We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you because you believed our testimony to you.
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (New International Version)
There are 66 books in the Bible. Every one of them, without exception, addresses human suffering. What’s the point of all this suffering? Isn’t salvation supposed to deliver me from all that mess? Why should I even read this dumb blog post?
All of the Apostle Paul’s epistles (a fancy way of saying “letters”) contain a perspective on suffering. And Paul’s reasoning and understanding of suffering goes like this:
- Jesus suffered. Throughout his earthly ministry, Christ endured opposition, trouble, and malevolence, especially in a cruel crucifixion and death. Yet, his suffering was the means of redeeming the world.
- Christians suffer. Throughout our earthly ministry, we will endure opposition, trouble, and malevolence; especially in a commitment to live the words and ways of Jesus. Yet, our suffering is the means of participating with Christ in redeeming the world.
- Suffering is mandatory. It is a significant means of spiritual growth for the Christian. And it is an important way of displaying Christianity’s virtues to a spiritually lost world.
- Misery is optional. There’s no solid biblical reason to become miserable or nihilistic with all the seemingly random suffering of the world. It’s hubris to think that my perspective on the subject of suffering and God is the right one.
- God is just. And Jesus is the rightful Judge of malevolent troublemakers.
- Christians, too, are to be just. Christians, however, are not the rightful judges; thus, there is to be neither executing of judgment on troublemakers nor any judgmentalism in Christ’s church.
- Suffering before glory. We are not above our Lord. Jesus rose from death, ascended to heaven, and is glorified. It had to happen that way. It has to happen that way for us, too. There must be suffering before there is glory.
- Suffering is temporary. Just like their Lord, Christians, too, shall rise from death, ascend to heaven, and participate in God’s glory. The suffering is for but a moment, but the glory is everlasting.
This reality of suffering and its purpose begs several questions of us. If this is all true (which it is) then:
- Why do Christians spend so much of their spiritual energy praying and working toward avoiding suffering at any and all costs?
- What does this tell us about ourselves?
- Where do we feel the pull to resist change?
- Will we allow suffering to be our teacher, or not?
- How might our suffering bring justice and righteousness to a lost world?
Suffering is the mechanism by which spiritual growth is activated. If Christians never faced suffering, there would be no need for faith. That’s because faith is not static but active; it is meant to be regularly used, and if it is not, then belief atrophies and is worth nothing. Much like a muscle, faith needs daily exercise.
Furthermore, the Christian’s exercise of faith is not only for personal spiritual wellness but also for the benefit of others. To put the matter another way, Christians put blood, sweat, and tears into justice for the common good of everyone – thereby putting themselves in a position to be leveled with unjust vitriol. Whenever we challenge the power of another’s unjust actions, the inevitable consequence is fireworks in the form of catching some suffering.
This is why suffering for the right reasons is a sign of God’s grace in one’s life. We aren’t supposed to suffer because of our own stupidity and bad decisions; we are to suffer by our advocacy of the powerless and the voiceless, thus redeeming time, energy, and resources for God’s kingdom. And it won’t be just a little bit of suffering; it will be a lot.
We may get rather impatient with all this suffering. Yet, it’s also a sign and demonstration of God’s great patience – not wanting anyone to perish but all to enter eternal life. The least we can do is endure hardship for the sake of another’s life.
The Lord isn’t slow to do what he promised, as some people think. Rather, he is patient for your sake. He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act. (2 Peter 3:9, GW)
And if we persevere to the end, we will be vindicated; and malevolent troublemakers will have to contend with God. When we see the injustice of evil winning and good people suffering, it’s easy to get discouraged. But it won’t always be this way. Evil is temporary. Love is eternal.
There must be suffering. Yet, there will also be glory. Our trials and tribulations are but for a moment. But God’s favor lasts forever.
So then, earnest and heartfelt prayer is in order and always in season:
Great God of justice and righteousness, we pray that you will make us perfectly fitted for what you have called us to be. We ask that you fill our good ideas and acts of faith with divine energy so that it all amounts to something. May you cause our lives to honor the name of Jesus; and may we soon experience the day when Christ honors us. Your grace is sufficient for us – whether in good times or bad, through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.