The idea that hardship, trials, sufferings, and/or sorrows might be valuable to us is a ludicrous idea in our modern cultural context. Our culture views suffering as something to be avoided at all costs. While no one likes suffering, and while we should not go looking for trouble, the truth is that suffering does have some value for our growth and development. According to Scripture God uses suffering to help us grow and be increasingly conformed to the image of Christ. In this seven part series we are going to explore the 7 E’s of Suffering’s Value. I learned these many years ago, though at this stage in life I can’t remember where, and they have stuck with me. A proper perspective of suffering serves us well as we face it.
To start with, we should acknowledge that suffering plays a role in our relationship with God. In particular, Suffering Enhances Our Relationship With God. For many of us, the ease and comfort of life can make us numb to the things of God, it can make us forgetful and disinterested in Him. As we become confronted, however, with need, sorrow, ache, and dissapointment we are directed to turn towards a God who can help us and comfort us. Suffering changes our experience with God, and sometimes for the better.
The Scriptures give us several examples, both positive and negative. On the negative side we might consider how suffering causes some to repent and turn from sin to God. So, consider King Manasseh who, because of distress, cried out to the Lord:
And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. (33:12)
It was distress that caused him to “humble himself,” it was trouble that caused him to “entreat the favor of the Lord.” Trouble has a way of directing us towards our great need of God.
Positively, Scripture also indicates how suffering alters our enjoyment of the Lord. Psalm 119 is a beautiful testimony of delight in the Lord and His commandments. The author discusses at length how much joy he takes in knowing God and obeying His Word. But, he speaks, in verse 67, of how affliction helped him to obey better. He says:
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.
Affliction was a means of strengthening his relationship with God. It served a positive role, despite its painfulness.
Think about your own life. Don’t you know God differently because of your experience of suffering? Don’t you experience God in different ways when you go through deep waters. Consider Peter, about to drown on the sea, but Jesus catches him and walks him back to the boat (Matt. 14:22-33). His suffering brings with it a closeness to Christ and an experience of His compassionate care. It’s the same in our own lives. As I look back at some of the hardest moments, losing my father or watching my two year-old go through spinal surgery, I can recall the closeness and comfort of God in very unique ways. Our experience of God is enhanced because of suffering. We see and experience him differently in those moments.
No one wants to go through suffering, it is not something to relish. Yet, God uses suffering to help us grow and particularly to enhance our relationship with Him. Suffering can help us to turn towards God, love God more deeply, obey God more consistently, and experience His presence more intimately. Suffering, in other words, can serve good purposes.