I think that most Christians would probably have a ready response to that question if it were posed to them, as most everyone has been confronted with the reality of suffering at one time or another. My guess is that the predominant answer to the inquiry of ‘why Christians suffer’ would be something along the lines of, “God has brought about the suffering/trial in the brother’s life for their sanctification, so that they will grow in their faith and trust in God”. This is most certainly a correct answer to the question of why Christians suffer and experience hardships. In fact, the Bible itself gives this as a reason for our sufferings in several passages but most explicitly in the first chapter of the book of James.
James 1:2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Obviously the trials and suffering that James is referring to are the trials that are ordained for us by God for the purpose of working a more complete, mature, and proven faith in us. And although this is most certainly a biblical reason for why we experience trials from time to time, my point in writing this is to remind the church that this is not the only reason that we experience trials and hardship. The Scriptures present to us several different aims that God has for bringing trials into our lives.
Take the account of Job for example. The primary reason for Job’s terrible sufferings was not Job’s sanctification (although that side benefit definitely did occur in Job’s life as well, Job 42:1-6), but God displaying to Satan the powerful, persevering, gift of faith that He had given to His servant Job.
Job 1:8 The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”
This Divine cause behind Job’s trials was completely unbeknownst to Job, his wife, and his friends and yet although the trial’s precise cause and purpose was unknown to them, the Lord still called Job to suffer faithfully (Job 38-41).
A similar example is given in the gospel of John for the reason behind one man’s blindness.
John 9:1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
What is Jesus’ answer for why this elect brother was stricken with blindness since his childhood? It was not primarily to teach this man a lesson, although he did learn the greatest lesson of all in the process, that being that Jesus is Lord (John 9:38), but the chief reason for this man’s life long sickness was so that at the end of many years of suffering Christ would come along and glorify Himself through this man’s situation.
Why again do I bring to our recollections the accounts and purposes behind Job’s suffering and the blindness of the man in John 9? It is to remind us that when a brother or sister is suffering or going through a terrible trial we must not always assume that their trial has not ended because God is not done teaching them a lesson. We must not assume that they are suffering because of some hidden sin that they have committed that God is trying to get them to repent of.
We must also take into consideration the multifaceted purposes behind God’s providence in our lives. We may not always know exactly what all God is doing through our trials or the trials of others…… as a matter of fact, we most certainly won’t know, until we reach heaven, all of the things that God is doing in this world through our sufferings and because of this we shouldn’t get too caught up in attempting to discern God’s mysterious providence. Job’s friends for instance, where of a great comfort to him when they simply sat quietly and wept with him for those first seven days and seven nights (Job 2:11-13). It wasn’t until they started opening their mouths in an attempt to discern God’s hidden reasoning’s for their friend’s suffering that they fell headlong into presumption and misrepresentation of the gracious and merciful God (Job 42:7).
But one thing is for certain brothers and sisters; when trials, sufferings, and hardships come to us or our brethren, we are to remain faithful through them, taking God at His word….
Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Paul is most certainly including our sufferings in the statement “all things” that are working together for our good and we must also remember that “all things” that happen to us are a part of this blessed and holy “calling” that we have received. Not only that but “all things” are according to “His purpose” which whether seen or not to us is always a good, just, and right purpose because it is “HIS PURPOSE”!
pastor Chris Matthews
1 Timothy 1:5