Have you ever uttered these words (kindly or not):
- God, why am I suffering?
- What have I done to deserve this?
- Why this suffering?
Years ago, I made a personal decision to stop asking, “Why me?” Like it or not, the answer was and will always be, “Why not you?” In a world broken by sin, nothing makes any of us immune to suffering. The Bible makes it crystal clear in John 16:33:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
So I put away the Why question.
Go Ahead and Ask, “Why?”
After my spinal cord injury, I wanted to know how to suffer well. I did a deep dive into the book of Job to look for the answer. I just knew, if Job could do it so could I. Right away, I noticed Job used the W word many times. More importantly, I noticed God did not stop Job from asking Why. Job didn’t know the reason for his suffering. Further, God didn’t let Job in on that information. God allowed Job to ask and ask and ask God to explain the purpose for his suffering.
Well, if it was ok for Job, then it must be ok for us too.
God’s Purpose in Suffering
Would you like to know God’s purpose for your suffering?
In Eric Ortlund’s book Suffering Wisely and Well: the Grief of Job and the Grace of God, Ortlund outlines scriptural explainations for God’s purpose in different types of suffering. It is no surprise that every purpose ends in the glorification of God. What is surprising is how clearly we can know what God’s purpose is depending on the characteristics of the suffering.
Here is a summary of what Ortlund taught me.
5 Purposes for Suffering
- The first reason for suffering is SIN. Sin always leads to suffering. Sometimes, our suffering has been allowed by God as a natural consequence of some specific, unrepented sin. The signs of this type of suffering would be a habit of sin that the Holy Spirit has brought to your awareness, and in which you have chosen to continue. The purpose or desired outcome of this suffering would be for you to repent and turn away from that sin. In this case, your suffering is evidence of God’s mercy — it can bring you back into right relationship with Him.
- Another reason for suffering is SPIRITUAL GROWTH. This is not to say that your suffering is punishment for a lack of spiritual growth. Rather, it is an opportunity for a growth spurt of sorts. We see this clearly in the life of Joseph. He lived through so much suffering: sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely imprisoned and then forgotten there, and finally, unrecognized by his true family. But through it, Joseph’s faith grew. As a young man, he was arrogant and foolish. Through his suffering, we see him live with integrity and humility, finding contentment in prison and boldly giving credit to God. In his final days, he saw all of his suffering as part of God’s sovereign plan to save his family. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20) His suffering spurred his spiritual growth. Signs of this suffering would be painful circumstances followed by painful circumstances and on and on in which you learn more and more about God. The purpose would be to grow your faith which will in turn glorify God through the fruits of that faith.
- A third reason for suffering is for the sake of Christ. We see this with the apostles and even modern day disciples like Andrew Brunson. This type of suffering is not tied to spiritual growth, although that could certainly happen along the way. The signs are persecution specifically for claiming faith in Christ. The purpose would be to glorify God as you cling to unwavering faith.
- A fourth reason for suffering is wandering. Like the Israelites who wandered in the desert, we may wander in order to learn to trust God. A sign for the wandering type of suffering is a season of intense training in a limited timeframe. It is usually accompanied by complaining and wanting to return the the past, which is remembered as better than it was. The purpose is to learn to trust God in a day to day way. Remember the dependence on manna? In a wandering suffering (our desert experiences) we toughen up spiritually and become keenly aware of how much we don’t really want the life we used to enjoy. We learn how much we desperately need to depend on God in the day to day minutia of our lives. We suffer intensely and at the same time we grow in beautiful intimacy with God in a short time.
- A fifth reason for suffering is the Job-like Ordeal in which our suffering does not seem to fit into the last four categories. The signs include intense and yet inexplicable circumstances which are too difficult to power through. You cannot see a way back to normal. The pain simply does not make sense. Why would God put us through suffering like this? What is the purpose? The book of Job holds the answer. It is to realize the content and quality of our love for God. Is our love for God a love for the good things we get from being in right relationship with him — things like peace, comfort, security, and blessings? Or is our love for God actually a love for the person of God alone.
Knowledge is Power
Knowing God’s purpose for your suffering is powerful. When you know how to glorify God in and through our suffering, you gain the strength to endure with peace. Maybe, like Paul, you will even gain joy.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
So, friend, look for God’s purpose in your suffering. It will always end in a closer relationship with Him and that’s worth it all — the tears, the pain, the loss — everything.
Using the list above, can you identify the purpose of your suffering? If you feel brave, I’d love for you to share it in the comments. Often, telling a friend can be a step towards glorifying God in your circumstances.
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One of those goodies is a list of 12 Verses to Help You Endure. I’d love to send it to you.
The Strength You Need — Just In Time
BlogNicole O’MearaDecember 29, 2022death, Corrie Ten Boom, devotional
I’ve written a short devotional especially for those with rare disease and chronic illness. It’s exclusive to subscribers! Visit my website to get your free copy. Used with permission of the author, Nicole O’Meara.