Do you ever wonder why it seems like so many Christians endure incredible suffering? Nearly everyday I hear of another of another believer or Christian family facing a tragic, heartbreaking, or dire situation. It’s hard to push away the immediate question of “why”? Why does there have to be so much pain? Why is life so heavy for so many of those who are following Christ? Why isn’t God protecting his people?
I’ve wrestled with these questions many times in my own family’s trials. Sometimes, it seems, the deeper our faith roots go, the more the trials come.
However, as I have grown over the years and have seen the deep work Christ has done in our family through the trials that once (and sometimes still do) caused me to ask “why”, I have grown in my understanding of why God allows so much suffering in the lives of those he loves, and why the Church needs to learn to suffer with the hope of Christ.
Suffering with hope reflects our suffering Savior
“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
If we, as the church, follow a suffering Savior, we should prepare ourselves to suffer with him. If even Christ learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8) – then how much more do we, as his children, need to learn obedience through suffering?
God’s Word says clearly that, since Christ suffered in the flesh (to the point of death) for the sake of our freedom from sin, we too should expect to suffer as we follow him – suffering for the name of Christ and suffering for the sake of learning obedience and being sanctified from sin.
Yet we have hope that the suffering world doesn’t know.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)
Just as Christ’s suffering had an eternal purpose, every moment of our suffering as believers has a purpose and is being used to prepare us for our promised eternity with Christ (Romans 8:28). This hope and joy we have in even the most despairing circumstances is what declares the infinite worth of following Christ to the world – most powerfully as we share in his sufferings.
Lastly, not only do we share in his sufferings, but we share abundantly in his comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:5)
In the words of Charles Spurgeon,
“It is a blessed thing that when we are most downcast, then we are most lifted up by the consolations of the Spirit. One reason is, trials make more room for consolation. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our hearts – He finds it full – He begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler the man is, the more comfort he will always have, because he will be more fitted to receive it. Another reason why we are often happiest in our troubles is this – then we have the closest dealings with God.”¹
Suffering with hope proves our faith genuine.
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
When suffering hits, it either drives us away from Christ or drives us to him. As believers, suffering is used as the “pressure” to reveal what is really inside of us and to teach us endurance. As we are strengthened by Holy Spirit, we endure. As we endure, the Spirit grows in us the character of Christ. And as we grow in the character of Christ, we experience hope – a hope that is found in our faith being proven genuine.
The truth is – it’s easy to follow Christ when everything’s going according to our plans and life is comfortable. Therefore, it’s often not until we pass through the furnace of affliction that our faith is proven genuine, and as we see the evidence of Christ at work within us – we grow in hope.
As the church, we shouldn’t seek out suffering, but we also shouldn’t fear it. When we see a fellow Christian suffering a senseless tragedy or carrying a burden that we can’t imagine carrying, we may be tempted to ask “why”. But we can pray and trust that Christ will be near to them in their pain, sufficient in their weakness, and will use it to accomplish his good purposes.
Christian, Christ will be faithful to allow only what he sees as necessary to produce endurance, character, and hope in us – a hope that will not put us to shame.
Suffering with hope testifies to the power of the true gospel and disqualifies false gospels.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
We live in a world that tirelessly pursues comfort, success, and happiness. If we, as believers, experience nothing but comfort, success, and happiness, why would anyone take notice of the treasure that we have in Christ?
However, when a Christian suffers and simultaneously experiences sadness and grief with hope, joy, and contentment in Christ – the world takes notice.
When we are broken, yet hope-filled, the treasure of Christ shines through our brokenness. For this reason, when the church suffers for the sake of Christ, it shows the treasure that the true gospel is and exposes the emptiness of false gospels. One example of a powerless gospel is the prosperity gospel.
Millions are being sucked into the lie that if we have enough faith, God will prosper us in an earthly sense. But when suffering hits, they don’t know how to reconcile their reality with what they’ve always believed about God, which often leads to anger, despair, and rejection of the “goodness” of God. However, the true gospel says that in God’s goodness and love he sacrificed his only Son to give us forgiveness of sins and eternal life with him – not heaven on earth. In God’s grace, he allows trials to separate us from a love for this world and from seeking our happiness in its shifting sands, in order to free us to love him more and find eternal security, hope, and joy in him alone.
For this same reason, we shouldn’t see suffering as a hindrance to our ministry to others but, rather, as the very means God may use to minister the life-giving hope of the gospel to those around us.
I have found that Christ has used my suffering far more than he has used my times of ease to reach those around me with the gospel. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can only share the hope of Christ when we are suffering. Our encouragement and willingness to serve others in their suffering is also an incredible witness to the gospel. However, the treasure of the gospel is most powerfully displayed through our broken cracks, and the power of Christ is most greatly seen through our weaknesses.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our suffering is never just about us. It is meant for our growth, the growth of the body, and to magnify the power of the gospel through weak and broken vessels like ourselves.
Suffering with hope draws us into greater unity with each other.
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” (Romans 12:10-16)
Suffering has a way of setting aside differences and drawing people together in a common goal. Christians are “one body”, which means that we should be always be marked by unity and love in Christ. But the reality is, the Church is filled with redeemed sinners, not fully sanctified ones.
We are commanded to love one another, rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, live in harmony with one another, not be haughty, and never be wise in our own sight.
However, these things don’t come naturally, do they? So how does Christ grow these things in his children? Whether we like it or not – most often on the road of suffering.
The reality is, the body of Christ needs suffering because it has a way of stripping away our “false pretenses”, our outward goodness, and our independence from Christ and each other. As Christ reveals our weaknesses, shows us the depth of our need for him, and comforts us in our affliction, we will grow in humility, unity, and love towards one another.
The church was never meant to be a place filled with perfect, whole, lukewarm people. Rather, it is made up of broken sinners who have been redeemed and are in the process of being made whole into the image of Christ.
If you are not currently suffering, thank the Lord for this season and use it to grow in spiritual maturity through reading and obeying the Word and being connected to the body of Christ. But part of the process of being made into the image of Christ will inevitably include suffering at some point in our lives as we learn to follow our suffering Savior. In his goodness and love, we can trust the Lord to use our trials for the purpose of identifying with him, uniting us to each other, and using us to witnesses to a hurting world with the life-giving hope of the gospel.
¹Morning and Evening – February 12, Charles H. Spurgeon (revised and updated by Alistair Begg)