God is building a palace is you allow Him.
Suffering is not good in itself. It is the result of sin and brokenness in our world. Yet God promises to weave dark threads of affliction and trial into the tapestry of His ultimate saving plan. He is a sovereign God, but His ways involve suffering. With wisdom, love, and goodness, He designs our difficulties and assigns our afflictions to conform us to the character of Christ (233).
My greatest comfort comes from knowing that, because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus; the suffering will someday cease once and for all, and that God’s ultimate purpose to glorify Himself in bringing many some and daughters to glory will be fulfilled (234).
Adapted from Brian G. Hedges, Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2010. p.222-234